The Moral Foundations of
Political ethics experts point to the Watergate scandal as having triggered the current preoccupation with government ethics.1 In fact, the storm clouds had begun gathering many decades earlier. Much of the battle over ratification of the Constitution, fought between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, focused on sharp differences of opinion regarding states' rights and individual civil liberties. "Federalism was a fram of mind, a set of attitudes that included belief in a strong activist central government,"2 a movement that feared the prospect of states' striking out on their own more than a national government's imposing its will on the states.
The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, feared that the national government would assert supremacy over the states. They demanded strict limitations on the power of that national government. And this debate did not end with ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Besides this ongoing debate over the relationship between the federal and state governments, the colonial period of American history saw the evolution of a model of the ideal public servant. This model stressed private-sector achievements and the willingness of successful citizens to take on public responsibilities and then return to their private lives. Historian Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book Hidden History, helps to explain the impact of our early national political figures on our political system: "In no other country has the hagiography of politics been more important. The lives of our national saints have remained vivid and contemporary."3