Monday, October 28, 2013

Constitutional Debate


“ Call me James, my good Robert, it is James. Unless you want me to call you ‘Brutus’?”

Robert Yates steps closer. “No. Robert will do well my fellow patriot. A privilege to cross paths with the honorable James Madison.”

“ Tis so ? Judging by your scathing rebuke of our efforts at reforming our Country and gaining approval for this Constitution it seems rather unclear to me. Why must you stand in the way of this reformation? A reform you know well, my good sir, is unquestionably necessary.”

“ Let us discuss, James. Pray tell—how can a republic succeed over so great a territory ? Remember the great Baron Montesquieu who said ‘It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist.’ In due time, men of large fortunes and low character will rise thinking they can gain glory by oppressing their ‘subjects’.  In a large republic, the public good will be sacrificed to a thousand views. Whereas in a small republic, the public interest is easily perceived and understood. Abuses would be less and more easily dispensed with. This cannot succeed, James, it cannot.”

“Am I a schoolboy that you quote Montesquieu ? You overlook that the powers granted to the federal government in this proposed Constitution are few and defined. Those that remain in the states are many and indefinite. Further, what limited powers granted to the federal government are for foreign commerce, war—external objects, Robert ! The many that remain for the state and local governments concern all that pertain to the lives, liberties, and properties of the people—the internal objects. So—you see then how we have designed this with full knowledge of the astute observation of the venerable Montesquieu. The small republics of our great states remain thereby avoiding the real threats a republic of great size would no doubt involve.”

“At present our country contains three million souls, James, and is capable of ten times that number. With the distinct possibility of further expansion west, it is capable of, dare I say, one hundred times that number. Mr. Madison sir, in so extensive a republic, the great officers of the federal government would soon become above the control of the people and abuse their power to the purpose of making themselves great and oppressing the people.

 The executive offices, in a country the extent the United-States will someday become, will be various and multiplied. The command of all the troops and navy of the republic, the appointment of officers, the power of pardoning offences, the collecting of all the public revenues, and the power of expending them, with a number of other powers, will become expanded in the federal government. When these are attended with great honor and prestige, as they always will be in large states, so as greatly to interest men to pursue them, and to be proper objects for ambitious and designing men, such men will be ever restless in their pursuit after them. They will use the power, when they have acquired it, to the purposes of gratifying their own interest and ambition, and it is scarcely possible, in a very large republic, to call them to account for their misconduct, or to prevent their abuse of power. Your trust in the nature of man, James, is beyond reasonable.”

“Robert ! Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests?”

“The same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests ? You are a man of Virginia and I of New York. Let us dispense with the empty rhetoric—we both know full well the seeds are present to rend our country apart. We cannot agree on matters today !

I believe, Mr. Madison, the future will well vindicate my predictions.  Human nature does not change.”

“Let us enter here and continue this debate Brutus. There is more to say.”

Federalist Papers #14,45,67-70. Brutus #1

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