|Early political cartoon showing the separate states as part of a snake, Benjamin Franklin, 1754|
Last class we talked about the Constitution and about the movements that came out of this: supporters of the Constitution (The Federalists) and opponents of the Constitution (Anti-Federalists). Obviously, the design of the federalist system became the government of the U.S., however the anti-federalists evolved and eventually became the Democratic-Republican Party, or more simply the Republicans. This is NOT the same as the modern Republican Party which was created in the 1850s. To make it even more confusing, today's Democratic Party traces its history back to the "Republican" Party of the 1790s and 1800s. The party became officially known as the Democratic Party during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837).
As the name suggests, the Anti-Federalists still had a way to go to define their own political identity. They defined themselves in opposition to the system proposed by the Federalists. Thomas Jefferson who became the leader of this party and 3rd President of the U.S., at this time was ambassador in France (absorbing more Enlightenment theories no doubt), and also witnessing the unfolding of the French Revolution (1789-1799), and was not in the country nor was he part of the Constitutional Convention. He would become the first Secretary of State under George Washington in 1790. I will explain more about the President's Cabinet next class. However, this is not to say that the Anti-Federalists did not have leaders or that they were entirely ineffective in getting their message across.
I have mentioned several times the concept of "ideology" in class. Ideologies provide a "meaning-context" in order to interpret empirical events based in news reports. This is done in order to mobilize a segment of the public for a political project. All of the readings and all of the people we have gone over so far have all contributed to this to varying degrees.
Ideologies are structured according to "reports" and "commands" that influence each other. Information in which "reports" are emphasized more are usually the "news" or even "science." "Commands" say "what should be done," which you might get in the "editorials" of news or media sources that target specific audiences like MSNBC or Fox News, or publications like The Nation or The National Review. However, news and science always implicitly contain commands even if they are not explicit. And the most passionate ideology has to use "reports" or some kind of factual information about the world in order to make sense at all. These readings are no exception. What is interesting in this case, is you have a clear example of opposing "meaning-contexts" regarding the interpretation of the Constitution. In this case, we have the Federalist Papers which we looked at last class, and now the Anti-Federalists.
In the case of the Anti-Federalists we have writings by the "Pennsylvania Minority" who opposed ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania. This was a document signed by 21 of the 23 Constitutional delegates who voted against ratification of the Constitution and appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, December 8th, 1787. The author of the document is unknown but is believed to be either Robert Whitehill (1738-1813) later a Pennsylvania Congressmen or Samuel Bryan (1759-1821), a prominent anti-federalist in Pennsylvania who also wrote under the pseudonym, "Centinel." We also have a letter by Samuel Adams to Richard Henry Lee; and letters from "the federal farmer" actually an anonymous author (like Publius in the Federalist) up until recently believed to be Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), but since the 1970s, historian Gordon Wood has disputed this claim and this has been accepted by most modern historians. The true identity of the federal farmer is unknown.
Ideologies provide meaning to interpret events, so how do these authors interpret the events surrounding the formation of the Constitution? The Pennsylvania minority emphasizes the physical abuse they suffered at the hands of the Federalists who physically dragged many of them in the legislature to vote (this is because to have an official vote a certain number of members must be present to have what is called a quorum). Now, these things happened but most Americans do not focus on these things or emphasize them when telling the history of the Constitution–they have a different context of interpretation. Its a "blind-spot" in people's historical consciousness because to take the literal implications of it would invalidate the Constitution. If people were physically forced and intimidated and threatened with violence or even the victims of violence in then how could the Constitution have any moral legitimacy?
In the passages by Sam Adams he spoke of the "social contract" or the "state of nature." In other words, the idea that people voluntarily leave the natural world and establish civil society as a way of protecting themselves. What is important in this case, is the idea of consent of the governed. The whole foundation of modern liberalism depends on this. However in this context, the idea of a social contract is at best a metaphor. Although scholars have since its founding interpreted the founding of the American republic as the best real life example of a "social contract" and the transition from the state of nature to civil society, clearly, under the circumstances which they describe, there is no consent over the governed who the Constitution applies to.
This is not to say it should be invalidated (or that it would be pragmatic to even try), many of the concerns over tyranny of the Anti-Federalists were exaggerated (although Hamilton originally wanted to have a President-for-life and the aforementioned suppression of the Pennsylvania minority). The major concern was that the individual states would lose their autonomy, in other words to be self-governing over themselves.
In a sense this did occur because the states were unable to resolve the contradictions of slavery through persuasion and consent. Southern states, many of whom produced leading Anti-Federalists, were not persuaded of the evils and did not consent to abolish it. Legal slavery in this country was abolished because the Union Army conquered the Rebel Confederacy created during the Civil War. For a political system supposedly founded against the principle of "might makes right," the legacy of events like this still cast a dark shadow over the idea that people can resolve their differences through persuasion and consent, or true democratic government.
Arguably, at least until the Civil War the Federal government never had that much of an influence over the lives of individual citizens and the states retained considerable autonomy within their borders. Even today, states retain a large degree of autonomy. I already mentioned previously most crimes will be prosecuted by the state not the federal government and many important areas like education are hard to coordinate precisely because the federal government has no authority over the states. The federal government functions by incentives: in other words it can offer to give money, or take it away, but it cannot actually force the states to do many things like follow a certain standard curriculum.
