Reader legaleagle_45 recommened I read The Federalist No. 46 by James Madison. Thanks for recommending it.
I’m not sure exactly what he expected me to derive from it – but I decided to write whatever thoughts and questions came into my head
The issue of Federal powers vs States rights is an incredibly complex issue with a long history of differing views, challenges and case law spearheaded by the issues of slavery and civil rights all the way up to guns and marijuana. I’m not attempting to give a history lesson or pretend I know enough to write intelligently about it. All I’m doing is quoting some passages that struck me and then giving my reaction.
I understand that Madison, in The Federalist No. 46 emphasizes the importance of the individual states, not only their wills, but also militias against a potential insane Federal Govt. A Federal Govt, if it became a threat to the States in some way.
“They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone”
Now more than ever, worldwide, people have more power than ever before in history. The Internet with it’s real time distribution of information has contributed greatly to this. Look at what social media, twitter, youtube etc have done worldwide, not only for business but causes, movements and injustices. Look at the “Arab Spring” for example. Yes we have a US Presidential campaign dominated by millions of dollars on both sides and goverment policy often influenced by special interests but ultimately YOU the voter still have the power to DECIDE what’s truth, what’s right. Like I said, my first thoughts. I believe he was referring to Militia might. If that’s the case then this point becomes moot as I read further.
“The first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States. Federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.”
Apparently Madison held cynicism and suspicion towards Politicians - just like we do today. Currently Congress has the lowest approval rating in 38 years. Only 1 in 10 Americans currently approves the job Congress is doing - 2012 Gallup poll.
“Every one knows that a great proportion of the errors committed by the State legislatures proceeds from the disposition of the members to sacrifice the comprehensive and permanent interest of the State, to the particular and separate views of the counties or districts in which they reside. And if they do not sufficiently enlarge their policy to embrace the collective welfare of their particular State, how can it be imagined that they will make the aggregate prosperity of the Union, and the dignity and respectability of its government, the objects of their affections and consultations?”
This is an interesting statement and a bit perplexing. Couldn’t this same question be asked of Congess? That unless they “enlarge their policy and collective welfare of their particular states and congressional districts” that they wont be able to make the collective United States prosper? Couldn’t this also be asked of individuals?
As I read this article, the context and time it was written in becomes very apparent to me. The anachronistic problem of some of his argument (I’ve referenced another current article about this subject recently) starts to become obvious here:
“Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger”
“The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”
Ok now HOLD YOUR HORSES THERE YOUNG MISSY!
Now we have 50 states, not 13. We have 314 million people, not 5 million. Madison and his fellow statesmen traveled by horses and buggys and the only things that flew were birds.
Does the context of all this thought of the 1700′s ever give anyone concern? If someone had told James Madison that someday we would travel to the moon or we would have a bomb (or few) that could essentially destroy the earth in minutes – would he have believed it? If he found himself in the Twilight Zone and all of a sudden landed in Times Square when the Twin Towers were falling, would he have not gone back and altered a single word of his writings?
This last statement, if read in light of modern warfare is completely false and puts his entire essay into an entirely different perspective doesn’t it?
While I marvel at his philisophical principles and wonderful intellect and am thankful for his contribution to the greatest system of Govt in the world, James Madison wasn’t here to witness Hiroshima or to watch the World Trade Centers being built or crumbling to the ground. I’m not going to list the ways in which the world has changed or every technological, military threat or advancements since 1788 but there were a few.
There’s a principle called “Accelerated Rate of Change”. Basically it means that progress (not just technological, but also, socially, economically and culturally) continues to increase at a faster and faster rate in a shorter period of time.
Here in The Federalist #46 James Madison provides an argument with some actual numbers (25,000 to 30,000 Military Soldiers vs 500,000 Militia Citizens who would be wielding pistols and rifles) which must be taken into account as some of the basis for his reasoning and thus the context of which it was written.
For us to be taking Madison’s every word and argument as the conclusive and ultimate source of wisdom and then have him direct all policy for the next 1,000 years, much less the next 261 years is ludicrous.
One thing we need to add to our great foundation of historical thought is the dialog of really smart, socially conscious people who live in the 21st century.