Thursday, May 20th, 2010
What a great discussion we’ve had on Federalist No. 17! Thank you to William C. Duncan for his insightful comments! Dr. Morrisey, thank you for joining us today with your contributions as well!
In Federalist 17 Hamilton addresses the concerns of the anti-federalists by making the case that the national government will not try to encroach upon the states’ rights and powers:
“It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils to usurp the powers with which they are connected; because the attempt to exercise those powers would be as troublesome as it would be nugatory; and the possession of them, for that reason, would contribute nothing to the dignity, to the importance, or to the splendor of the national government.”
For the sake of argument, Hamilton imagines a scenario where the national government might try to overstep its bounds, and explains that “the people of the several States would control the indulgence of so extravagant an appetite.”
The founders had set up the unique and artfully constructed set of checks and balances to keep the federal government from extending its reach past the powers it was specifically given. So, what happened? How could Hamilton have gotten it so wrong? I have been pondering this all day. The answer is that the system the founders so carefully constructed was tampered with. It is ironic that Federalist No. 17 was rendered inaccurate by the 17th Amendment! Like any piece of delicate machinery, once the balance is off, the results go awry.
Hamilton could also not fathom that the national government would desire to control the details of peoples’ lives. He thought it would be too tedious a task for a government more interested in the big picture of “commerce, finance, negotiation and war.” Our country had been founded on personal liberty and the “unequaled spirit of enterprise,” mentioned in Federalist No. 11. It would go against everything their countrymen had fought for, for the federal government to encroach into peoples’ lives and trample their rights, so it was truly hard for Hamilton to foresee.
It is so commonplace today for the federal government to involve itself in the minute details of daily living, that most people don’t realize the balance of government is far off what the founders had envisioned, and the Constitution dictates. It is eye-opening to see the world through Hamilton’s eyes, a time in history when people could not imagine or predict the scope of power the federal government has achieved.
Only by studying the founders’ intentions, and the structure specified in the Constitution, can people understand how far off the path of freedom our country has veered. The Constitution is our road map and our guide, and to head in the correct direction, we must consult the map.
I thank everyone for their continued participation!
Good night and God Bless!