The debate over education in this country is directly tied to the relative autonomy of local school boards and the central government. In most liberal-democracies, the national government sets a standard curriculum to be followed, in the U.S. however there is a long tradition of local control over the school curriculum (another legacy of the Puritans). In reality, it should be said incentives can almost give you power over someone else though and are hard to turn down. Speed limits are another area. Since the 1970s oil embargoes, the national speed limit has been set at 55 mph. States are free to set their own speed limits, however the amount of federal money they will receive for road repairs will be reduced or eliminated. As a result most states set the speed limit at 55 mph.
States also regulate voter registration within their states, and there has been a lot of controversy lately about certain states trying to limit the right to vote among certain groups like in Florida. The idea of "gerrymandering" (named after early Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry) or redrawing election districts to give a strategic advantage in elections has been a concern right from the beginning of the republic. Although struck down by most courts as being "unconstitutional" there was a strong push by Republicans in certain states going into the 2012 election to require photo i.d. cards to vote, failure to do so would prohibit the person from voting, a practice that was seen to negatively impact the elderly, the poor, and many minority voters. As we will see, even with the passage of the 15th Amendment of the Constitution which gives blacks the right to vote, Southern politicians devised numerous means to get around this and effectively block black voters from voting after Reconstruction ended around 1876.
The most hated government institution besides the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is probably the Department of Motor Vehicles, but these departments are run by the state not the Federal Government (the IRS is though). Most corruption within government usually happens at the state level who have the authority to give out government contracts for construction, or have to enforce health and environmental laws in their state. You may have noticed this on your assignments on New York state.
The other major point that should be made about "states rights" is that it has been used time and time again to justify slavery, segregation and all sorts of forms of discrimination against minority groups within states. In many ways, the "David and Goliath" imagery the Anti-Federalists use is fake because the states are the Goliath in relation to the individual. In the South, the idea of autonomy in South Carolina for example means not having outsiders interfere with slavery because "they don't understand our way of life." This behavior and attitude continued right up until the 1960s and in many regards is still practiced today. Today we see it with gay marriage, where it is legal in some states, illegal in others, or abortion, or any other numerous racially based issues which have not gone away. This could be applied to the "stop and frisk" policy of the NYPD who argue people "don't understand" the requirements of policing in the largest city in the country when they complain of the violation of civil rights.
Madison's ideas behind the government was preventing "majority factions" from tyrannizing over minorities (Madison was a Southerner himself from Virginia). Their intent was to protect their own property but it has also provided an effective, if not always, consistently applied protection for the civil rights of individuals. To argue that the states are the embodiment of democracy seems strange when in reality almost all of the abuses committed by the "government" has usually been committed by a state government.
All this being said, the Anti-Federalists tended to be more on the side of the "common people" than the Federalists were, who tended to be more aristocratic, and like I said were mainly motivated by the desire to protect their property and keep themselves in power. The Pennsylvania Minority in their report give a list of demands, fourteen in all. Many of them seem familiar because they were later adopted for the Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to the Constitution were added in 1791. In order to be added as an amendment, the proposed amendment or amendments must be passed by 2/3 majority in both Houses of Congress and also passed by 2/3 of the states who appoint delegates to a convention to vote on the amendment. Federalists were initially opposed to this but eventually compromised over the issue.
Until the 14th amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868, the protections of the Bill of Rights were not extended to the states, it was only intended to regulate the federal government. For a document that has such a high symbolic value in American politics, many of the rights protected in the amendments are routinely violated. Only the first amendment really seems to have some kind of authority anymore in public life. But then again money in politics is also protected as "freedom of speech." The second amendment is controversial because it means people like this can buy guns legally without being subjected to an evaluation:
|This is the guy who in 2011, shot Rep. Giffords and eighteen other people in Arizona and killed six. Despite obviously looking crazy he was allowed to legally purchase guns.|
The third amendment is totally irrelevant today. Important amendments like the 4th, (searches and seizures) 5th, (due process) and 6th (trial by jury) amendments which are the major criminal justice and due process amendments are virtually meaningless today with laws like the Patriot Act (still in effect) and other means used by the government to fight terrorism. The 8th amendment protects against "cruel and unusual punishment" does that include the death penalty or "enhanced interrogation techniques"? The 9th amendment specifies that other rights might exist but which are not specifically mentioned. This opens the door towards a broader interpretation of rights. The 10th amendment reserves to the states all other powers not granted to the federal government.
