Happy Anniversary, Federalist No. 1!

posted at 6:05 pm on October 28, 2011 by Tina Korbe

These days, especially among Tea Partiers, it’s a marker of immense credibility to be called a “constitutional conservative.” But, as with any label, the term is easily coopted, applied as a veneer atop entrenched pro-growth-of-government ideas. Fortunately, we have in The Federalist an eloquent exposition of the intent of the Framers and a sure interpretation of the Constitution.

As it happens, Alexander Hamilton penned the first of the Federalist papers 224 years ago today. Surely that anniversary is worth commemorating, especially as Hamilton’s first-paragraph encapsulation of just what was at stake in the American experiment remains one of the briefest illuminations of the import of that experiment in history and around the world.

First, let’s recall that first paragraph:

[I]t seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

David Azerrad explains the significance for us today:

At stake in the debate to ratify the Constitution was more than “your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness”—important as they were and remain: Americans were embarking on an experiment in self-government that would, if successful, vindicate man before all the princes, kings, and assorted thinkers who had firmly denied that men could govern themselves.

At the heart of the Founding, as James Madison would later explain in Federalist No. 39, was “that honorable determination, which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all of our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

Too often, “the American Dream” is conflated with the car, the house, the spouse, the kids, the trips to Disneyland or to the ski slopes. But to reduce the American Dream to the mere material is to miss that the American Founders, rather uniquely in all of history, made a statement to the world that they wanted to be free to govern themselves even more than they wanted to be rich and prosperous. As it happens, freedom leads to prosperity — but, incredibly, prosperity was even less the point than self-government and freedom.

Government regulation — the arguments for and against — has become a hot topic, thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement. But, all too often, the debate hinges on whether the regulations do what they’re intended to do or on what the costs of the regulations are in terms of dollars and jobs. Those are meaningful discussions to have — but so, too, is the question of whether we really want to cede that privilege of regulating ourselves — so bravely entrusted to us by the Founders — to the government. We betray the trust of the Founders when we act in such a way as to trample the rights of others and to invite increased government intervention in our lives. But we uphold it when we do discipline ourselves to respect others’ equal rights.

Azerrad reminds us that today is an anniversary of another important moment in American rhetoric. Nearly 50 years ago (47, to be exact), Ronald Reagan delivered his “A Time for Choosing” speech. The question he posed then must be answered by every generation, for, as Reagan once put it, “Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction.”

This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.


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Liberals say, “What?”

Oil Can on October 28, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Liberals say, “What?”

Oil Can on October 28, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Huh? : )

listens2glenn on October 28, 2011 at 6:13 PM

incredibly, prosperity was even less the point than self-government and freedom.

To some [few] of us, living a ‘moral’ life (in the philosophical sense) is more important than accumulating great wealth.

Thank you Ms. Korbe for a nice post, and a timely reminder.

Skandia Recluse on October 28, 2011 at 6:21 PM

“This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

“We Can’t Wait…!”

/

Seven Percent Solution on October 28, 2011 at 6:29 PM

. . . . . . . . to reduce the American Dream to the mere material is to miss that the American Founders, rather uniquely in all of history, made a statement to the world that they wanted to be free to govern themselves even more than they wanted to be rich and prosperous.
David Azerrad

In the contemporary political debate of today, we are finding ourselves having to define ‘freedom‘, because the opposition has been very actively corrupting and redefining it’s meaning in public discourse for forty some odd years now.
Ask any highschool student in our current Public School Indoctrination System what freedom means to him or her, and see what I mean.

It’s really no longer ‘good enough’ to simply say we want freedom.

listens2glenn on October 28, 2011 at 6:31 PM

It seems handling prosperity is the problem. Prosperity seems to create either a sense of entitlement, or some kind of self loathing based on guilt. Prosperity is a catalyst for decadence that erodes successful societies.

moc23 on October 28, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Hamilton, Madison and Jay had such good hopes and dreams for this fragile experiment in human relations.

All realized that to persevere the new Nation required not only leaders, real leaders, but leaders and citizens of good moral character and intelligence who could discern the truth in the written word and know the blatant lie, who knew the value of hard work, and due diligence against foes, foreign and domestic…and possessed of the eternal vigilance freedom demands.

224 years later…seems all those attributes are no longer desired in the public sector, let alone in the private home.

Good Lord, what have we allowed ourselves to become?

coldwarrior on October 28, 2011 at 6:35 PM

These quotes from #1 seemed especially timely:

A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.

…and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

It’s good to be reminded of our foundations.

Here’s the link at Gutenberg.

Ace ODale on October 28, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Good Lord, what have we allowed ourselves to become?

coldwarrior on October 28, 2011 at 6:35 PM

I would like to address many of the Baby Boomers out there. You did this. You started the path of destruction to our country in your teens and early twenties in the 1960′s. Ask yourself this question boomers: Is the country better off now? You have been Raging Against the Machine your whole life and where has it gotten us? It is up to my generation to fix this country, and we will, but you should be ashamed at the destruction you have caused. You’re fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers lived through and endured the Great Depression and two world wars to give you a better life and all you have done is squander the immense prosperity and opportunity afforded to you by them.

alohapundit on October 28, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Good Lord, what have we allowed ourselves to become?

coldwarrior on October 28, 2011 at 6:35 PM

I think we see the answer all around us and it is what makes me feel isolated and in despair!! For the first time in my life I am not proud of my country(Government) It must be like PTSD for soldiers. These past three years have been the most upsetting of my life. I worry that the battle is lost!! Is there any hope to return to the greatness we all enjoyed??

