You may think that the current debate between the Tea Party and Democrats over the role of the federal government is relatively new. It’s not. The debate is as old as the nation itself. Following the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there was an intense debate over the same issue.
Anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason and John Hancock were against the Constitution. They feared that a strong federal government would lead to monarchy. They believed that the bulk of the power should rest with the states and saw no value in abandoning the original Articles of Confederation. They feared an independent judiciary and disliked the separation of Church and State.
On the other hand, Federalists such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin believed the Articles of Confederation were too weak, and that a strong central government was necessary to hold the new nation together and raise the revenue needed to fund military pensions, foreign embassies, etc.
The Federalists won, but the fight has never ended.
One could make a strong case that this very issue led to the Civil War. The South claimed states’ rights in order to maintain slavery. And, following the war, former Confederate states complained of oppression by the federal government during Reconstruction, vowing that the South would rise again.
The issue resurfaced following World War II with the John Birch Society. It was, once again, front and center during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
Now the Tea Party is leading the fight.
To support their beliefs, the Tea Party faithful, along with the nitwits on Fox News and talk radio, selectively quote the Founding Fathers in order to convince us that they (the Tea Party) are the true patriots; that they are merely doing as the Founders wanted.
What they neglect to mention is that there are at least as many quotes by Founding Fathers extolling the virtues of a strong federal government. Moreover, the Constitution itself is evidence that the Federalists prevailed, as the Constitution is the very instrument that created the strong federal government in its current form.
The teabaggers can complain all they want about the federal government being too big and too powerful. They really can’t change that without abandoning the Constitution or starting another Civil War. And we all know how the first one turned out.
If you’d like to learn more about this subject, I highly recommend That’s Not What They Meant! Reclaiming The Founding Fathers From America’s Right Wing by Michael Austin.