Sunday, October 14, 2007

Founder-Chic Fact or Fiction: Anti-federalist Edition

M.O.W. attended a lovely ball last night filled with lovely people and even lovelier conversation. Despite all of this loveliness, M.O.W. found herself challenged in a very un-lovely way by one of her beloved fellow ballers. For, M.O.W. had (correctly) identified herself as an Anti-federalist, upon which she found herself accused of not meaning what she meant. She was informed that she could not possibly be an Anti-federalist because, as our challenger believed, she would have supported the fact that the federal government intruded upon state jurisdictions to end slavery. Ahem.

M.O.W. graciously let these challenges pass by her by without much notice--best not to ruin a lovely evening, she believed--but she knew that it would be necessary to have another Founder-Chic Fact or Fiction. Clearly our challenger had confused States Rights' with Anti-federalism, which of course, are not the same thing at all.

Before we get the to real issue, M.O.W. feels compelled to notice that (quite obviously) the federal government did not end slavery. As we all know, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the North, whose states had already ended slavery prior to any act of the federal government. Rather, the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the states that were then in rebellion, over which the federal government had no authority. Therefore, no slave was emancipated by the Emancipation Proclamation. Our challenger was thus misinformed on more than the differences between Anti-federalism and States' Rights.

Founder-Chic Fact or Fiction: Anti-federalist Edition

Fact or Fiction: Anti-federalism is the same as States' Rights.
Verdict: Fiction

Quite simply, Anti-federalists were those who opposed the overthrow of the Articles of Confederation and the ratification of the new consolidated national government between 1786 and 1789. As we know, those whom were called Anti-federalists (most famously George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, Robert Yates, George Clinton, etc.) were in actuality federalists, for it was they who desired to keep the federal relationship between the states and to maintain a confederation rather than introduce a consolidated national government that they feared would be too unwieldy for the people to control. Thus, at the most basic level, the Anti-federalists were those Americans who feared a centralized and uncontrollable national power and who believed that liberty could best be preserved by smaller governments, closer to the people. M.O.W. was indeed an Anti-federalist, she even penned an important essay, Observations on the New Constitution under the pseudonym "Columbian Patriot." Despite the fact that many at the time--and even some respected historians later--would attribute her very smart 22 page pamphlet to Gerrymander, M.O.W. was its author and a decided Anti-federalist, which would embarrass her very Federalist nephew Harrison Gray Otis for years to come.

Those whom we think of as advocates of States' Rights doctrines turn not to Anti-federalists of 1786-1789 for their arguments, but rather justify their arguments by appealing to the logic of the 1798 Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts. Funny thing about those Resolutions is that they were written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, one of whom was a lukewarm supporter of the 1787 constitution and the other of whom was the author of the constitution itself! Thus, in no way were the "Heroes of '98" the Anti-federalists of 1786-1789, nor would later States' Rights advocates be those who desired a truly federal government. The "Principles of '98" would return as awkward justification for the 1815 Federalist Hartford Convention and would be used more stridently by South Carolina to support their position in the Nullification Controversy of 1830. Whether or not John C. Calhoun and company were justified in their use of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions to make their case is another matter all together, but is certainly debatable.

Thus, fellow Founder-stalkers, M.O.W. was, and continues to be, an Anti-federalist, which we now understand is not the same as being an advocate for States' Rights. She is an Anti-federalist because she believes--with Montesquieu--that a large republic is a contradiction. A government based upon the will of the people must be small enough for the people to control, otherwise it is not a republic, but an oligarchy. M.O.W. believes that the fearful predictions of the Anti-federalists of 1786-1789 have obtained in America and thus, she has no trouble justifying her Anti-federalism. Furthermore, she believes that if it were not for the introduction of the new consolidated government in 1789 with its compromises over slavery, it is very likely that slavery would have ended on its own, and much more quickly than it actually did.

M.O.W. finds the States' Rights folks a tad confused, but that is a topic for another day.


GayProf said...

Some "Northern/Union" states were also slave states (Maryland, Missouri, Delaware (Granted, Maryland was basically forced to stay in the Union, but it still was in the Union)). These states were exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation.

I am understandably curious who the ball guest was. . .

Mercy O. Warren said...

Yes, I think that is right. Who knows why, when Lincoln was such an emancipator, that he would only emancipate the slaves in the states in rebellion. Very strange, indeed.

And, yes, I'm sure that you're curious who the baller was. You know him/her, don't you fear. It is funny, reading your post from yesterday, it seems that people don't seem to believe that we know what we mean when we say what we mean. Funny, that.

J. L. Bell said...

Saying the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free any enslaved people because at that moment those people were beyond the U.S. of A.'s grasp is a bit like saying the Tennessee Valley Authority Act didn't build any dams.

After all, the day after those government actions, those slaves were still enslaved and there were no dams.

But the Proclamation combined with the fact that the U.S. of A. had a couple of large armies trying to get into the pertinent territories indicates that the government was quite clearly in the slave-freeing business. It was just a matter of time.

Mercy O. Warren said...

Thanks for your comment j.l.!

And, I think that I see your point, although I would point out that while no dams were built the day after the TVA authorized their building, the point was that the TVA did actually have the authority to build those dams (I think, anyway). Also, I'm not sure if President Lincoln really was in the business of freeing the slaves, his First Inaugural Address would seem to indicate the contrary.

Of course, we all like to think of Lincoln as the great emancipator, but I'm not quite sure if the reality of the situation bears that belief out.

Thanks again for the thought provoking comment!