On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Federal Farmer” writes his fourth contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
This paper is quite lengthy, just like its predecessor! I’ll do my best to hit a few important highlights.
The Federal Farmer begins by noting a contrast: The state constitutions then had bills of rights. The proposed U.S. Constitution still did not. But since the Constitution, its laws, and its treaties will be the “supreme law of the land,” doesn’t this pose a problem? The national government can easily pass a law “incompatible with the ancient customs, rights, the laws or the constitutions” of the state governments—and yet the national laws will still trump! Won’t this put the rights of the people in danger?
Obviously, the Federal Farmer concedes, national laws must be “supreme, and superior to state or district laws.” However, the scope and nature of those laws should be restricted. Those restrictions have not been placed on the proposed U.S. government, in the Federal Farmer’s view. He is particularly concerned about the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I, Section 8. (Congress has the power to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers. . .”)
A “wise and prudent congress,” he concedes, “will pay respect to the opinions of a free people, and bottom their laws on those principles which have been considered as essential and fundamental in the British, and in our government.” But, unfortunately, a “congress of a different character” will act differently.
The state constitutions protect against these types of excesses. The federal constitution does not.
Finally, the Federal Farmer is worried about the difficulty of amending the Constitution. The Constitution requires “two-thirds of the congress, or two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states” to propose such an amendment. He would have preferred to place this power in the hands of the people. “[W]hen power is once transferred from the many to the few, all changes become extremely difficult,” the Federal Farmer notes, “the government, in this case. being beneficial to the few, they will be exceedingly artful and adroit in preventing any measures which may lead to a change; and nothing will produce it, but great exertions and severe struggles on the part of the common people.”
Wow. When you think of how difficult it has been to get changes such as Term Limits or a Balanced Budget Amendment, his words ring rather true, don’t they?