Term Paper: American Mistrust of Centralized Government

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[. . .] Further, the Federalists pointed out that the Constitution did not allow the federal government to do anything that was not specifically mentioned in the Constitution; since the Constitution did not state that the government could take away the rights of the people, the Federalists reasoned, then it could not.

The Anti-Federalists, however, did not believe that this guarantee was enough. They felt that if the rights and freedoms of the people were not specifically protected in the Constitution, then the federal government could easily come in and say it had the ability to take those rights away. The fact that the freedoms the people were used to were upheld in the hearts and minds of the people was not enough. The Anti-Federalists believed that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and thought that those who would be in the federal government would be no different. The Anti-Federalists wanted a guarantee. So, the Federalists gave in, and a Bill of Rights for the Constitution was written and amended to the document. The Constitution was subsequently ratified.

The fact that the Anti-Federalists distrusted the federal government even before it came into existence in its current form is testament to the level of mistrust of centralized government that ran through the veins of the people of this country. Having had the experience of their rights and liberties being trampled upon by the centralized government of England, the American people were wary of any government body with too great a concentration of power. The feeling seemed to be that the more concentrated the power was, the more likely that power was to become threatened by the freedoms of the people, and so try to take those freedoms away. It was not enough to the Anti-Federalists to take the proponents of the Constitution on their word that the new government would not become corrupted to the point that it tried to take away the liberties of the people. The Anti-Federalists knew how easily such a promise could be broken when power began to corrupt the members of the government. That is why they needed a guarantee that these liberties would always be protected, no matter what the members of the government wanted to do. American people today have a similar mistrust of the federal government, and tend to not believe it will do what it says it will do until there is something tangible in writing.

The creation of the Constitution and its guarantee of the preservation of the freedoms of the people in the Bill of Rights was not enough to create trust of the federal government for everyone, however. This was particularly true in the South. The North gave up slavery early on in the nation's history, and many voices were raised in opposition to the practice. The South, however, held onto slavery with a passion, and maintained a mistrust of the intentions of the federal government in regard to the preservation of slavery, particularly as opposition to it in the North grew ever stronger. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, this mistrust of the federal government grew to monstrous proportions. Abraham Lincoln, after all, was a vocal opponent of slavery. As president, the South was afraid that he would destroy the institution of slavery. A strong states' rights movement began in the South soon after Lincoln's election that operated under the principle that the Constitution's National Supremacy Clause was invalid, and that the states held sovereign rights still. This movement quickly led to the withdrawal of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the Civil War. The mistrust of the federal government had reached an extreme in the South, and the Civil War was the result.

Even after the end of the Civil War, this mistrust of the central government continued in this country. For a while, this mistrust was still concentrated in the South, especially during the Reconstruction period and again during the Civil Rights era. However, the people of the North held their own mistrust of the federal government, despite their support of it in the past. As the federal government took over more and more programs and functions that had been previously reserved for the states, and consequently began to spend more money and get the nation further into debt as a result, the people of the nation began to talk about an end to "big government." There seemed to be a general feeling in this country that the bigger the government got, the more programs it took over and the more money it spent, the more dangerous it became. The fact that the federal government was infringing on areas of control that had previously been the province of the states was of concern to the people of the United States. The feeling in the country seemed to be that as the federal government took more power away from the states, the danger of the federal government becoming despotic grew.

The people began to clamor for a return of power to the states to manage their own affairs. Politicians, seizing upon this national feeling, began to talk about an end to "big government" as well. Since it was the Democrats who were most closely associated with the large scale federal programs of "big government," it was the Republicans that the country turned to end the danger of big government.

Of course, once the Republicans were in power, the mistrust of the people toward the federal government did not end. Under the administration of the Republicans, the nation has gone to war, and there have been allegations of lies told by the president in order to facilitate this war. Rather than return the nation to fiscal solvency through the return of power to the states, the government has put the nation into even more debt in order to finance the war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The nation still mistrusts the federal government because the general feeling in the country now is that the federal government lies to the people. If we can not believe what the government tells us, we certainly can not trust it. Therefore, mistrust of the federal government continues.

Further, there is concern in the country that the federal government is subverting the Constitution and slowly taking away our rights and liberties, just like the Anti-Federalists were afraid it would. In this case, the Bill of Rights is no guarantee that these liberties will be preserved. The president is using his power of creating Executive Orders to put edicts that have the force of law into effect without having to go through Congress or any of the normal channels. The fear of the federal government gaining so much power that it takes away the rights of the people has always been present in the United States, based on the colonial experience with the centralized government of Great Britain, and now it seems to many as if the president has found a way to consolidate his power in a way that allows him to get around the Constitution. It is beginning to seem as if perhaps the Anti-Federalists were right in their concerns about creating a central government that was too strong.

A revolution was caused by the mistrust of the American people toward the government of Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, even states that it is the right and duty of the people to rise up and overthrow the government if the government is trampling on the rights of the people. This reasoning was used as the justification for the American Revolution. It is still a part of the foundation upon which our nation is built, as we still look to the Declaration of Independence for guidance in how well our nation is faring in upholding its founding principles. These words could easily be used as justification for another revolution, especially if the mistrust and discontent of out federal government grows too strong. This is why politicians and public administrators should take the mistrust of the people toward the federal government seriously, and should take the time to learn the causes of this mistrust. Once the causes are known, then something can be done to alleviate those causes and create a more stable infrastructure for the nation.

By studying the causes of the mistrust of the people for the federal government, public administrators can give advice to politicians and others in the governments as to how best to govern. It must always be remembered by politicians and others in the federal government that ours is a nation that is founded on freedom and personal liberty. These values are ingrained into the American consciousness and have been from the very earliest days of colonization. These values are deeply loved by the American people, and this is not likely to soon change. For over two centuries now, we have been the standard-bearer of freedom for the entire world. Other nations look to us… [END OF PREVIEW]

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