The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

Synopsis

Through a judicious selection of the classic essays from 1787-1788 by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in defence of the new federal Constitution -- together with key writings by the Anti-Federalists -- Wootton captures the essentials of the 18th-century American debate on federalism in this modernised edition and frames it with a brilliant and engaging Introduction. Includes the U. S. Constitution.

Excerpt

Two texts, a decade apart. One begins “The style [i.e., name] of this confederacy shall be ‘The United States of America.’” The other begins “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” Between them, the living out of a revolution. One names a political entity that as yet scarcely exists and is intended to serve only limited purposes. In the other, that entity finds its voice. Its first word is “We,” identifying itself not as a state, a confederacy, or even a nation, but as a community. Its first noun is “people,” declaring itself to be a community of equals. Its first adjective is “perfect,” announcing itself to be a community with boundless aspirations, a community to which all the people may contribute and in whose benefits all the people may share.

Of course its aspirations are no sooner stated than compromised— even betrayed. One only has to read as far as Section 2 of Article I to discover that “We” consists of “free persons,” as opposed to “Indians not taxed” (the mere payment of taxes is enough to entitle you to be one of “The People”) and “other persons.” “Other persons” is a euphemism for slaves, but the very fact that the word “slave” is never used in this text, even when the reality of slavery is acknowledged, is an indirect recognition that slavery is at odds with the very principles of freedom the Constitution enunciates. The Articles of Confederation had no need to mention slavery because they applied to the affairs of the thirteen states, not the lives of individuals. The Constitution could not avoid referring to slavery, but slavery was already a peculiar institution: it was confined to certain states, and its legitimacy was contested, and it could therefore be mentioned only indirectly in references to “other persons” and the “migration and importation” of such persons. This second reference is accompanied by a time limit of twenty-one years, an implicit promise that the existence of slavery will have to be reviewed, an implied suggestion that it is at odds with the principles of liberty.

Women too were excluded from this “we,” but that, unlike the exclusion of male slaves, did not strike any of its authors as a fundamental problem; it did not even represent an obstacle to be overcome in drafting an acceptable text. There was no need to refer to the exclusion of women, directly or indirectly, for to the authors of the Constitution that exclusion was simply invisible.

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