Federalist No. 17

Prior to Federalist No. 17 I had never completely disagreed with any of the federalist papers. Unfortunately , in discussing the possibility of a national government becoming stronger than would be desirable, Alexander Hamilton completely missed on his guess that:

It will always be far more easy for the State governments to encroach upon the national authorities than for the national government to encroach upon the State authorities.

Hamilton admits his lack of vision by saying:

I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons intrusted (sic.) with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the States of the {authority which should belong to them.}

My own assessment of where Hamilton went wrong was that he imagined an electorate that was perpetually working to stay informed. Instead today we have an electorate that has been diluted from the original – adult males who own property – to include any citizen, male or female, over the age of 18. I don’t mean to suggest that we should raise the voting age again, or make property ownership a requirement again, but I think it is fair to note that anyone who happens to be 18 does not necessarily have the same interest or inclination to become informed in their vote as someone who has property ownership which is directly affected by the actions of their representatives. Maybe we should adopt some requirement of tax payment – thus excluding those who have reached the age of 18 but who are simply living with their parents and not taking any adult responsibilities.

In truth, I think the biggest culprit is not the change in voting requirements as the rise of a society that is constantly lulled into complacency by a media culture that is predominantly experienced through passive reception. That seems to create a feeling of disconnectedness where people don’t have any real connection to government except to hear whatever the media covers – and the media naturally focuses on the larger national government more than more local government.

This disconnection would explain why the following assertion by Hamilton does not hold true today:

. . . the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.

In Utah today we have a state government that is acclaimed to be among the most wisely managed and yet many of our citizens think of little beyond presidential elections and the elections of our state representatives at the federal level.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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4 Responses to Federalist No. 17

  1. Jeremy says:

    The Civil War probably had a little something to do with the change in preference among Amnericans for state/local power versus federal power.

  2. David says:

    I’ll agree with you on that, but I don’t think that it was the Civil War that pushed us beyond the correct balance between State and Federal power. In fact, I would say the the Civil War caused the Federal government to finally have enough power.

    I would suggest that we reached the tipping point of more federal power than was desirable sometime around the first world war. (I’m not listing WWI as the cause, merely as a historical reference point.)

  3. Barbara says:

    This reminded me of an op-ed piece from Sundays Deseret News “Education’s greatest function is role in preserving democracy” (www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700232234,00.html?pg=2). Diane Cameron writes “It’s easy, amid our pressured lives, to forget how fragile our democracy is. We’re too busy to watch the news, to vote, to write our leaders. But this very good life that keeps us too busy to be good citizens is at risk.”

    And I would connect this with Right, Left, or Straight Ahead or asking the purpose of education although I think the question should be the purpose of public education. Ms. Cameron hit the nail on the head for me stating:

    “America’s Founding Fathers knew that an educated citizenry was the only means of preserving a true democracy. We get confused sometimes thinking that the core of our democratic process is about how many groups are represented or assuring majority rule. Democracy is a means, not an end.

    Democracy is not about “the majority.” It’s about debate. First adopted by the rational Greeks, democracy is about arguing freely to arrive at the wisest and most sensible conclusion for a community or a country.

    “Majority rule” is merely the method of deciding the outcome of the debate.

    Rigorous debate — not just sound bites — requires critical thinking; hence the crucial role of education.

    This year’s commencement speeches will include platitudes about how lucky we are to be Americans. And we are. But our freedom is not guaranteed.

    Living in a democracy is not a right that comes gift-wrapped just for being born at this geographic address. You have to earn it. And the capacity for intelligent and civil debate — along with a commitment to free speech — is the minimum fee to purchase citizenship. . .

    Thomas Jefferson, the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, knew that preserving America’s precious form of government would require educated, thoughtful and discerning citizens. . .

    They valued education not so that the United States would someday lead the world’s economy, but to ensure longevity for the form of government they were birthing. It was central to their vision of future generations enjoying a genuine constitutional democracy.”

  4. David says:

    Thank you Barbara, well said. I especially like the way Ms. Cameron described the fee to purchase citizenship (the capacity for intelligent and civil debate — along with a commitment to free speech). My only correction would be to observe that we have plenty of people who are given the rights of citizenship, who participate in voting and are vocal about participating in the debates but who demonstrate no capacity for intelligent and/or civil debate. And there are those with the rights of citizenship who demonstrate no understanding of or commitment to free speech.

    I think we need to get the word out on this purpose of public education and then we need to devise a way to make sure that those who desire to participate in the democratic process have paid the entrance fee.

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