The Anti-Federalist Papers: Brutus IV
On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Brutus” writes his fourth contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
“There can be no free government,” Brutus begins, “where the people are not possessed of the power of making the laws by which they are governed . . . .” He thinks that “legislation by representatives” is the “only practicable mode in which the people of any country can exercise this right.” He adds a big “but”! “[I]t is a matter of the highest importance,” he writes, “that [representation] be so constituted as to be capable of understanding the true interests of the society for which it acts . . . .”
In other words, if our laws are to be made by representatives, then let’s be very certain that those representatives are working for *us*, not themselves!
Brutus argues that the number of representatives in Congress will be too small. After all, human nature basically guarantees that “artful and designing” individuals will make their way into the legislature. These men “frequently possess brilliant talents and abilities,” and they will “assume any shape, and, Proteus like, mould themselves into any form.” If they cannot get their way by bribery, then they will “endeavor to mislead . . . by specious and false reasoning.” The best defense against these people is a “strong and numerous representation.”
Basically, you can only fool and bribe so many people at once. The more representatives, the better.
Brutus also believes that Congress, as it is proposed, cannot “possess the confidence of the people.” If government is to remain free, people must support the laws voluntarily. Otherwise, government will “compel obedience.” People cannot be free in this latter scenario. After all, the “same force that may be employed to compel obedience to good laws, might, and probably would be used to wrest from the people their constitutional liberties.”
These problems are compounded by the fact that Congress has been given some power over its own elections. Brutus acknowledges the arguments that the “dangers apprehended from this clause are merely imaginary,” because the “legislature will be disposed to regulate elections upon proper principles.” He thinks those arguments ring hollow. “[C]onstitutions are not so necessary to regulate the conduct of good rulers as to restrain that of bad ones,” he concludes.