On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Federal Farmer” writes his third contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
This paper is quite lengthy! I’ll do my best to hit a few important highlights.
The Federal Farmer continues to be worried about the small size of the House of Representatives, especially when the issue of taxation is taken into consideration. The House was to start with only 65 members. “I have no idea,” the Federal Farmer wrote, “that the interests, feelings, and opinions of three or four millions of people, especially touching internal taxation, can be collected in such a house.”
Wow. How would he feel about 435 House members representing a nation of 319 million people?!
The Federal Farmer worries about the process that resulted in a Senate based on “one state, one vote” representation. He also dislikes the blending of presidential and senatorial responsibilities in some areas (e.g. the appointment of officers). Won’t this create a “strong tendency to aristocracy or the government of the few”?
The Federal Farmer is worried about some of the powers vested in the federal government—especially the taxing power. External taxes, such as taxes on imposts, would not be so bad, but internal taxes “may fix themselves on every person and species of property in the community; they may be carried to any lengths, and in proportion as they are extended, numerous officers must be employed to assess them, and to enforce the collection of them.” These extensive taxing powers will “soon defeat the operations of the state laws and governments.”
Hmmm. What would he think of Obamacare in this regard, so recently deemed a permissible “tax” by our Supreme Court?
The Federal Farmer remains puzzled. “When I recollect how lately congress, conventions, legislatures, and people contended in the cause of liberty,” he concludes, “and carefully weighed the importance of taxation, I can scarcely believe we are serious in proposing to vest the powers of laying and collecting internal taxes in a government so imperfectly organized for such purposes.”
As the debates rolled on, the nation considered many elements of the proposed Constitution. In Rhode Island, there was grave concern over the idea that the State would not be able to print its own paper currency. In Virginia, the Kentucky Counties worried about the navigational rights on the Mississippi River. But nearly everyone agreed on one issue – the idea that if the nation went to war, it would be stronger united than not.
On April 6, 1917, Congress gathered to vote on whether or not the United States should declare war on Imperial Germany. Four days earlier President Woodrow Wilson had made it clear that the United States was needed and ready for the fight against an evil and depraved monarchy that chose war over peace and threatened the entire world. But, he made he clear, that it would not be, it could not be, his decision alone to send the US into World War I.
Despite the changes in the world since 1787, one thing remained the same. It was that one thing that the Framers had in their prescience foreseen: that no one person should ever be allowed to take the US to war.
One of the things that I believe we (corporately, not you specifically) have lost connection with our history, is that our Framers and Founders were people, not demigods (Thomas Jefferson notwithstanding). In 1865, George Washington will be featured in a painting that is hung in the dome of the US Capitol, visible through the oculus of the dome. The painting portrays Washington being elevated to the status of a deity. The idea of portraying Washington as a god really does not offend most Americans.
On occasion, it’s worth our time to talk about and recall the realities of these men and women. They lived, they loved, they got mad, they had joys. They traveled and they discussed. They argued and they liked and disliked each other. They wrote copious letters to each other in a flowery language that both complemented and occasionally berated each other. They saw things differently. Some favored one way, others favored another.
On March 30, 1788, six of the necessary nine States have ratified the Constitution. The debate is leaning towards Ratification in Maryland, and in South Carolina, the resistance of the country folk is being dealt with. In New Hampshire, the efforts to manipulate things by the Federalists are being indefatigably resisted by the anti-Federalists in Convention. New York has not gathered in convention as yet, but already more than seventy letters have been published as “The Federalist Papers” arguing for the ratification. Likewise, dozens of anti-ratification letters have been published. The debate, while hopeful, is still in doubt. There are many who believe that there will be a new United States that will not have all of the original States as a part.
In Bath, England, Abigail Adams begins her trip home to The United States after three years in Paris and London.
Over the past six months, a couple from Alexandria, John and Elizabeth O’Conner, have been corresponding and even in early February, visiting the Washington’s. Mr. O’Conner is a “barrister,” from Ireland, who plans to write a topographical and geographical description of The United States. Elizabeth has opened a small school for girls in Alexandria.
At Mt. Vernon, George Washington sends a letter to Mr. O’Conner, thanking him for his kind words and invitation to a speech. A presentation on eloquence by Mr. O’Conner which Washington clearly had no intention of attending. Probably because he knows what the O’Conner’s are really (probably) up to…