The Anti-Federalist Papers: Brutus III
On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Brutus” writes his third contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
Brutus is very upset about the manner in which congressmen are apportioned among the states. He summarizes the constitutional provision: “Representatives are to be proportioned among the states respectively, according to the number of freemen and slaves inhabiting them, counting five slaves for three free men.”
Brutus finds many problems with this provision. (Naturally!) First, its logic is unsound. Why count slaves, at all, if they are not free agents? Further, if slaves are only property, then why not also include other forms of property when considering how to allocate congressional representatives? But, second, he is upset that the new Constitution allows slavery to continue. These men, he states, “are held in bondage, in defiance of every idea of benevolence, justice, and religion, and contrary to all the principles of liberty, which have been publickly avowed in the late glorious revolution.” Making matters worse, he concludes, “these states are to be permitted to continue the inhuman traffic of importing slaves, until the year 1808.”
In short: Yes, unfortunately, some early Americans made the huge mistake of thinking slavery was morally permissible (as did much of the world at that time). But we can be proud of the other early Americans who saw the huge discrepancy between the Revolution they’d just fought and the institution of slavery.
Brutus is also upset about the equal representation for each state in the U.S. Senate. “How unreasonable, and unjust then is it,” he asks, “that Delaware should have a representation in the senate, equal to Massachusetts, or Virginia? The latter of which contains ten times her numbers, and is to contribute to the aid of the general government in that proportion?”
He does not think that the Congress can do a very good job of representing the country. It is too small, compared to the size of the population. “One man, or a few men, cannot possibly represent the feelings, opinions, and characters of a great multitude,” he concludes. In the end, Brutus believes that the “farmer, merchant, mecanick. and other various orders of people” will end up being excluded. Such a congressional body cannot succeed. It will inevitably “be managed by influence and corruption.”
He ends on a pessimistic note: “No free people on earth, who have elected persons to legislate for them, ever reposed that confidence in so small a number.”