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The Perennial Publius:

Professor Matthew Franck, Chair of the Political Science Department at Radford University, has inaugurated a new feature at NRO's Bench Memos (a blog to which I also contribute): The Perennial Publius. Inspired by a class he is teaching on the The Federalist Papers, Franck has inaugurated a series of posts on the wit and wisdom contained therein. As he explains:

This semester I'm teaching a senior-level class in which my students and I are marching through the whole of The Federalist, the series of 85 essays written in 1787-88 to urge the ratification of the Constitution. Using the whole series in a class is a rare thing, in most universities, and I've never done it myself as a teacher. But the essays of Publius (the nom de plume of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) are such a rich trove of insights into the principles of the Constitution, and of the thinking that undergirds it, that returning to them again and again is always a rewarding experience. . . .

Plus, as some scholar once demonstrated years ago (and it was no surprise), the Federalist essays are the most frequently cited source in Supreme Court opinions, after the Court's own precedents themselves. How much authority to grant the hurried productions of Publius is an interesting question. But the prose is so sparkling, and the work looms so large in American consciousness as our most distinctive contribution to political science, that the temptation is always there in judicial chambers to haul out the Federalist for support. And more often than not, you'll be on firm ground.

Franck has contributed eight items to the series thus far, including today's item on Hamilton's suspicion of standing armies. He is a provocative scholar who doesn't mince words, so this series is definitely worth a look. The series, and Franck's other posts on Bench Memos, are indexed here.

frankcross (mail):
Hamilton wasn't really suspicious of standing armies, as the piece ultimately indicates. He was probably the foremost proponent of having a standing army and he had to fight off the more libertarian anti-federalist types to keep them from an express constitutional prohibition.

On the broader point, I agree that the Federalist had enormous insight, ahead of its time, but it seems contested whether it truly reflected the content of the Constitution
1.31.2007 11:40am
Elliot Reed:
it seems contested whether it truly reflected the content of the Constitution
Why would it? It was essentially a series of newspaper op-ed pieces, so we'd expect systematic misrepresentations. It would be surprising if it represented their sincere beliefs about what the Constitution would in fact do rather than their sincere beliefs about what it would be easiest to sell the Constitution as doing.
1.31.2007 12:23pm
Mark Field (mail):
I'd be more impressed with Franck's arguments if he offered cites or quotes instead of his own say so. In fairness, the commentary may have word limits and very likely doesn't reflect his full judgment.

The linked article, in particular, focuses on only a portion of Hamilton's argument while ignoring the conclusion: that Union will make large armies unnecessary in the US.

Hamilton noted the subtle interplay between external threat and the internal military. His conclusion was that Union would remove the internal threats as a matter of course, while the external threats will be removed because of our isolation from other countries.

Thus, it was NOT military strength which Hamilton argued for; he was instead urging that we take favorable advantage of our isolated situation. If military strength does become necessary, Hamilton notes that it is the size of the external threat which forces the size of the military, not vice versa (as Franck seems to argue). That doesn't make a large military desirable, it just makes it necessary.
1.31.2007 12:27pm
Mark Field (mail):

I agree that the Federalist had enormous insight, ahead of its time, but it seems contested whether it truly reflected the content of the Constitution


I value the Federalist, but I learned a lot more when I read Madison's Notes of the Debates.
1.31.2007 12:29pm
MS (mail):
A provocative scholar? He reads like a drunk uncle.

e.g., "As obvious as this is, sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. I'd like to have this sentence tattooed on the forehead of the feckless new junior senator from Virginia."

I'm not impressed.
1.31.2007 12:39pm
Edward O'Connor (mail) (www):
I'd be more impressed with Franck's arguments if he offered cites or quotes instead of his own say so.


(Shameless plug) He could at least link into the relevant sections at federali.st.
1.31.2007 12:45pm
MS (mail):
federali.st is cool. Thanks.
1.31.2007 1:05pm
frankcross (mail):
Why would it? It was essentially a series of newspaper op-ed pieces, so we'd expect systematic misrepresentations. It would be surprising if it represented their sincere beliefs about what the Constitution would in fact do rather than their sincere beliefs about what it would be easiest to sell the Constitution as doing.

I have the opposite take. I think the "selling to the public" is what may validate the Federalist. The legitimacy of the Constitution does not come from the fact it was authored by Madison but from the popular ratification. Thus, if the Federalist was in fact the popular understanding of the Constitution at the time, that would support their validity. I think the fact that the Federalist authors were trying to sneak their own beliefs into the document is what makes it more questionable.
1.31.2007 1:51pm
Speaking The Obvious:
I see nowhere in Franck's admittedly brief discussion why Hamilton opposed STANDING armies. Franck's conception this means nothing more than armies of an appropriate size--neither too little nor too large, relative to population--turns a revolutionary view of the Founder's, nowhere seen today, into some bizarre political equivalent of the Goldilock's story. I assume Franck is a law professor and not a historian.
1.31.2007 3:53pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
The Federalist Papers --

It is just amazing how so many in todays world continue to debate the meaning of these papers, while losing sight of the most important fact of all -- what the writings are inked upon, "Papers." And so it will come to pass as their worlds as-they-know it collapse from all around them, the temperatures heat up, waters rise, and the great northward migration begins.

American papermaking began just over 300 years ago in Philadelphia. The first paper mill was established in 1690 in Philadelphia, historybuff, the hotbed of a youthful Bar and Bench.

Papermakers learned how to make paper from trees in the mid-1800s, allowing a massive expansion in communications via paper usage. At the time, people considered forests and energy to be unlimited, and air and water infinitely capable of cleansing and renewal. Today, we recognize the limits of resource demand and the necessity for environmentally sustainable production systems -- i.e., the place paper should have in our brave new world.

The United States produces more paper and paper-board than any country in the world. It has maintained this position by consistently producing about one-third of total world production, far more than any other country. That's a lot of blame for who's causing global warming.

Todays Courts and Bar Examiners in at least four States -- Florida, Georgia, California, and Kentucky -- vigorously support massive deforestation efforts to maintain their paper-based judicial and attorney licensure systems. And lets never forget in addition to the Florida State Courts Systems resistance to paperless change, the number of paper briefs people have to file at the Florida Supreme Court, paper ballots, hanging chads, and Bush v. Gore.

As we are about to hear on February 2nd, when the first of the devastatingly grim global warming disaster climate change reports is released, it will become more clear than ever -- these State Courts and Bar Examiners should no longer have the right to exploit the environment by utilizing deforestation to maintain a massive paper-based system that locks out disabled paperless electronic assistive technology users from meaningfull access to the Courts and their licensure while destroying our Earth. Three centuturies of global warming destruction is enough.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again -- the northward migration from Florida is at the threshold, we need global climate change attorney reciprocity now.

As Bob Dylan warned many many years ago ...

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone

-- Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'

Now there's something for The Federalist Papers to really write about.
2.1.2007 12:55am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Where's whit when ya need him?
2.1.2007 1:03am
Visitor and passerby:
Wow. I must say it takes no time at all for you to take a discussion on The Federalist into a screed about AGW! That feat alone is worthy of note.

I've seen the 'proof' of AGW in citing Polar Bears; slow warming; melting glaciers and ice caps; hurricanes etc ad nauseum...but never paper usage! And the bonus is that the fault again (!) lies at the feet of the contemptible, gluttonous and avaricious denizens of that pernicious USA.

...btw, federali.st is cool.
2.2.2007 4:17pm