The Federalist Papers 4

In this long and complicated process, the ratification debates—the second stage—have a peculiar importance, and provide the immedi¬ate context for understanding the Federalist papers.
The initial publication of the Constitution on September 19,1787, and Congress’s call for the states to vote on ratification touched off one of the most extensive public debates on constitutionalism and on political principles ever recorded. The entire political nation was galvanized in the debate. Literally thousands of people, in this nation of only approximately one million eligible voters, participated in one way or another. There were some fifteen hundred official dele¬gates to the twelve state ratifying conventions, where every section, every clause and every phrase of the Constitution was raked over. There was a multitude of newspaper commentaries, sermons, let¬ters, broadsides, and personal debates on the Constitution; they turned up in even the most remote corners of the nation. The Feder¬alist papers were not the only extended series of essays published during the months of ratification. There were in fact twenty-four such series besides The Federalist, some of which, like the sixteen papers written in New York under the pseudonym “Brutus,” were perceptive and penetrating, and were responded to, not always suc¬cessfully, by Madison and especially by Hamilton. At the very end of the entire project Hamilton was still replying to “Brutus” ’s fear that the Supreme Court justices would “feel themselves independent of Heaven itself.”
Not all the critical papers were as intelligent as “Brutus” ’s. There were blasts of verbal violence, like those that erupted in a series in Philadelphia that called the supporters of the Constitution the “meanest traitors that ever dishonoured the human character,” and accused them of conspiring to create “one despotic monarchy in Amer¬ica,” concluding that “the days of a cruel Nero approach fast.” But most of the writings and speeches in this great debate—in which alone, Madison later wrote, could be found the true meaning of the Constitution—were sensible, and through them all there was one dominant theme: fear
Everyone involved in the controversy knew what the central issue was. The American Revolution in its essence had been a struggle against unconstrained centralized power—not power in some raw, unmediated sense, but power as it was understood within the ideo¬logical context of British political thought in which the Founders were immersed and which they themselves helped develop. This understanding, this set of mind, was a complex universe of attitudes, memories, beliefs, and aspirations whose roots go back to classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and the English civil war of the seven¬teenth century and which matured in the reformist theories of early- eighteenth-century Britain. It was in effect a map full of danger markers and historic signposts to guide one to political safety. Events of the 1760s and 1770s had been seen by the politically aware to be the signs of an approaching autocracy, to which the reasonable and necessary response was resistance, in the end rebellion. The result had been the deliberate resistance to and then the destruction of a centralized power system—a rebellion against British power justi¬fied, not by the egalitarian aspirations of the masses (most of the Revolution’s leaders were socially conservative), but by the belief that unconstrained power will destroy free states, which are fragile, and the liberties that free people enjoy.
Impelled by the threat they felt as they interpreted developing events within this complex of beliefs, the Revolutionaries, after destroying the British power system, had put their faith in the smaller, weaker, local governments of the states, linked together into a loose national confederation that was more a consultative body than a functioning government with the powers associated with national states. But with the proposed Constitution, in 1787, the movement of the Revolution seemed to have been reversed. The proposal before the ratifying conventions was not the dissolution of power but the opposite: the rebuilding of a potentially powerful cen¬tral government that would have armed force, that would enter into all the dangerous struggles of international conflicts, and that had the potential to sweep through the states and dominate the daily lives of the American people.
So fear and the responses to fear dominated the debate on ratifi¬cation—fear of recreating a dangerous central power system, similar, it seemed, to what they had only recently escaped from. For some, fear was unbounded. In North Carolina it was ominously observed that there was nothing in the Constitution that would prevent the pope from becoming president—a charge that James Iredell, the future Supreme Court justice and the author of a brilliant five-part essay series in favor of ratification, deemed worthy of refutation:
No man but a native, and who has resided fourteen years in Amer¬ica, can be chosen President. I know not all the qualifications for a Pope, but I believe he must be taken from the College of Cardi¬nals … A native of America must have very singular good for¬tune, who after residing fourteen years in his own country, should go to Europe, enter into Romish orders, obtain the promotion of Cardinal, afterwards that of Pope, and at length be so much in the confidence of his own country, as to be elected President. It would be still more extraordinary if he should give up his Popedom for our Presidency.
But most of the fears were directed not to what the Constitution failed to prohibit but what it proposed specifically to enact.

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