The Federalist Papers 5

In examining the provisions of the document, the critics had at times an eerie prescience. Some pointed to the supremacy clause in Article VI, which states that the Constitution and federal laws and treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Surely, it was argued, the supremacy clause made the whole idea of federal¬ism a farce. The nation’s laws, the Antifederalists said, would inevi¬tably penetrate into the states and override state laws and state court decisions.
Many of the critics concentrated on the federal taxing power. The power to tax, “Brutus” wrote, exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every corner of the city and country. It [the national government] will wait upon the ladies at their toilett, and will not leave them in any of their domestic concerns; it will accompany them to the ball, the play, and the assembly … it will enter the house of every gentle¬man, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, fol¬low the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats and drinks; it will attend him to his bedchamber and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the pro¬fessional man in his office, or his study… it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and in his work, and will haunt him in his family, and in his bed … it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people, and in all these circumstances in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them will be, GIVE! GIVE!
They feared the treaty-making power—some because they thought the president should not have the power to negotiate agree¬ments in secret, others because they feared that a president who could command a bare two-thirds majority in the Senate would be able to commit the country to anything he wished, whether millions of ordinary citizens liked it or not. But the Senate’s power was feared for more reasons than that. It was feared because its members’ six- year tenure seemed “aristocratical”; it was feared for its power to block presidential appointments, which might lead—who knew?—to political deal making; and it was feared too for its role as a court of impeachment. Was it not possible, one Antifederalist asked, that a president might someday use hidden slush funds, just as the British had done, to enable the “secret services” to engage in covert opera¬tions in defiance of the people’s representatives, and then, through the pardoning power, “screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a dis¬covery of his own guilt”? The president could of course be impeached—but the impeachment trial court would be the Senate, a group he might well dominate, and in any case, it was noted, the trial would be presided over by a chief justice whom the president himself had nominated, and nominated “probably not so much for his emi¬nence in legal knowledge and for his integrity, as from favouritism and [political] influence … a person of whose voice and influence he shall consider himself secure.” A fantastic, unreal scenario? Some in 1788 did not think so.
Dangers, for some, appeared wherever one looked—in every turn of phrase and possible implication of the Constitution.
A national, professional army? But they had only recently over¬come Britain’s “standing army” and they knew from history how standing armies could become bloodthirsty palace guards, janis¬saries, to be manipulated against the people by an overambitious executive. And what kind of a protection would there be from the states’ militias, since, according to the Constitution, they could be nationalized by the same ambitious president on the excuse of some possible threat from abroad?
A federal district was proposed for the seat of the national govern¬ment. But an area where the people had no representation and where Congress would rule directly, uninhibited by an intervening state government—was that a good idea? “Few clauses in the Consti¬tution,” George Mason, the author of the first state bill of rights, declared, were as dangerous as this. The federal district, he said, would become “the sanctuary of the blackest crimes.” The place, Patrick Henry added, might well become the headquarters of a pow¬erful army controlled solely by Congress. “Is there any act,” he asked, “however atrocious which [Congress] cannot do by virtue of this clause? Can you say that you will be safe when you give [Con¬gress] such unlimited powers, without any real responsibility? … Will not the Members of Congress have the same passions which other rulers have had? They will not be superior to the frailties of human nature.” A district that has no representation in the govern¬ment that rules them, a judge in Virginia’s Kentucky district wrote, “will be the most successful nursery of slaves that ever was devised by man.” It will be a market where honors and emoluments bestowed by the government will be sufficient to buy the liberty and with it the loyalty of “the bulk of mankind … these numerous and wealthy slaves will infallibly be devoted to the views of their masters; and having surrendered their own will always be ready to trample on the rights of free men.”

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