The Anti-Federalist Papers: John DeWitt III
On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “John DeWitt” writes his third contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
The Federal Convention has claimed one thing, but presented another, as far as DeWitt is concerned. “[The proceedings of the Federal Convention] are presented as a Frame of Government purely Republican, and perfectly consistent with the individual governments in the Union. . . . and not calculated to interfere with domestic concerns.” Yet, the “very contrary of all this doctrine appears to be true.” DeWitt’s language is scathing! The Constitution, he asserts is “nothing less than a hasty stride to Universal Empire in this Western World, flattering, very flattering to young ambitious minds, but fatal to the liberties of the people.”
DeWitt does not believe the Constitution places enough checks on power — as it should! After all, people in power “uniformly exercise all the powers granted to them, and ninety-nine in a hundred are for grasping at more.”
He examines the Senate, the “Aristocratical part” of the Congress. He is worried about the lengthy six-year term for Senators, particularly when combined with the Senate’s role in certain executive actions. He thinks the term in office is too long. Senators will not feel accountable to the people. Instead, “habituated to power, and living in the daily practice of granting favors and receiving solicitations, [a Senator] may hold himself completely independent of the people.” Moreover, the Senate will have a “decided superiority over the House of Representatives,” the “Democratical” branch, in part because congressmen have terms of only two years. DeWitt does not believe that the House will really “contain the sense of the people” anyway. There are too few representatives, living too far from their constituents, with re-elections that are too infrequent. The House, in his view, is an “Assistant Aristocratical Branch, who will be infinitely more inclined to co-operate and compromise with each other, than to be the careful guardians of the rights of their constituents.”
DeWitt is pessimistic, to say the least! He concludes with a note that Americans should “prepare an apology for the blood and treasure, profusely spent to obtain those rights which you now so timely part with.”