Observation about the Anti-Federalists

I’ve been listening to biographies of the various Founding Fathers of the US.  I started with John Adams (inspired by seeing the musical 1776 and his character in it).  I followed that up with Patrick Henry (a personal favorite from the time I had Virginia History back in fourth grade), then Sam Adams, and currently James Monroe.

There are a couple of things I noticed.

First, one of the things the Anti-Federalists insisted on was a “Bill of Rights” in the Constitution.  The claim was that without the protection of certain rights the government would be sure to infringe on them.  The Federalists insisted that without powers to regulate things like Speech and the Press, the government had no power to infringe on them.  I would make a side note that I believe Hamilton made that argument explicitly in The Federalist Papers–but once the Constitution was in place, Hamilton was all in favor of “implied powers” not explicitly listed.

However, on looking into the biographies it’s easy to see why the Anti-Federalists were so adamant about the government exercising powers not granted to it.

When Patrick Henry, one of the most ardent anti-federalists, was governor of Virginia, the governership was largely ceremonial, with little power.  That did not stop him from exercising whatever power he felt necessary, particularly in support of Washington and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

When James Madison, in his turn, was likewise governor of Virginia, he too had no hesitation in exercising powers he was not supposed to have, including calling out the militia when he deemed it necessary, a power granted by the Virginia Constitution to the Assembly.

Then there was Thomas Jefferson.  While an argument could be made that the Louisiana Purchase fell under the President’s authority to negotiate and sign treaties (for ratification by the Senate), he questioned whether he actually had such authority.  That did not stop him from making the purchase.

All of them had what they thought were good reasons for exercising power not granted to them (or at least that they thought was not granted to them) in the respective constitutions from which they gained their authority, so stipulated.  Still, they exercised powers they did not have and, thus, they had no reason to believe others with reasons they felt less justified, would also exercise such powers.

It’s easy to believe that others will do something when you’ll do it yourself.

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