Dr. Joel McDurmon | July 4, 2018
Upon the whole, we are too apt to charge those misfortunes to the want of energy in our government, which we have brought upon ourselves by dissipation and extravagance. —”Candidus”
(American Vision) – At a conference several years ago, during a Q&A panel discussion, a gentleman asked (paraphrasing), “At what point did things go wrong in America?” He certainly had in mind the general slide into tyranny we have experienced since our beloved founders. My response, I think, shocked many people.
Since we had just been discussing Abraham Lincoln and States’ rights in passing, the anticipated answer was “The Civil War.” I went back even further to the first great advance of tyranny: “The Constitutional Convention.”
There were a couple head nods (surely these had read something like Gary North’s Political Polytheism), but for the most part there was silence with several looks of surprise.
I went on to explain. Few people realize that the Constitution did not create American freedom, but was written during a period of unprecedented, already-existing freedom among virtually any people in history (1776–1787). The Constitution actually centralized many powers and eliminated certain areas of liberty.
Promising originally only to revise the Articles of Confederation, the framers emerged from Philadelphia with a completely different document that greatly centralized powers at the Federal level, certainly relative to what had been. It was a conscious coup on the part of those in favor of a strong centralized power. As Thomas Jefferson would write, looking back late in life, “[I]n the Convention which formed our government,” the Federalists “endeavored to draw the cords of power as tight as they could obtain them.”
Most people don’t realize, then, that the Constitution was actually the first great government expansion in this country—an expansion that set the precedent for much of the tyranny we experience today, believe it or not.
It was also vigorously opposed by some of the greatest advocates of liberty in our history, even though they lost out in Philadelphia. It is time we reaffirmed the ideals of freedom for which these neglected founders once fought, and which for the space of a few years made this country free.
The Real Sons of Liberty
Many of the principal fathers of the American Revolution saw today’s problems coming in their own time. Despite common sentiments, these prescient men are the least known, least read, and often completely forgotten figures of that time. They are not Washington, Madison, and Hamilton. They are not the authors of the Federalist Papers. These latter were actually the tyrants in the eyes of those whom I mention.
I am talking about the authors of the Anti-Federalist Papers. Few people today even read the much more publicized Federalist Papers. We’re not taught about them in school. The Papers’ language and concepts are often found too lofty and difficult, despite the fact that these Papers were mere newspaper editorials of their time. Few people know of them. Fewer read them.
Even fewer read the republican opposition of the day—the radical tea-party types of the day—the Anti-Federalists.
These liberty-minded leaders, however, saw the centralizing forces at work during their day as the sinews of tyranny. They knew absolutely where centralized government power would lead. On this principle, they opposed the Constitution itself, for it ceded too much power to the central government.
One of them, writing under the pseudonym “The Federal Farmer” (possibly Richard Henry Lee), foresaw the direction of centralizing power as a departure from a free society, but also as the long-term agenda of a few ambitious leaders:
The plan of government now proposed [the Constitution] is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our condition as a people. Instead of being thirteen republics, under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government.… This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for sometime past. Whether such a change… can be effected without convulsions and civil wars; whether such a change will not totally destroy the liberties of this country—time only can determine.1
The Judicial Back Door
Prominent among their concerns was fear that a Supreme Court would create a path to tyranny (especially of the wealthy over the common man). “Candidus,” attributed to Samuel Adams, warned that it would “occasion innumerable controversies; as almost every cause (even those originally between citizens of the same State) may be so contrived as to be carried to this federal court.”2 This means, effectively, the end of State sovereignty, for a partisan Court could construe any decision it liked, and that decision would stand for every State.
This fear materialized quickly after the Federalist proponents pressured the States to adopt the Constitution. Within a mere fifteen years, the nationalist John Marshall framed the system and then decided the very case he framed—Marbury v. Madison(1803)—in favor of the nationalist/Federalists and against the Jeffersonians. The decision established the doctrine euphemized as “judicial review,” by which the Supreme Court can essentially legislate through their opinions.
Marshall struck again at States’ rights in McCulloch v. Maryland (1824), determining that unelected directors acting in their own self-interest could run national banks within the States and yet remain exempt from State regulation. The whole decision was a national scam that profited big banks and the expansion of government by unelected leaders. I have covered this case in my article Exposing the Fed Scam.
Having the Supreme Court in these cases all but ensured that the people would be tyrannized, just as Candidus said. The Anti-Federalist “Brutus” wrote on the seemingly insignificant issue of Congress’ rights to set election parameters: “If the people of America will submit to a constitution that will vest in the hands of any body of men a right to deprive them by law of the privilege of a fair election, they will submit to almost anything.”3 When a yawning and complacent populace agrees to such advances of tyranny, it will take more than education to restore freedom. It will take pain:
Reasoning with them will be in vain, they must be left until they are brought to reflection by feeling oppression—they will have to wrest from their oppressors, by a strong hand, that which they now [before the Constitution was ratified!] possess, and which they may retain if they will exercise but a moderate share of prudence and firmness.4
Things have only gotten worse over time. The Federal Farmer’s warning came true. Indeed, time has told: state rights were virtually hijacked by the nationalists, and with them a variety of the freedoms of individuals.
