Last week, I purchased my copy of The Federalist, one of those books that I considered essential for my library, and did so in honor of the people of Massachusetts, who, in electing Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate, may have managed to save the Republic from the horrors of socialized health care.  (I should note that the entire Gideon Edition of The Federalist is available for download here if you’re interested.)  I’ve plowed through most of the introductory material, but tonight I decided that it was time to commence reading the actual work of Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, 1755-1804

The Federalist No. 1 was penned by Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the man who would go on to serve as the first Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s presidential administration.  I was struck by this passage, which describes the nature of at least some of the debate common at the time over the adoption of the then-proposed US Constitution:

To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts, by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government, will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of power, and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice . . . the stale bait for popularity at the expense of public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearances of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people . . . commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

It strikes me that the situation is reversed today.  Whereas Hamilton had to fight to overcome the suspicions of a population very concerned about the potential creation of an intrusive and too-powerful federal government, we must now fight against the desire of many to cede their liberty to a federal government that is all too willing to pretend that it can provide everything for everyone.  One wonders what the Founders would think were they able to see what has become of the Republic they worked so hard to build and the citizens whose liberty they strove so mightily to protect.

Related posts:

  1. A Quick Hit from Hayek
  2. A Revolution Without Parallel
  3. The Constitution and Religious Liberty
  4. Hayek on Exchanging Liberty for Security
  5. “Liberal Fascist Economics”

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