Government power and individual rights
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Anti-Federalists and Brutus No. 1
- [Instructor] When we first learn about American history it sometimes seems like it might have been a very easy or somewhat obvious transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution but it was not. It was a very vigorous debate. As we've talked about in previous videos the Articles of Confederation proves to be too weak in terms of a central government. You have events like Shays' Rebellion which really highlights this and then as we go into 1787 you have a Constitutional Convention, at first to maybe revise the Articles of Confederation but eventually they draft a completely new constitution, the constitution that we have today and after it was drafted, after that convention, we get into his period of late 1787 and 1788 where you have this very vigorous debate between those who want to ratify the constitution often known as the Federalists led by folks like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, famous for writing the Federalist Papers which they published in this timeframe and you also have the anti-Federalists or who will eventually be known as the anti-Federalists who are against the ratification and the adoption of the constitution and their writings which are also published in this same time period are known as now the anti-Federalist Papers and what I have here is an excerpt from what is perhaps the most famous of the anti-Federalist Papers, this is from Brutus I, published on the 18th of October 1787, so right in this time period right over here, right after the Constitutional Convention had ended and the states were deciding whether to ratify it. And Brutus is the pen name of the author. It's believed to be either Robert Yates, Melancton Smith or John Williams from New York but the reason why they picked the name Brutus is from history. Brutus is the Roman senator who was involved in assassinating Julius Caesar keeping him from overthrowing the Republic, so in some ways they view themselves as people who are protecting the Republic from tyranny. Now, as I read this, keep in mind some of the ideas that we've looked at in other videos, the different types of democracy, a participatory democracy where the citizens are close to the governance, to the decision making. You have a pluralist democracy where you have a vigorous debate between many, many different views. And you have an idea of an elite democracy where the people are still sovereign but they're being represented by a smaller, limited group of I guess you could say elite, maybe more wealthy, more educated folks who are trying or should be acting in the interests of the citizens. So, keep those in mind and think about what type of democracy the author here favors and what they might be afraid of. And so, Brutus wrote, to the Citizens of the State of New York. The first question that presents itself on the subject is whether the 13 United States should be reduced to one great republic, governed by one legislature and under the direction of one executive and judicial or whether they should continue 13 confederated republics under the direction and control of a supreme federal head for certain defined national purposes only? So, they're starting with this argument that his new constitution is really creating just one supreme government instead of a confederation of sovereign republics that coordinate for certain, defined national purposes. It goes on to write, this government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial with respect to every object to which it extends. The powers of the general legislature, so they're talking about what will eventually be the US Congress as proposed by the constitution extend to every case that is of the least importance, there is nothing valuable to human nature, nothing dear to freemen, but what is within its power. It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and property of every man in the United States, nor can the constitution or laws of any state in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given. So, once again, saying hey, this is a takeover, these 13 states are really becoming one state under the constitution. This central government has so much power that it kind of makes the states a little bit irrelevant because they can't do something outside of what the central government thinks they should so, so then having established this argument and once again, this is just an excerpt, I encourage you to read all of Brutus I, it's quite fascinating, the author then argues why this is a bad idea to have this takeover and have 13 sovereign states turned into essentially one. Let us now proceed to inquire as I at first proposed whether it be best the 13 United States should be reduced to one great republic or not. History furnishes no example of a free republic, anything like the extent of the United States. The Grecian republics were of small extent, so also was that of the Romans. Both of these, it is true, in process of time extended their conquests over large territories of country and the consequence was that their governments were changed from that of free governments to those of the most tyrannical that ever existed in the world. So, he's saying hey, look, there's really no precedent for this. When you just had the Athenians governing themselves in a participatory model, yes, a republic seemed to work but then, once it started to extend its influence over surrounding cities, surrounding regions, it became more tyrannical and the Romans even more so. The territory of the United States is a vast extent. It now contains near three millions of souls and is capable of containing much more than 10 times that number. These might not seem like big numbers now, the United States is today over 100 times bigger but this was already quite a bit larger than say just ancient Athens. Is it practicable for a country, so large and so numerous as they will soon become to elect a representation that will speak their sentiments without their becoming so numerous as to be incapable of transacting public business? It certainly is not. So, this is really interesting. So, to the founding fathers, the idea of a republic was really a representative democracy and Brutus here is questioning, look, if you're governing over such a vast territory, can you have a representation that will truly speak the sentiments of the people and if you do have true representation of the people, well, are you going to have so many representatives and so many interests that they're not going to be able to govern? So, he's saying hey, this is gonna pluralist and he does not view pluralism as a good thing. He's saying hey, there's going to be so many views. This is going to be ungovernable. In a republic, the manners, sentiments and interests of the people should be similar. So, this is worth underlining again 'cause this is a statement directly against the notion of pluralism. He says that in order for a republic to work, you have to have people of similar sentiments and interests, not different views. If this be not the cases, there will be a constant clashing of opinions and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other. So, clearly did not think much of a pluralist democracy. This will retard the operations of government and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good. So, he sees pluralism as a recipe for indecision and not being able to pass good laws or do things in the public interest. He goes on to say, in so extensive a republic, the great officers of government would soon become above the control of the people and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves and oppressing them. So, here it looks like like the author is afraid of, you could kind of say, an elite democracy, that it really wouldn't even be a republic, that these people are going to start acting in their own interests. If you have to have representatives that represent such a large territory, they're going to be detached from the people that they're representing and then are just going to think about their own aggrandization and they will actually oppress the people that they're supposed to represent. These are some of the reasons by which it appears that a free republic cannot long subsist over a country of the great extent of these states. If then this new constitution is calculated to consolidate the 13 states into one, as it evidently is, it ought not to be adopted. So, Brutus is making this argument that look, you can't have a republic over such a vast territory, arguably the states are a little bit more attractable although even at this point some of the large states are quite large but they would have a better chance of being a free republic than merging all of the 13 states into what would effectively be one republic.