In the fall of 1787 an anonymous anti-Federalist, writing under the pseudonym Centinel, wrote Anti-Federalist Arguments from Pennsylvania. The first of these two letters appeared in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer on October 5th of that year.
Centinel suggests that before approving the new Constitution produced by the “late convention, … it ought to be dispassionately and deliberately examined on its own intrinsic merit, the only criterion of your (the people of Pennsylvania) patronage.”
The modern reader of these well-reasoned arguments for thoughtful consideration prior to ratification, is struck by the similarities in recent conservative pleas for thoughtful debate on such legislation as the health care bill, TARP, and the stimulus package. Instead, all of this legislation was posited by the progressive left as absolutely critical, (lest a cataclysm ensue) and any reasoned discussion was pretty much squelched, largely with the compliance and collaboration of the mainstream media. This was not the case after the Constitutional Convention. Instead there was serious debate, consideration, and ultimately compromise between those dubbed “Federalists” and their counterparts, “the anti-Federalists.” The result was the ratification of the Constitution — with 10 important additions, collectively known as the Bill of Rights. The original draft did not include the Bill of Rights and would not have ultimately contained them, had it not been for writers like Centinel.
But this letter was written prior to that compromise. Here Centinel questions whether the proposed separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution is sufficient to restrain the baser instincts of an aristocratic elite. Consider his words:
If the united states are to be melted down into one empire, it becomes you to consider whether such a government, however constructed, would be eligible in so extended a territory; and whether it would be practicable, consistent with freedom?
It is the opinion of the greatest writers, that a very extensive country cannot be governed on democratical principles, on any other plan, than a confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government, but united in the management of their foreign and general concerns.
It would not be difficult to prove, that any thing short of despotism, could not bind so great a country under one government; and that whatever plan you might, at the first setting out, establish, it would issue in a despotism.
Evidently, this thought has recently occurred to Walter Williams too, as is evident in his recent article, Parting Company. In it, Williams suggests that we are nearing the point where dissolving the bonds between the states and the federal government is becoming our only option. He cites schism between the actions of present day politicos and what Madison outlined in Federalist No. 45:
James Madison, the acknowledged father of the Constitution, explained in Federalist Paper No. 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. … The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”
I hope Centinel was wrong, and that Madison was right, because, like Williams, “My preference is a restoration of the constitutional values of limited government that made us a great nation.”