January 12, 2006


Return of the anti-federalists (Paul Greenberg, 1/12/06, Jewish World Review)

Perhaps the gravest defect of the Articles of Confederation was the lack of an executive power strong enough to keep the country secure — one of many weaknesses addressed by the historic Constitutional Convention of 1787.

When it came time to sell that new constitution to their fellow Americans through a series of newspaper articles, Alexander Hamilton would remind his countrymen, in Federalist Paper No. 70: "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks . . . ."

The anti-federalists — among them distinguished patriots like Patrick Henry, George Mason and Richard Henry Lee — couldn't go along with this new constitution and the powerful new chief executive envisioned in Article II, Section 1: "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." Simple but sweeping words.

Taken together with the provision making the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the power of the chief executive to defend this country against foreign threats ought to be beyond question by now.

But of course it isn't. Constitutional questions are seldom settled permanently. In the current debate over whether Congress has the power to restrict the president's constitutional power to protect the nation, the old lines between federalists and anti-federalists are being drawn again.

Americans are being warned once again that an executive strong enough to protect us is also strong enough to invade our rights, including our right to privacy.

We're told that a special court established by Congress in 1978 to issue domestic search warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act supersedes the chief executive's constitutional power — and duty — to protect this country against threats from abroad. The president's hands must be tied to assure our rights. For the weakness of the executive is the strength of the people!

Yes, the anti-federalists are back and in good voice.

The anti-federalists were generally right, but they lost, which couldn't be indicated any more clearly than by the fact that they were the ones arguing for federalism, but lost even their own proper name.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2006 7:52 AM

No, they were arguing for state power (or states' rights), which is not the same as federalism. Federalism is a division of power, not a concentration of power in one or the other.

Posted by: pj at January 12, 2006 8:11 AM

Yes, they argued for greater states rights and the "Federalists" for a more powerful central government. Federalism lost.

Posted by: oj at January 12, 2006 8:18 AM

The labels haven't changed, only who they're arguing against. Federalists were arguing against those who wanted too little central government power, and now they're arguing against those who want too much.

Our debate today is more like the one in Argentina in the 19th century between the Federalists & the Unitarists. Those Federalists were arguing for essentially the same sort of government as the American Federalists before and after them, but happened to be arguing against those who wanted the central state to have even more power.

The difference between the American and Argentine outcomes may have a lot to do with their different starting points in this regard.

Posted by: Timothy at January 12, 2006 11:12 AM

Yes, the Federalists oppose Federalism--they're centralizers.

Posted by: oj at January 12, 2006 11:21 AM

Returning to the article, the present FISA debate has almost nothing to do with principled conceptions of the Constitution. Rather, we are seeing crass opposition to national interests for short-term political advantage.

At least some of those people who tried to undermine our Central American policy in the 1980's were bona fide Communist sympathizers. Not even that claim may be made today.

The very genius of the Constitution is that the separation of powers stops at the water's edge. Our capability for rapid, decisive action is as great an advantage as our material strength. Without that capability, we would be the pitiful, helpless giant our enemies foolishly thought us to be.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 12, 2006 11:56 AM

It's Hamilton's country; we just live in it.

Today's debate isn't so much Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists ; it's more like Hamilton & Jefferson vs. Burr & Arnold.

Posted by: Noel at January 12, 2006 1:21 PM

It's useless to debate OJ when he gets on one of these kicks. Best just to ignore him when he's in crackpot mode.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at January 12, 2006 2:21 PM


In Iraq is the Federalist position a strong or a weak central government?

Posted by: oj at January 12, 2006 3:04 PM

I Sam. 8
[19]But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No! but we will have a king over us,
[20] that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."

In Amerian History, the modern democrats are simply re-enacting their Copperhead ancestors.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 13, 2006 2:15 AM