Federalist No. 15

  “the answer to our problems leading to impending anarchy is to realize the Constitution was meant to check the power of government not unleash it just because some politicians or bureaucrats have a vision. It was meant to restrain power not expand it indefinitely.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             starThe first line that struck me in Hamilton’s essay was his belief that in his world of the 18th century “there are material imperfections in our national system and that something is necessary to be done to rescue us from impending anarchy.” Sounds pretty gloomy. I don’t think that is where we are today, after all, Hamilton was lamenting the fact that the states had all the power and the national government had little to none. But maybe in the near future we might be in such a position, not from the states having too much power but from having too little. If the spending continues, if the states have the last drop of sovereignty squeezed from them by the federal government and the people feel powerless to stop the government takeover or influence over almost everything, we are headed for “impending anarchy.” Hamilton said something must be done to keep that from happening. His answer was the Constitution as it was written; this is the same answer for our modern troubles. Not the Constitution as envisioned by social activists or big government conservatives. Not the living, breathing, elastic, stretchy constitution that fits whatever it is you want done document–that I do not care for. No, the answer to our problems leading to impending anarchy is to realize the Constitution was meant to check the power of government not unleash it just because some politicians or bureaucrats have a vision. It was meant to restrain power not expand it indefinitely.

This is what we are seeing today in the opposition to President Obama’s plans from cap and trade to government health insurance. Those who oppose are made to be stupid, ignorant dupes who need to be forced into compliance with the vision of the leaders. But do not be silent in your opposition. Do not be discouraged by the howling cries of the collectivist jackals. It is your time to check the ambitions and daring of those now in power. Those who have slept, awake! Even though, as Algernon Sidney said before his execution, “we live in an age that makes truth pass for treason,” we must not diminish our voices. We will be heard because we are the sovereigns of this nation.

As I read No. 15 I saw all sorts of parallels to our condition. 1787-88 was one of the most important times for America and 2009 is no different. Hamilton believed the United States was in the “last stage of national humiliation.” He asked, “Is commerce of importance to national wealth? Ours is at the lowest point of declension…Is a violent and unnatural decrease in the value of land a symptom of national distress?” He relates the perils of their financial crisis where “borrowing and lending is reduced within the narrowest limits, and this still more from an opinion of insecurity than from a security of money.” At the end of his list of problems with the system of American government in 1788, a list that is strikingly familiar to our modern list of problems, Hamilton urges Americans:

Let us at last break the fatal charm which has too long seduced us from the paths of felicity and prosperity.   

While Americans’ problems then and now are similar, the causes of them remain quite different but the answer to both lies in the same document–the Constitution. While Hamilton’s America suffered from too little central government and unity in the decade after the war, we today suffer from way too much central authority. While in Hamilton’s time a vision of national unity was in doubt, in our period we suffer from too much utopia. We forget laws have consequences.

Hamilton claims that the only “proper objects of government” are citizens. Since government “implies the the power of making laws,” those who would use the government as a paternally wise parent should take warning. Because laws need to be enforced with coercion either of the magistrate or of arms, it is best that those laws be limited in scope and number. So in the end we may ask as Hamilton did, “Why has government been instituted at all?” The answer, “Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” One might read this today and think of ignorant rednecks who need to be compelled to believe in evolution or support the the idea of global warming or be made to have socialized medicine but it was really meant to keep men from abusing power given to them to execute grand schemes and wild change in government. Hamilton is not as concerned with the “common man” needing to be constrained as much as the bright politician and elected official:

there is in the nature of sovereign power an impatience of control that disposes those who are invested with the exercise of it to look with an evil eye upon all external attempts to restrain or direct its operations.

This is the struggle we are in right now. The federal government has, over the years, taken more power than was ever intended for it under the Constitution. Now to dismantle and repair such usurpation causes the national government and those charged with executing its operations to “look with an evil eye” upon those who would restrain their power. This is to be expected for as Hamilton points out the nature of the Constitution is to expand the national power under strict restrains not to expand its power unfettered. It is under the latter false assumption that modern politicians and bureaucrats operate and they become frustrated when their “worthy and noble” vision is harder to put into action than they realized before they came into power.

For those who seek to exercise their popular sovereignty for the cause of devolution and restoration of republican principles, be strong but beware for as Hamilton warned:

 Power controlled or abridged is almost always the rival and enemy of that power by which it is controlled or abridged.

In other words, any legitimate movement among the people, where ultimate authority is reserved in a republic, that is against the will of those in power will cause those in power to become jealous and hateful of the power that is attempting to check them. Those in power will use all types of slander to retard the movement that is checking their plans, they will even go as far as to say that the legitimate voice of protest is astroturf, it is racism, mob and delusion perpetrated by “those” people.


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