Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Anti-Federalists Were Right About Trump (and Many Other Things as Well)

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Gillian Brockell, a talented writer and researcher for The Washington Post's history blog Retropolis, interviewed four esteemed historians and scholars of the Constitution, about what, if anything, the Founders had to say about the possibility of a President of the United States who refuses to concede an election, contests the results to the bitter end, and then, when the results are clearly and finally against them, simply rejects the results and insists upon staying in office. Their answer? As the historian Sean Wilentz of Yale University sums it up: “No, the Framers did not envisage a president refusing to step down or discuss what should be done in such a situation. There’s obviously nothing in the Constitution about it.” Jeffrey A. Engel of Southern Methodist University expands on that a little:

"[The Founders] couldn’t fathom two things: a person who had become president who was so utterly lacking in classical virtue that they would deign or dare to put their own interests above the unity of the country. And the second thing is, I think they couldn’t fathom how any president who would so vividly display disdain for the unity of the country, and mock and undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, why that person [wouldn’t have] already been impeached and removed from office.”

Fortunately Brockell did sufficient research so as to be able to add in her article, at length, comments from one of the Anti-Federalists who opposed the Founders' constitutional creation, the anonymous Pennsylvanian known as "An Old Whig." This concerned citizen presciently wrote:

To be tumbled headlong from the pinnacle of greatness and be reduced to a shadow of departed royalty, is a shock almost too great for human nature to endure. It will cost a man many struggles to resign such eminent powers, and ere long, we shall find some one who will be very unwilling to part with them. Let us suppose this man to be a favorite with his army, and that they are unwilling to part with their beloved commander in chief....[A]nd we have only to suppose one thing more, that this man is without the virtue, the moderation and love of liberty which possessed the mind of our General [Washington]-- and this country will be involved at once in war and tyranny....

We may also suppose, without trespassing upon the bounds of probability, that this man may not have the means of supporting, in private life, the dignity of his former station; that like Caesar, he may be at once ambitious and poor, and deeply involved in debt. Such a man would die a thousand deaths rather than sink from the heights of splendor and power, into obscurity and wretchedness....

I would therefore advise my countrymen seriously to ask themselves this question: Whether they are prepared to receive a king? If they are, to say so at once, and make the kingly office hereditary; to frame a constitution that should set bounds to his power, and, as far as possible, secure the liberty of the subject. If we are not prepared to receive a king, let us call another convention to revise the proposed constitution, and form it anew on the principles of a confederacy of free republics; but by no means, under pretense of our public, to lay the foundation for a military government, which is the worst of all tyrannies.

Ah well, hindsight is always 20-20, right?


Unknown said...

Long response follows:
As someone who often ponders what our nation should be like 244 years hence if the anti-federalists had won the day, I was excited to read this piece. When people complain about "the world today" or say things, such as "it's all gone to pot," I chuckle at their serious lack of history. It's usually then when I pipe in and tell them about how our nation was doomed when the anti-federalists "lost" the debate with the urban industrialists who have since that day controlled our nation both in the marketplace and in the halls of government. Nevertheless, Mr. Fox, what I hope for your piece here (and being picked up at Front Porch Republic) is that some small segment of our nation even become aware that there was a debate for what kind of government our nation should have and that knowledge be inclusive of the tenants and messages of the anti-federalists. Alas, when American history is taught, if it's taught, the vague and sparse references to the pre-constitutional dialog is all too singularly focused to the federalists and cloaked in anti-Crown and anti-slavery messaging. The fact that Americans are so far removed from these dialogs of nearly two and a half centuries is evidence of the success of the educational system steering young minds away from the debate.
To the matter at hand, if the first successful nomination and election of Donald Trump is not an indication even to the casual observer that our nation is broken, then there is no hope for free-thinking America. If in the second and unsuccessful campaign for the office of the President, Mr. Trump refuses to acquiesce, then that is further indictment that the leaders of the RNC and corporate America are politically (and socially?) xenophobic toward the citizenry.
When a man or woman was royal head of Great Britain, the power behind the throne was Canterbury, despite the monarch being the official head of the church and not the archbishop. External forces to the executive and legislative arms of that or our own government have always been the real source of power and its corruption is now plainly to be seen by anyone. Those of reasonable faculty who do discount this still do see it, but refuse to corroborate this fact because of fear of losing power -- be they red, blue, green, purple, or other such identifier.
It was evident long before Mr. Trump's run for the nomination that he was a tyrant. No more than 15 minutes of viewing of his television show could reveal that. How the RNC could wink at his misogamy is incredulous. How the Christian could believe in his last-minute regeneration with no evidence of fruit is shameful. Will it require military power to extricate the man from his throne? Will he hate America so much that he will continue to put us on the players stage in this tragi-comedy for all the world to see? He is no American who will put his personal desires before the nation -- and that includes the original federalists who wanted to protect their business markets over the interests of the new nation.

Unknown said...

Apologies for the typos in my comment. Please correct where relevant.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Well said, Unknown! My affection for the Anti-Federalists isn't comprehensive; I think that are many good things which our constitutional system, partaking as it does of the capitalist state-making of modernity, brought about that might not have been the case under an Anti-Federalist confederal regime. But overall, I completely agree that it's sad so few people take seriously the real historical options that were--and still are--available to us. Of course, your right about Trump, and probably right about America's brokenness as well--though, as a little voice in my head always reminds me, Rome didn't fall in a day, and neither will America. How much good might still be done, in local neighborhoods and communities, as we slowly fall apart? Enough to make it worth propping up the whole system for as long as possible? I wonder.

Dan Grubbs said...

Mr. Fox, I'm not sure why my name was not showing up earlier, but the comment above is mine (typos and all). Like you, I wouldn't call myself totally affectionate to the anti-federalists. The issues were far too complex to say we could agree 100% with every tenant of either side of the debate about what our government should be like.
I appreciate your tempering influence in your response as I should mitigate my comment to say that the brokenness I am addressing is that we do not have statesmen to lead us, we have very few others-centric patriots, and we have example aplenty of those who see themselves, their causes, their desires far above those of the actual nation of diverse people.
I am not naïve to think that this nation will ever be a union of states instead of the single entity I believe it to be. The structure of our nation today was not what the founding fathers envisioned based on my study of history. However, maybe it is what some of the framers, such as Hamilton, worked to secure for corporations of the colonial cities. It is certainly not a nation for the people.