The Federalist Papers 6

“Brutus” saw a subtler, more insidious danger—in the federal gov¬ernment’s power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States.” With this power, he wrote, Congress “may create a national debt, so large as to exceed the ability of the country ever to sink. I can scarcely contemplate a greater calamity that could befal[l] this country than to be loaded with a debt exceeding their ability ever to discharge … it is unwise and improvident to vest in the general gov¬ernment a power to borrow at discretion, without any limitation or restriction.” Given all these dangers and many more, the Antifeder¬alists were shocked to discover that the Constitution, unlike most state constitutions, did not include a Bill of Rights to protect people against the threatening powers of the government being created. On this flagrant omission they attacked the Federalists again and again.
Such were the Antifederalists’ arguments, worked out in elaborate critiques of almost every clause of the Constitution, which Hamil¬ton, Madison, and Jay undertook to refute in the Federalist papers. The task was peculiarly difficult not simply because the arguments against the Constitution were for the most part cogent and well informed but because these objections had behind them the author¬ity of a sanctified tradition. They were drawn—often literally—from the ideas, ideals, and fears that had led to the rebellion against Britain, and these were fears and beliefs and ideals not of the passing moment but fundamental to the deepest values of Anglo-American political culture. They were embedded in the world view, the ideo¬logical complex, that had dominated Americans’ political under¬standing just a short decade earlier and that had impelled the rebellion against Britain.
The great achievement of the authors of the Federalist papers is not merely that they replied in detail to specific dangers that critics saw in the Constitution and explained in detail how the new govern¬ment should, and would, work, but that they did so without repudi¬ating the past, without rejecting the basic ideology of the Revolution. Indeed, their ultimate accomplishment was to remove the Revolu¬tionary ideology from what Hamilton called “halcyon scenes of the poetic or fabulous age” and place it squarely in the real world with all “the vicissitudes and calamities which have fallen to the lot of other nations.” The Federalist sought to embrace the Revolutionary her-itage, and then to update it in ways that would make it consistent with the inescapable necessity of creating an effective national power.
The Constitution, in creating a strong central government, The Federalist argued, did not betray the Revolution, with its radical hopes for greater political freedom than had been known before. Quite the contrary, it fulfilled those radical aspirations, by creating the power necessary to guarantee both the nation’s survival and the preserva¬tion of the people’s and the states’ rights.
Soberly, patiently, sometimes repetitiously, The Federalist took up, analyzed, and responded to all the major issues. It was difficult, uphill work—difficult intellectually, politically, even psychologi¬cally—and there was no predictable outcome. They knew that the political world they were trying to create, uniting national power and personal liberty, was something new under the sun, and that the mere contemplation of such an unknown world stimulated morbid, malignant fantasies of impending doom—“frightful and distorted shapes—gorgons, hydras, and chimeras dire,” “palpable illusion [s] of the imagination”—that could frustrate all their realistic argu¬ments. But confident themselves of a future based on the new Con¬stitution, they sought to overcome these amorphous, free-floating anxieties and keep the struggle within realistic bounds. No doubt, as one debater in the North Carolina ratifying convention put it, “those things which can be, may be,” but if every omission in the Constitu¬tion is magnified into “a plot against the national rights,” Madison wrote, no improvement in the state of the nation would ever be accomplished. “Where in the name of common sense,” Hamilton said, “are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbours, 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?”

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