Sunday, October 14, 2012

Essentially the Same Arguments for 225 years – The Role of the Central Government

Essentially the Same Arguments for 225 years – The Role of the Central Government

In today’s world we like to reflect on the U.S. Constitution as a sacred document drafted by wise statesmen who came together in Philadelphia after the Revolutionary War and worked together in peace and harmony to craft their legacy and formulate out republican form of government, which was an experiment in representative governing.

The facts, however, are quite different. There were strong, vitriolic arguments regarding the role of the central government. The Federalists were comprised primarily of affluent, well educated men including included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who believed a strong central government was essential for economic and national security reasons.

The Anti Federalists included Sam Adams, John Hancock, George Mason and Patrick Henry and were concerned that a strong central government would lead to corruption, that the presidential veto would overrule the will of the people, and that the power given to Congress to levy taxes would create undue burdens on the citizenry.  George Mason of Virginia argued the Constitution was  "totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the state governments." It was due to the pressures of the Anti Federalists, who were concerned about the threat to individual rights, that the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.

There were also strong differences in whether the Constitution should be interpreted loosely as argued by Alexander Hamilton or strictly as espoused by Thomas Jefferson.

From my perspective, the glaring differences in the approach of the Founding Fathers versus politicians of today is that today’s politicians ultimately do nothing by argue. They resolve nothing.  And it clear that the concerns of the Anti Federalists have come to pass. Corruption has become embedded in government and Congress has acted to impose burdensome taxes on the citizenry and enacted laws from which it exempts its members.

However, essentially, the arguments have not substantially changed since the original 13 states voted on whether to ratify the Constitution 225 years ago. And if the framers argued so vociferously, how can we claim to know what they collectively meant? This is something to keep in mind as we approach Election Day 2012.

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