Saturday, January 28, 2012

Politics: More or less power to the Federal Government? A question since the founding of America!

After America won its independence from England, it became apparent that the Articles of Confederation provided for too weak a central government for the nation to thrive.  Thus, the Constitution was drafted to increase and yet limit the powers of the central government.

One of the great gifts of the first President, George Washington, was his good character to actually attempt to live by Constitutional limits.  As the military leader of the Revolution, he was such a hero to the American people that he could have easily ruled as a dictator.  In the history of the electoral college, how we select Presidents, he was the only one to receive a vote from every elector in 1788 and 1892, and thus be unanimously elected President!  Nonetheless, he filled out a cabinet with strong figures with differing views and did not seek a third term.

I recently read Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein.  On pp. 90-91, he described the tension between Hamilton who wanted a stronger government and Jefferson who distrusted giving more power to the federal government.  Both men served in Washington's cabinet.

Excerpt:
Jefferson feared that Hamilton had plans radically at odds with the Constitution.  As he saw it, Hamilton wanted to warp the federal government out of constitutional shape ....... Only a republic could preserve liberty, Jefferson insisted, and only virtue among the people could preserve a republic.......  To preserve liberty, Jefferson argued, government had to be as close to the people as possible.  To him, that meant a decentralized government, giving power over domestic issues to the states, the level of government closest to the people, and not to a distant federal government.

In contrast, Hamilton saw himself as free from local interests and prejudices, a true advocate of the national interest...... Doubting the state government's ability to respond to national problems, he maintained that only a strong general government could defend American interests effectively.  Finally, he did not share Jefferson's faith in the people's wisdom, nor did he believe that allying the rich with the government would create a corrupt aristocracy and destroy liberty.

Doesn't this sound familiar?

The more things change the more they stay the same.

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