The power of the federal government,
exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every corner of the city and country. It ... will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar ... preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will attend him in his bed-chamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office or his study; it will watch the merchant in the counting-house or in his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop and in his work, and will haunt him in his family and in his bed; ... and finally ,it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people and in all these circumstances in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them will be GIVE! GIVE!
You would be forgiven if you guessed that this passage came out of recent rhetoric from the so-called Tea Party. It is taken, however, from one of the more grandiloquent passages of the famous antifederalist Brutus during the heated debates over the proposed federal Constitution in 1787-88.
Which makes one wonder: if it were transported back to 1787, would the Tea Party have rejected the Constitution that today it professes to love and defend? Most likely, yes.
This doesn't make their passion any less genuine, and it certainly doesn't mean that we should ignore the Constitution. I firmly believe the Constitution should be brought to bear on contemporary debates. But simplistic references to originalism and the Constitution as totemic touchstones are often historically confused and generally unhelpful, particularly when people have little idea about the substance of the debates over the Constitution when it was proposed and what they are defending (or rejecting).
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