Freedom and Self-Government
While problems can arise also under a decentralized system of freedom, these will not compare to the tyrannies that grow from the opposite. Candidus warned that we must “distinguish between the evils that arise from extraneous causes and our private imprudencies, and those that arise from our government.”5
Power over vital areas of human action such as commerce, legislation, defense, taxation, etc., Candidus realized as too precious and precarious to leave to the decisions of a few men to enact by governmental force; it should rather be left as decentralized as possible. Paying lip-service to the beloved leaders of the day, he foresaw that “though this country is now blessed with a Washington, Franklin, Hancock and Adams,” elected leaders shall not always possess such integrity, and “posterity may have reason to rue the day when their political welfare depends on the decision of men who may fill the places of these worthies.”6
In such times as he foresaw, when we lament the decisions of those elected leaders, we ought also to lament the centralized nature of the Federal government, and educate ourselves in the type of freedom mentioned here by Candidus. This type of freedom comes from the people, not from the government. This, however, presupposes a people who can govern themselves and possess themselves in responsibility and integrity. Freedom begins with the will of a people to live free, not with a people looking to power to secure themselves benefits at the expense of others. Indeed, Candidus warned that “coertion with some persons seems the principal object, but I believe we have more to expect from the affections of the people, than from an armed body of men.”7
Freedom, again, begins in the affections of the people. But like now, Candidus saw corrupt government as enabled by a pacified, fearful, and gluttonous people. He wrote this astoundingly prophetic passage:
Upon the whole, we are too apt to charge those misfortunes to the want of energy in our government, which we have brought upon ourselves by dissipation and extravagance; and we are led to flatter ourselves, that the proposed Constitution will restore us to peace and happiness, notwithstanding we should neglect to acquire these blessings by industry and frugality.—I will venture to affirm, that the extravagance of our British importations,—the discouragement of our own manufactures, and the luxurious living of all ranks and degrees, have been the principle cause of all the evils we now experience; and a general reform in these particulars, would have a greater tendency to promote the welfare of these States, than any measures that could be adopted.—No government under heaven could have preserved a people from ruin, or kept their commerce from declining, when they were exhausting their valuable resources in paying for superfluities, and running themselves in debt to foreigners, and to each other for articles of folly and dissipation:—While this is the case, we may contend about forms of government, but no establishment will enrich a people, who wantonly spend beyond their income.8
I cannot think of a more relevant prophetic warning to America—a warning which went unheeded and which now we bear the consequences: debt to both foreign nations and consumer corporations, largely due to extravagances in individual living, coupled with aversion to work and save. (I took a whole book to reflect on this passage and what it would take to get our freedoms back.) This is true at the level of individuals as well as at every level of government, punctuated by the bailouts of Marshall’s beneficiaries, the over-leveraged big banks, and continual pork projects for favored big-businesses. Sure enough, the government—despite its endless promises to the contrary—has not saved us from decline and moral decay, nor can it.
Assuming the ascription of “Candidus” to Samuel Adams is correct, we should expect a keen scolding were he here today. We should expect another Boston Tea Party over the coercive encroachments of government. Indeed, what have we in our latest installment but the tariffs (!)—the very instrument that instigated the original Tea Party? How about 20 or 30 times the level of taxation for which our founders were willing to shed their blood.
Taxation with representation has turned out far worse that the the cause of war. We ourselves are far worse tyrants than King George III ever thought of being. We cheer fireworks celebrating our declaration of independence from him, which has in the meantime meant greater slavery at our own hands.
We should, therefore, also expect from Sam Adams today a severe inventory of our private lives, our manner of work ethic, our manner of thrift, and our moral integrity to sacrifice for the cause of freedom.
We have failed in all of these areas, and we have received the government we deserved. Sam could well say, “I told you so,” and we would deserve it.
For some reason, however, I doubt he would. I suspect he would rather get to work on the proper remedy for Restoring America—beginning with personal repentance over our moral failures, continuing with an establishment of a lifestyle of work and frugality, and leading into a program of rolling back the size and scope of government until the only government officials with whom individuals have contact come only from the local county.
- In The Complete Anti-Federalist, 7 vol., ed. by Herbert J. Storing (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 2.8.4.
- “Essays by Candidus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 4.9.13.
- “Essays of Brutus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 2.9.53.
- “Essays of Brutus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 2.9.53.
- “Essays by Candidus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 7 vol., ed. by Herbert J. Storing (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 4.9.13.
- “Essays by Candidus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 4.9.15.
- “Essays by Candidus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 4.9.15.
- “Essays by Candidus,” in The Complete Anti-Federalist, 7 vol., ed. by Herbert J. Storing (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 4.9.18.