Were The Anti-Federalists Right? By Betsy Newmark

In my Advanced Placement Government and Politics class, we’ve been talking about the Constitutional Convention and the fight over ratification. As we were listing the objections of the Anti-federalists to the proposed constitution, it struck all of us how relevant their criticisms are still today. They feared the powers of the presidency would lead to a monarchical power grab – imperial presidency fears, anyone. They said that the “necessary and proper” clause and the “general welfare” clause were too vague and would allow the federal government to do almost anything it wanted. Who could deny that that hasn’t happened? They feared that the legislators in Congress would grow away from the people and soon govern without concern for the popular will and worried that there were no term limits on the congressmen. And they worried over giving Congress the power to tax and were concerned over how far the federal government would interfere in the economy. Does any of that sound familiar to anyone? And they worried that unelected judges would have too much power without the people having any control over the courts.

Too often we downplay the concerns of the Anti-federalists because they were the losers of the debate and we now have such reverence for the Constitution. But their legacy lives on. First of all, we owe their strong objections for the Bill of Rights. And when you hear critics today of Congress, fears of executive power, complaints about the judiciary, the desire for term limits on Congressmen and the devolution of power back to the states, remember the Anti-federalists and how they foresaw all of this.

In light of all this tribute to the Anti-federalists, Melanie Scarborough’s column yesterday seemed especially pertinent. She wrote about how people expect the federal government to do today what the Founders never dreamt of being the federal government’s rsponsibility.

Exemplifying the absurd, Congress even created a federal subsidy to help Americans buy converter boxes when television broadcasts shift from analog to digital. Where does the Constitution guarantee citizens the right to clear TV reception?

Listening to some of these candidates, one can only wonder if these people ever listen to themselves. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., wants taxpayers to give every baby born in the United States $5,000 at birth to encourage the habit of saving.

….Who would have dreamed a generation ago that citizens would let their government dictate the minutiae of everyday life such as where young children may ride in the car and what time teenagers have to be home — or that small businesses would be saddled with regulations on such things as carving butterfly shrimp?

Politicians peddle overweening government on the pretense of “keeping Americans secure.” But the Constitution requires government to provide for the common defense — not for individual safety. If you’re afraid of incorrectly carved shrimp, then stay home to eat.

Sometimes, when I’m listening to today’s politicians, I pause and wonder what the Anti-federalists would say. Heck, I wonder if those who supported the Constitution and sought to explain why the Anti-federalists didn’t need to worry about the powers of the new central government would recognize today’s federal government. Hamilton perhaps would recognize that government, but Madison? I’m not so sure.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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