Reflection and Choice or Avarice and Ambition?

After the creation of The Constitution the country was thrown into turmoil and alarm at the prospect of actually approving the document. The people had just thrown off the monarchy of England and the European way of aristocratical governance. Most thought the Constitutional Convention was to allow their representatives to shore up the existing Articles of Confederation under which the states were operating. Instead, state by state “The People” were being asked to approve a three-eyed cyclops! Talk about liberal and progressive! Which is to say, the traditional definition of liberal and progressive, which moves a people toward greater liberty and freedom. 

Despite the apprehensions, these sage statesmen felt this document was a different creation from anything drawn before. The outcome was to be a country of self-governing people who would elect their own representatives to govern themselves with their own laws. And what an entirely new recipe it was! A bit of democracy in the House of Representatives to represent the people. A little of aristocracy to represent monied interests in the senate. A modest amount of monarchy in the president for efficiency and dispatch. With a touch of judicial oversight in the courts to interpret the laws and defend the document from political encroachment.

What exactly was this?! It was a mixed democratic republic. Never before tried, and to date, never bettered. It has produced the most prosperous people and stable form of government the world has ever known. John Adams said it was “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.” (Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787. Blackstone Audio, 2012.)

To implement, the Constitution would require nine of the thirteen states to ratify it. And soon after its creation, two opposing sides to the question of its acceptance quickly formed: The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The former was a group of Americans who supported the creation of The Constitution and were led by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. They supported their position with 85 papers written to newspapers under the pseudonym “Publius.” Publius is thought to derive from the root publicus, meaning “the people” or “of the people.” 

The question as framed by Hamilton to the people of his State of New York in The Federalist Papers No. 01 was this:

“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… And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question…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…to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.”

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers No. 01

The Divine Science of Governance

As you can see, politics have never changed! Why? Because it deals with the Divine Science of allowing the less-than-divine man to govern his fellow man. Yet as Hamilton aptly points out, “that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty.” All of which demands the question, is it true that “dangerous ambition more often lurks in the mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government”? (The Federalist Papers No. 01)

The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, were a group of Americans who objected to the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and opposed final ratification of the U.S. Constitution as approved by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. They preferred to stay governed under the Articles of Confederation which allowed their respective states greater liberty. Their concerns were also well-reasoned and reflective.

First among their concerns, there was no Bill of Rights to protect the unalienable rights of the people from the encroachment of government. Additionally, the office of President seemed too powerful and another version of a monarchy. During the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, Anti-Federalists charged that the President would become a king. In fact, he would be the worst kind of a king—an elected one. Cabals and intrigues would surely develop over the reelection of the incumbent. Third, the office of the Vice President was gratuitous. There was no provision for a council or cabinet to guide the president. Lastly was the threat of unelected federal judges to rule over state judges who were closer to the people. In summary, the ominous ivory tower of rulers seemed lurking in the balance. To give voice to the opposition were the Anti-Federalist papers written under the pseudonym “Cato,” who was a famous Roman statesman who tried to save the Roman Republic as it was falling prey to the monarchial despotic ways of Caesar.

Cato I, which came out on this date September 27, 1787, 235 years ago, kicked off the debate. Hamilton did not write The Federalist Papers No. 1 in response until October 27, 1787.

Here was their opening argument, most likely written by Governor Clinton of New York we are told. “The disposal of your reputation, and of your lives and property, is more momentous than a contract for a farm, or the sale of a bale of goods; in the former, if you are negligent or inattentive, the ambitious and despotic will entrap you in their toils, and bind you with the cord of power from which you, and your posterity, may never be freed; and if the possibility should exist, it carries along with it consequences that will make your community totter to its center: in the latter it is a mere loss of a little property, which more circumspection, or assiduity , may repair…..Beware of those who wish to influence your passions, and to make you dupes to their resentments and little interests—personal invectives can never persuade, but they always fix prejudices which candor might have removed—those who deal in them have not your happiness at heart. Attach yourself to measures not to men……the wisest and best of men may err, and their errors, if adopted, may be fatal to the community; therefore, in principles of politics, as well as in religious faith, every man ought to think for himself.”

Guided by Principles

So, I ask you, will it be reflection and choice by good men and women to administer the reins of government or will we be governed by the ambitious and avaricious? In principle we know the answer to these questions. A Bill of Rights was enacted by the Anti-Federalists shortly after the ratification of The Constitution by the Federalists. Checks and balances between branches of government to corral human nature were employed and have been exercised to this date; but have they been enough? Have the other branches of government become too docile to defend their respective turfs to effectively legislate, budget, and interpret the law? The Federalists and Anti-Federalists are still debating this today in the form of laws, rulings and regulations of energy, borders, money borrowing, debt forgiveness, abortion, and education just to name a few. These are the issues. But what are the principles that should guide these decisions? 

This is why we study the principles of freedom and the Divine Science of Government. Is there enough virtue, knowledge, and wisdom in us or those we elect to govern ourselves? 

It is the unalienable duty of the citizen to educate themselves individually on The Constitution and The Bill of Rights so that collectively we can stay safe, free, and pursue happiness. I invite you to read The Federalist Papers and vote for candidates that follow the outline and intent of these foundational documents of our country.    

Image attribution: Henry Hintermeister, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

One thought on “Reflection and Choice or Avarice and Ambition?

  1. Nicely done in highlighting the two major competing opinions of our founders. In my opinion, the major cause of our country’s divisions today is because our Constitution was changed for the people to elect US Senators (17th Amendment). This created a huge shift in the balance of power away from the states and to the federal government with senators now promising what the federal government could give to its citizens, rather than what the states would provide. Little difference between the “House” and the “Senate” other than the length of term.

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