The Price of Union

The Price of Union

The Price of Union

The Price of Union

Excerpt

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

WINTON CHURCHILL, in the House of Commons, November 11, 1947

IN 1788, when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were struggling to persuade the New York convention to ratify the Constitution of the United States, young De Witt Clinton composed a prayer for the Opposition: "From the insolence of great men--from the tyranny of the rich--from the unfeeling rapacity of the excise--men and tax-gatherers-- from the misery of despotism--from the expense of supporting standing armies, navies, placemen, sinecures, federal cities, senators, presidents, and a long train of etceteras, Good Lord deliver us." There speaks the deep American distaste for government, the belief that it is evil and that it must be kept weak.

The proposed constitution seemed weak enough to its friends--too weak for safety in the opinion of Hamilton. The thirteen states were left with all the powers which would normally concern "the lives, liberties and proper-- ties of the people," while the delegated powers of the Union were divided among the Executive, the Legislature, and the judiciary in the belief that they would check each other and prevent rash or oppressive deeds. Yet behind this modest proposal Clinton saw threats of insolence, rapacity, misery, needless expense, and all the corruptions of history. There is little doubt that he spoke for the majority in New York; and many citizens would still agree with him. A constant factor in American history is the fear of Leviathan, of the encroaching state.

We an trace this fear from prerevolutionary days, and we can trace the forces which have nevertheless caused Leviathan to grow steadily more ponderous. War and industrial revolution promote strong government. Foreign dangers, business depressions, sectional or class strife--whenever these are acute the people look to central power for help. Yet they have not abandoned hope that life might sometime be peaceful and that government might become frugal and unassuming, as Jefferson promised. And they have not abandoned the constitution which seemed to many of those who wrote it to err on the side of weakness, to put the liberties of the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.