A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State

A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State

A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State

A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State

Synopsis

What were the intentions of the Founders? Was the American constitution designed to protect individual rights? To limit the powers of government? To curb the excesses of democracy? Or to create a robust democratic nation-state? These questions echo through today's most heated legal and political debates. In this powerful new interpretation of America's origins, Max Edling argues that the Federalists were primarily concerned with building a government that could act vigorously in defense of American interests. The Constitution transferred the powers of war making and resource extraction from the states to the national government thereby creating a nation-state invested with all the important powers of Europe's eighteenth-century "fiscal-military states." A strong centralized government, however, challenged the American people's deeply ingrained distrust of unduly concentrated authority. To secure the Constitution's adoption the Federalists had to accommodate the formation of a powerful national government to the strong current of anti-statism in the American political tradition. They did so by designing a government that would be powerful in times of crisis, but which would make only limited demands on the citizenry and have a sharply restricted presence in society. The Constitution promised the American people the benefit of government without its costs. Taking advantage of a newly published letterpress edition of the constitutional debates, A Revolution in Favor of Government recovers a neglected strand of the Federalist argument, making a persuasive case for rethinking the formation of the federal American state.

Excerpt

In their defense of the Constitution's military clauses, the Federalists argued for the need to maintain a peace establishment of regulars. They also argued that the national government had to possess an unrestricted power over mobilization. in their minds, both military professionalism and the unlimited power over mobilization were necessary to preserve the independence, liberties, and interests of the American nation. the Antifederalists, by contrast, raised objections to Congress's right to create and maintain a standing army in time of peace. They were also concerned about the unrestricted nature of Congress's military powers. Their objections can be subsumed under three headings. First, the Antifederalists believed that the new system of government would change the administration of the laws from an administration based on the consent of the governed to an administration based on coercion or the threat of force. Second, they believed that the national government would create a large army while neglecting the militia. This would upset the balance of power between the rulers and the ruled, the government would be strong and the people weak. As a consequence, the national government would become independent of the people and be able to establish tyrannical rule. Third, the critics of the Constitution believed that Congress had been granted too much power to interfere in the private lives of the citizens through its command over the militia. Through service in the militia, the national government could subject citizens to martial law, force them to take part in actions abhorrent to their conscience and religion, and also remove them from their homes and occupations for undetermined periods of time.

In the debate over ratification, the Federalists answered these objections. in doing so, they argued that it was possible to create a strong state without abandoning traditional Anglo-American ideals about free government. Their answer is the subject of the present chapter.

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