The Revolution’s Failure and Excesses

John Dickinson. By: Charles Willson Peale.

The culmination of beliefs and events that led to the drafting of the Constitution were varied but also generally in agreement about the necessity of having the Constitution.

The Federalists were focused “on the politics of the Congress” and the “politics of the states.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 475. To Federalists, creating a strong national government was “the ultimate act of the entire Revolutionary era; it was both a progressive attempt to salvage the Revolution in the face of its imminent failure and a reactionary effort to restrain its excesses.” Id.

It seemed that the only antidote for the United States’ illness was introducing a strong structure that tied the states together and also not be “dependent on the character of” the people. See id. This could save “America’s experiment in republicanism.” Id.

The Federalists, agreeing with George Washington that virtue had”in a great degree taken its departure from our land,” believed that a new kind of republican government was needed: one that was not dependent on the virtue of the people. Id. In fact, if the government could not change the people, then they were convinced they must “influence the operation of the society and moderate the effects of its viciousness.” Id.

As John Dickinson stated, and other supports of the new federal Constitution agreed, the Constitution must make up for “where the states” had failed, which was in protecting “the worthy against the licentious.” Id. quoting John Dickinson, The Letters of Fabius, in 1788, on the Federal Constitution . . . (Wilmington, Del., 1797), in Ford, ed., Pamphlets, 188.

The Federalists’ perspective on the Constitution was centered on continuing the American experiment but altering its specific construction so that the government may best protect its people against themselves.

This idea of government’s role may seem repulsive to many contemporary conservative Republicans, who believe the government’s role should be more passive. But it is important to remember that the Federalists’ perspective ultimately formed the basis for the Constitution. It was obviously balanced against the Republican beliefs, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who did not believe a strong national government was necessary or desirable.

Ultimately, this should inform the role that government should play in individuals’ lives. Whether Americans like it or not, the very structure of their government was created with a sincere concern that people would allow society and morals to irreversibly deteriorate. To some extent, it may be said that the shrinking of government may foster an environment for licentiousness Americans. According to the Founding Fathers, that would create an environment ripe for reformation and government intervention. That should not be forgotten.

Leave a Reply