The Federalist Papers was a series of newspaper columns published between the Fall of 1787 and the Spring of 1788. Their authors were the movers and shakers of the day. They were the best educated men of their day, the products of an educational system that placed more emphasis on discovering knowledge than on rote learning.
The first of the Federalist Papers was a preamble to the rest and an explanation of their purpose and scope. By no means, however, does it lack substance. The United States of America has often been called the "great experiment." Hamilton was aware of the experimental status of this country and its government and took it seriously:
"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."
Many of the founders subscribed to a belief called Deism. Deists believed that the world had been created by a Supreme Being, who set it in motion, then sat back and watched, without interfering further. In many ways, this is what the founders did with our government. Perhaps they believed that once we had made a conscious choice, the government we created would continue on its course carried by momentum. Surely they never foresaw the country we live in today.
It is possible that they envisioned a government that would evolve as the country matured. However it is almost certain that the trust they placed in their successors in government was predicated on their successors having a similar education to their own. Such is not and has not been the case. The founders were schooled in philosophy, logic, and mathematics; they studied Aristotle, Plato, and Euclid. Today, many students do not know these authors, and fewer have read them. If my own case is typical, they have had much more exposure to commentators than to the great thinkers themselves.
Hamilton discusses the factors that would motivate voters to accept or reject the Constitution. His words on the subject are almost prophetic:
“Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.”
Hamilton hoped for public service; he anticipated self-service, and we got what he expected, in spades. Hamilton noted that the establishment of a federal government would affect people of this country in a fundamental way, but he expressed the hope that they would consider the Constitution based on its merits rather than on their fears or selfishness. He was also aware of what he called "a class of men" who were hungry for power. This class of men still exists, unfortunately many of them have satisfied their hunger, often with the aid of others much like themselves. Nevertheless, Hamilton thought that the founders' vision for this country was viable, noble and good.
“So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy.”
Hamilton was careful not to demonize dissenters. His was a more genteel time; his interest was in abolishing tyranny, and his education conditioned him to engage them in rational discussion to help them discover the truth for themselves. Just as the Bill of Rights would decree that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, Hamilton generously assumes that those who disagree with him are good, if misled.
“...nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. 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.”
Again prophetically, Hamilton warns readers that those who disagree with them are not their enemies and should be tolerated. It is interesting how many political movements have completely disregarded Hamilton's advice. Names like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung spring to mind. Sadly, this has become the dominant feature of political discussion in the United States today. Politicians play an all-or-nothing game, even if compromise is appropriate. It is not uncommon for the minority party to search relentlessly for something with which to discredit members of the other party in positions of authority. At times, this has the effect of preventing such persons from doing their jobs, from being effective, and from carrying out their own or their party's agenda, whether or not it is the perpetrators' intention.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
- ► 2006 (15)