Marco on October 28, 2011 at 7:07 PM

me and the wife went to an nice restaurant last night and the staff was attentive etc. So natch, we left a good tip.

Now that staff, over the course of a week, will all probably do pretty well for themselves. Not lavish, but certainly livable.

regrettably many people now feel that waiting tables, or any of thousands of semi-skilled jobs that exist, is beneath them.

I hear ads for OTR truckers. So there’s another example. But no, it is easier to camp out and complain than to actually try to do some honest work.

r keller on October 28, 2011 at 7:47 PM

I would like to address many of the Baby Boomers out there. You did this. You started the path of destruction to our country in your teens and early twenties in the 1960′s…

alohapundit on October 28, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Not all of us, son.

I’ve been voting and talking and working conservative for longer than many of your generation have been alive.

Tarring a whole generation with such a broad brush is akin to doing the same to a whole race of people.

Siddhartha Vicious on October 28, 2011 at 7:50 PM

I would like to address many of the Baby Boomers out there. You did this.

Oh, go scapegoat someone else for a change. You probably use a computer or cellphone created by one of us. We went to the moon. We made great music. We broke the back of institutionalized racism and sexism. I’m sorry there are so many of us you feel so marginalized. Actually, I’m not.

YehuditTX on October 28, 2011 at 9:14 PM

THIS…is where you shine, Tina…

lovingmyUSA on October 28, 2011 at 10:05 PM

YehuditTX on October 28, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Yeah…what you said!!!

lovingmyUSA on October 28, 2011 at 10:06 PM

Just as a public service. . . .

The Federalist Papers are in the public domain and you can download a copy easily from a number of sources.

Additionally, both iTunes and Android Market have free copies you can download to your smartphone.

They are a great way to pass the time when you’re stuck somewhere with no signal or wifi or just to read straight through.

If you don’t have a copy, there’s really no excuse.

Go ahead, download away!

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18

Jason Coleman on October 29, 2011 at 1:16 AM

Tarring a whole generation with such a broad brush is akin to doing the same to a whole race of people.

Siddhartha Vicious on October 28, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Thanks Dad. Read my post I said many not all. And my grandfather who served in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters warned me about your generation. It’s sad that he was right. War on Poverty, “Summer of Love”, LSD, Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human services, Jimmy Carter, Slick Willie Clinton, ever creeping socialism. Yep, thanks…er…no thanks. I’ll take Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and Jefferson over any Boomer (yeah ANY and ALL this time not just MANY). Enjoy having no Social Security to fall back on creep, and thanks for stealing prosperity from my 2 children.

We made great music
YehuditTX on October 28, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Yeah, thanks for Bob Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, but I’ll take Sinatra over those clowns any day of the week. You made this bed boomer, now own it.

alohapundit on October 29, 2011 at 2:05 AM

Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and Jefferson Hamilton
alohapundit on October 29, 2011 at 2:05 AM

I apologize, Boomer education system showing through there…

alohapundit on October 29, 2011 at 2:17 AM

Thanks Dad. Read my post I said many not all. And my grandfather who served in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters warned me about your generation. It’s sad that he was right. War on Poverty, “Summer of Love”, LSD, Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human services, Jimmy Carter, Slick Willie Clinton, ever creeping socialism. Yep, thanks…er…no thanks. I’ll take Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and Jefferson over any Boomer (yeah ANY and ALL this time not just MANY). Enjoy having no Social Security to fall back on creep, and thanks for stealing prosperity from my 2 children. Yeah, thanks for Bob Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, but I’ll take Sinatra over those clowns any day of the week. You made this bed boomer, now own it.

alohapundit on October 29, 2011 at 2:05 AM

Liberal Baby Boomers own that cr@p, and Liberals now want to double down on it. The Tea Party was started by the Baby Boomers that do not own it. Conservatives have been fighting for a long time against this. Woodrow Wilson, FDR and LBJ all Progressive Liberals brought this on. I do not feel shame nor do I plan on owning something I have fought against my whole adult life, welcome to the battle, we sure need the help!
PS Never planned on SS, I have always believed that when my time came it would not be there.

IowaWoman on October 29, 2011 at 5:39 AM

Well..i have been reading the Federalist papers for a week or so. Hamilton has a way with words.. have read the first 8 papers or so and it is very interesting.

The American Experiment is so incredible that it begets awe and wonder…. how could people who lived a good 200 plus years back think so critically and brilliantly – in an age of very little technical innovation, how could these men..giants of men think so much and so well ?

One word of caution, though… Hamilton believed in a very strong central Government. No he was no big government loving ideologue but he was very sensitive to the perils of a young country faced from both within and outside the American Union… how ever this did not go down well with many other patriots including George Mason. he was also opposed to an explicit Bill of Rights which was introduced only because of James Madison and George Mason’s insistence.

nagee76 on October 29, 2011 at 7:57 AM