The report of the Pennsylvania Minority like the Federalist Papers or the revolutionary pamphlets by Paine and Adams were all distributed through the "mass media" at this time consisting of newspapers, publishing houses but also public meeting places like taverns and cafes or even churches were people would gather to talk and interpret the news. The letter included here by Sam Adams is a private communication with Richard Henry Lee (who is perhaps falsely believed to be the Federal Farmer). Since it is private, Adams uses very strong language and seems almost pessimistic about the chances for democracy in the country, but this does help interpret how the Anti-Federalists viewed what was going on with the Constitution (and probably their impressions are a lot closer to the truth than we would like to admit):
You are sensible, Sir, that the Seeds of Aristocracy began to spring even before the Conclusion of our Struggle for the Natural Rights of Men, Seeds which like a Canker Worm lie at the Root of free Governments. So great is the Wickedness of some Men & the stupid Servility of others, that one would be almost inclined to conclude that Communities cannot be free. The few haughty Families, think They must govern. The Body of the People tamely consent & submit to be their Slaves. This unravels the Mystery of Millions being enslaved by the few! (p. 130).
The idea of "aristocracy" or a small group of "elites" that dominate the government is one of the most dominant themes in all political ideologies.
Every political interest tries to portray its opponent as an elite group that is out of touch with the public or even secretly working against the public. These tactics are still used in political ideology today. Conservatives try to portray liberals as being part of a "ruling class" that is trying to tell everyone how to live. Liberals in turn point out that conservatives are supported by big businesses like oil, finance, and the military industries and that they are the real elites. Conservative ideology would then provide reports of liberals behaving in ways that seem like they are telling people what to do (the "nanny state"; liberals would provide reports of conservatives accepting support from oil billionaires or something like that. In order to make sense of these reports, ideology would provide certain suggestions and "rhetorical devices" to encourage you to interpret the report in a certain way. Symbolic, almost poetic language, carries with it a strong emotional resonance that instantly conveys meaning to people: a canker worm at the root of the tree of government, you just know is something bad even if you don't know anything else about the government.
In the Letters from the Federal Farmer, the theme of aristocracy is dominant throughout his writings. Also, you will see another example of how ideologies provide a meaning-context by providing "reports" of events like the Constitutional Convention:
September 1786, a few men from the middle states met at Annapolis, and hastily propose a convention to be held in May, 1787, for the purpose, generally, of amending the confederation–this was done before the delegates of Massachusetts, and of the other states arrived–still not a word was said about destroying the old constitution, and making a new one–The states still unsuspecting, and not aware that they were passing the Rubicon, appointed members to the new convention, for the sole and express purpose of revising and amending the constitution–and, probably, not one man in ten thousand in the United States, till within these ten or twelves days, had an idea that the old ship was to be destroyed, and he put to the alternative of embarking in the new ship presented, or of being left in danger of sinking (pp. 131-32).
The Rubicon is a river on the border of Italy and according to the legend was crossed by Julius Caesar on his way to Rome to seize power, crossing the river meant it was obvious that Caesar intended to seize power and was interpreted as an act of war. "Crossing the Rubicon" as a phrase means taking a decisive course of action that you cannot go back from. The obvious reference to a dictator seizing power is meant to be communicated as well.
He also provides an interpretation of the state of the country and the conflicts going into the Convention which he sees as falling under the sway of two factions:
One party is composed of little insurgents, men in debt, who want no law, and who want a share of the property of others; these are called levellers, Shayites [as in Shay's Rebellion], etc. The other party is composed of a few, but more dangerous men, with their servile dependents; these avaricioulsy grasp at all power and property; you may discover in all the actions of these men, an evident dislike to free and equal government, and they will go systematically to work to change, essentially, the forms of government in this country; these are called aristocrats, m––ites [possibly monarchites?], etc. etc. Between these two parties is the weight of the community; the men of middling property, men not in debt on the one hand, and men, on the other, content with republican governments, and not aiming at immense fortunes, offices, and power (p. 135).
The federal farmer sounds as if he is trying to find a compromise position between the federalists and the more radical anti-federalists. He is in favor of a limited form of federalism, sometimes referred to as "compact federalism," which says that the federal government is the sole creation of the states and that its authority is not stronger than the states. The federal government would concern itself with foreign affairs and leave domestic affairs to the states. In effect, this would give the states the ability to cancel out laws it did not agree with. Conflicts like this did occur repeatedly in the early decades of the republic right up until the Civil War.
I mentioned the identity of the federal farmer is unknown, it was believed to be Richard Henry Lee, a very prominent leader from Virginia, but this has been disputed. It is interesting that theories over the identity of the farmer are usually people from Virginia or New York. That should tell you something about the composition of the anti-federalists. They were generally from the larger states and this makes sense because you would assume that, relatively speaking, they would lose a certain amount of power. Pennsylvania was a large state too.
New York and Virginia even in the new federal system along with other states like Massachusetts tended to dominate the government in the early days. Massachusetts was actually a much bigger state as it included the state of Maine which did not become a separate state until 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise. Vermont, by the way, was the 14th state admitted to the Union on March 4th, 1791 (the first outside the original 13 colonies, prior to that it was a "separate country" the Republic of Vermont).
Next class we will have the midterm. It will consist of an essay exam that will be taken on Blackboard.
Assignment (Due 10/29): Choose a passage from one of the Anti-Federalist writers, write out the passage and give your interpretation of the passage, then explain what this passage means to you or why you chose it.
Go to the link for "American Politics." Look up the section "Federalism" and explain the differences between horizontal and vertical federalism.