Hamilton in Federalist No. 17 underestimates the power and scope of men’s natural ambitions. This is strange for of all the founders Hamilton seems to be the best study in the ambitions of men; he understood what drove others and later in his career he demonstrated that he knew exactly how to manipulate and play the game of politics. So why he was so blind to the scope of a natural ambitious federal authority in this essay is beyond me. Perhaps he knew that the anti-federalists had a great point here and this was his attempt to down play it.
He states plainly that the argument that the federal authority under the proposed constitution would “absorb” state authority and carry out those functions is ridiculous. No ambitious man would ever undertake to undermine the sovereign duties of the states. Obviously he never met an FDR, LBJ or a Bush Republican or any of the currently Democratic controlled congress and executive. These are the very things our politicians are doing, they are using the federal government to carry out more and more functions that were clearly reserved to the states.
For Hamilton the ambitions of designing politicians are simple and few: “commerce, finance, negotiation, and war seem to comprehend all the objects which have charms for minds governed by that passion.” But if he could image a world and society in which there are no limits to intrusion he could easily have foreseen a world and society where ambitious men, through the coercive power of the national government have taken control of nearly everything from abortion, healthcare, state lands and DUI limits. They rob millions of hard working, law-abiding citizens to pay for programs that promote federal intrusion into the states.
To reassure anti-federalists, Hamilton argues that “it is a known fact in human nature that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object.” In other words, don’t worry, the real power will still rest with the states because the power is close to the people. Unfortunately with the abolition of state representation in the national government through the 17th Amendment that statement of Hamilton is no longer relevent. Power is concentrated farther from the people creating a situation that Thomas Jefferson bemoaned in the list of grievances against the King in the Declaration of Independence:
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
The seat of power, from the vantage point of most Americans is distant, unusual and uncomfortable and it is time we restored home rule and patched up the gaping hole in the Constitution ripped out by ambitious men who have done the unthinkable even for Hamilton: usurped the prerogative and power of state and local governments in the name of progress and security.
Throughout this essay Hamilton claims that it is far easier for states to encroach upon federal jurisdiction under the Constitution, which for the first 100+ years was true. But he never dreamed that the states would voluntarily give up their right of representation in the national government. But since they have the federal government has grown in power and authority and I now pay, like a slave, 45% of my earned income to my master, the government.
As Hamilton points out in this essay the answer to balancing out federal and state authority, thus regaining essential freedoms socially and economically rests with the people. For the states “will generally possess the confidence of and good will of the people, and with so important a support will be able effectually to oppose all encroachments of the national government.”
We must REPEAL the 17th! We must RESTORE state authority! We must RENEW the sovereignty of the people! If not, the tyrannous shadow of the national government will choke out the light of liberty in the name of security.