Political Rhetoric in the Debate Over Ratification
The debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the Constitution offers a master class in political rhetoric.
More people are familiar with the Federalist side of the debate. Most have read James Madison’s eloquent defense of the new government’s institutional structure in Federalist 51 and understand why “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
And Madison summed up perfectly the central issue in the ratification debate when he wrote, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
The Anti-Federalist side of the debate is not as widely known. But it too includes many outstanding examples of political rhetoric. Some of the most articulate and incisive rebuttals of the essays composing the Federalist were written under the Anti-Federalist pen name Brutus.
In his sixth essay, published on this date in 1787, Brutus examined the extent of the government’s power to levy and collect taxes, duties, and excises under the proposed Constitution.
Consider the passage below in which Brutus describes the limitless nature of the government’s power to raise revenue. Its imagery and rhythm are undeniable; its conclusion, inescapable.