Thursday, April 29th, 2010
We made it to the Federalist Papers! I hope you are as excited as I am to dive into these fascinating op-eds – the media and PR campaign for the Constitution! I am travelling today – (Howdy from Texas!) And typing in the dark, in a hotel room in Austin, trying not to wake my daughter. So, please forgive the brevity of tonight’s post.
Federalist 1 is striking to me in that Alexander Hamilton’s view of the gravity of the crossroads America was at, is clear to him in a way that is rare for someone in the midst of current events of their time. Looking back, with a 222 year perspective on the situation, it is easy to agree that had the States failed to ratify the new Constitution, it would most certainly have been a loss for mankind. But for Hamilton to have the vision to see that, at the starting gate of the United States’ journey into the world, reveals him to be a visionary of the highest magnitude.
This quote near the beginning of Federalist #1 sums up the precipice the United States was teetering on:
“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”
Hamilton’s support of civil political discourse also resonated with me:
“Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.”
This is the nature of man, and we can see that not much has changed in 222 years! But Hamilton is right about the ineffectiveness of angry discourse. Both ends of the politcal spectrum were guilty of this in Hamilton’s era, just as some on both sides still utilize these tactics today. It is so refreshing and much more educational when political discussions can be had without anger and personal attacks.
I look forward to the coming 84 days. I am embarking upon this journey with fresh eyes, having never read the Federalist from cover to cover, despite having a degree in Political Science! To think back to the days before the internet, Twitter, or Facebook, before 24 hour cable news, before radio, when communication by the spoken and written word (on real paper) was the only means of spreading a message, it is enthralling to read these papers and witness an 18th Century PR campaign, and to be able to look deeper into some of the founding fathers’ thoughts, values, principles and world views, as they set about to shape our Nation.
7 Responses to “April 28, 2010 – Federalist No. 1 – Cathy Gillespie”
Harry Stumpf says:
Not much has changed in 222 years? I’d say not much has changed in 50,000 years. One of my favorite movies is ‘Quest for Fire’, set back then. They’re just like us, with slightly less technology. And if you watch it, you will see the world’s first joke! (It involves a coconut.)
I am playing catch up as I have missed some reading “making a living” like each of us must do. To reflect back, these writers and framers of the US Constitution and the Federalist papers too, were people of business and commerce first. They were not career politicians with a guaranteed pay check from government/ you and I. What a unique perspective they brought to their thinking and actions compared to our present, so called leaders. They were scholars and statesmen with an outstanding view of the past, able to reflect their understanding into the present. Now, in our humble study of their great acts, may we spread the knowledge and fever of faith through out this great land.
Just bought my paperback copy of The Federalist Papers, and started underlining and taking notes. Hamilton, as Cathy noted, knew human nature, our passions, for good or ill, and acknowledges them. I like that…honesty about human nature.
I have tried to read the Federalist Papers before, and had a hard time, mostly due to the language, it can be hard to follow. I am so thankful that Ms Turner and others have taken on this assignment for America, it is so vital that we understand the thoughts and theories that our founding fathers took into account while building our great nation. These blogs will help me better understand these theories and thoughts, and I think I will enjoy reading these papers much more than before. I agree with Kay’s post, in that is it fascinating how Hamilton began his papers with his emphasis on human nature and our passions as a people. I hope someday we can find leaders in this country who know and understand that and will be willing to fix what has broken.
I think the entire first paragraph could be applied to the American people today, with minor modifications, in an appeal to once again consider the importance of our Constitution:
AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on [the] Constitution [of] the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of [a country] in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of [maintaining a] good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to [watch a good government system be undone by political contrivance] and force [by men of ill will towards freedom]. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.
Hamilton sure nailed this one: “that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.”
How many times has the left abused the word “rights” to find what does not exist in the Constitution? From the right to privacy to justify abortions to the right to other peoples money (redistribution), health care, housing, etc.
David Hamilton says:
I too find myself late at the starting line, but I am committed now to catching up.
I as well have to confess to owning a well “dog eared”, annotated, and coffee stained copy of the “Federalist Papers”, that I also have made previous forays into with the intended goal of a complete reading of these editorial pieces, editorial pieces that in fact are the detailed instructions that supplement the “Quick Start Guide” that is our Constitution.
Many people express a level of frustration with understanding the writing style of the authors of these pieces. Despite being a prolific reader, I admit to having to stop and reread passages and dwell on them to gain a thorough understanding of their intent.
Bearing in mind that these founding documents, The Declaration of independence, these Federalist Papers, and most especially The Constitution itself, were written not for any specific, highly educated body of people, but for the whole body of the people, to read, understand, and live by. It is a shocking display of the level of degradation of our usage and understanding of our own language, and the causes of this degradation being at least as vital, albeit separate, a topic for discussion as the documents themselves.
Specifically addressing Federalist #1, I find myself struck with the sense that our Constitutional Republic has been under assault from within by Madison’s dreaded factions, from the beginning.
From The “Alien and Sedition Acts” of John Adams, to the crippling of States Rights of Lincoln, on to the socialist policies of FDR, and now mandated health care.
The current struggle to “restore” our constitutional republic is one the founders would little doubt readily recognize, but would certainly be flabbergasted by the extent to which civil discourse, and honorable intent has deteriorated.
Tim Shey says:
Back in 1994 I read the first 200 pages of “The Federalist Papers”.
I “discovered” this website this past week–Jim Best sent me an email telling me about Constituting America. This looks like an excellent website. I am looking forward to reading more of it.
I believe the U.S. Constitution was inspired by the Holy Ghost. It seems like the great leaders of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and the great intellectuals were Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson.