July 25, 2010

The Prescience of George Clinton

George Clinton
Constitutional conservatives are familiar with the collected writings by proponents of the Constitution known as The Federalist Papers.  Less well known and read are the counter-arguments of that debate embodied by The Anti-Federalist Papers.

The term “anti-federalist” for the authors was actually a misnomer.  These were patriots, giants of their time, who argued for a true federal government, limited in scope and power, subservient to the States in most aspects not related to the collective national interests and security.  Noted anti-federalists include Samual Adams, Patrick Henry, and a man considered the father of the Bill of Rights, George Mason.

These men raised serious questions about the vagueness in some of the language proposed.  That same vagueness that allows liberals and statists to claim the Constitution is a “living” document, open to re-interpretation by today’s societal standards.  The first ten amendments adopted, The Bill of Rights, addressed and corrected many, but not all of the concerns expressed in the Anti-Federalist Papers.

George Clinton, first Governor of New York and fourth Vice President under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, was among those anti-federalists arguing for stricter restraints on the government than those proposed during the Constitutional Convention.  There is some dispute, but Clinton is generally regarded as the author using the pseudonym of “Cato” when writing to the New-York Journal outlining his case against sections of the proposed Constitution as written.

The New-York Journal, November 22, 1787

To the Citizens of the State of New York.
In my last number I endeavored to prove that the language of the article relative to the establishment of the executive of this new government was vague and inexplicit, that the great powers of the President, connected with his duration in office would lead to oppression and ruin. That he would be governed by favorites and flatterers, or that a dangerous council would be collected from the great officers of state, -- that the ten miles square [District of Columbia], if the remarks of one of the wisest men, drawn from the experience of mankind, may be credited, would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious, and that the court would possess a language and manners different from yours; that a vice president is as unnecessary, as he is dangerous in his influence -- that the president cannot represent you because he is not of your own immediate choice, that if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy the that the president possessed of the power, given him by this frame of government differs but very immaterially from the establishment of monarchy in Great Britain, and I warned you to beware of the fallacious resemblance that is held out to you by the advocates of this new system between it and your own state governments.

Fast-forward 220 years after ratification of the Constitution to the Obama administration.  Consider first a $1.4 trillion budget deficit, $13.2 trillion in national debt, over $100 trillion in unfunded Federal mandates – add Obamacare, Government Motors, the housing loan industry takeover, and ‘here a czar, there a czar, everywhere a czar czar’ – then consider the warnings offered by George Clinton.

Dennis P. O'Neil