Who was Brutus 1?
- Brutus was a pseudonym used by a New York Anti-Federalist who was opposed to the Constitution of America.
- He wrote many essays to discourage New Yorkers from accepting the Constitution because he believed that it gives too much power to the central government.
- After the independence of the United States from the British Empire, the citizens of the 13 colonies created the Articles of Confederation to give structure to the newly formed nation of the United States of America.
- However, various events in the post-independence period of the United States such as Shays’ Rebellion exposed the shortcomings of the document.
- The delegates of the 13 colonies met and formed the Constitution of America as a governing document of the United States.
- It was based on Federalism wherein more power was given to the central government and the laws of the state could be superseded by the Supremacy Clause.
- Many people raised their objections via letters addressed to the people. They listed down the reasons for their objection and offered different solutions.
- The most notable ones were written by Brutus from October 1787 to April 1788. He wrote 16 essays and addressed all of them to the Citizens of the State of New York.
- Before the ratification of the United States Constitution Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote 85 essays in support of the Constitution.
- They were known as the Federalist Papers and were published under the pseudonym Publius.
- They argued that a stronger central government would unify the 13 colonies and also create a robust system to monitor the states that were non-compliant.
- The essays written by Brutus highlighted the pitfalls of adopting the constitution based on federalism and compared it to the state of monarchy.
- Nobody knows who was Brutus, however, many believe that he could be Melancton Smith of Poughkeepsie or John Williams of Salem.
- The name Brutus alludes to either the founder of the Roman Republic Lucius Junius Brutus or Marcus Junius Brutus who was one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.
- During the American Revolutionary War, the sentiment of patriotism had reached new heights.
- Any person in the Union who supported the Articles of Confederation was called Federal.
- When the delegates of the 13 colonies realized the shortcomings of the Articles of the Confederation, they used the word federalist to define themselves.
- The federalists formed the Constitutional Convention to reform the Articles of Confederation and termed those who opposed the reformation as anti-federalists.
- The opponents of the constitution resented the term and asserted that they are the true federalists.
- They came from various backgrounds and argued that a stronger central government did not necessarily mean stronger states and individuals.
- They compared the constitution to the monarchy of England and were afraid that a central government would challenge their sovereignty and personal liberties.
- Some people believed that the Articles of Confederation were sufficient for the governance of the United States, however, many others believed that though the present articles rendered the central government too weak, the new constitution could have exactly the opposite effect.
- The Anti-Federalists also pointed out that the constitution did not actually provide a truly federal government.
- They said, a federal government is made up of an alliance between states like the one provided by the Articles of Confederation.
- Even James Madison in his Federalist Papers admitted that the constitution is a combination of a federal and centralized form of government.
- The ratification of the constitution was preceded by debates in which various people from different backgrounds placed their points of view in the form of public speeches or articles.
- Many of them were written under pseudonyms to protect the identity of the speakers. The most famous among them were Brutus, Centinel, and the Federal Farmer.
The Liberties of the American People
- Brutus, like many other Anti-Federalists, shared the concern of losing personal liberties under the new government.
- According to him, it was necessary to create a bill of rights that would protect the people from the government.
- In his essays addressed to the people of New York, he reiterated the dangers of relinquishing power to the central government.
- He also warned that if the people lose power to the government the only way to gain it back would be through violence and wars.
- He reminded people about the American belief of ‘equality for all men’ which would be challenged since the constitution requires them to give up too many of their personal rights and freedoms.
- He suggested that criminal rights, freedom of the press, and free elections should be provided in a bill of rights to ensure that America does not lose its liberties.
- Brutus identified that Congress had too much control over the states and infringed on their independence.
- He suggested that a true federal state will allow the states to conduct their affairs on their own while managing those affairs which are common in nature to the Union.
- He also opposed the existence of a standing army during the time of peace. He believed that such a situation could harm the liberties of the people of America.
- Furthermore, the power of the centralized government to collect taxes and take credits on behalf of the United States deeply unsettled Brutus.
- He said that such powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause or the Elastic Clause were very dangerous and could dissolve the states if the constitution was adopted.
- Brutus wrote that it is practically impossible to have a free republic on as large a territory as the United States.
- He provided instances from Greek and Roman history to highlight how governments of growing territories can often become tyrannical.
- He insisted that it is the people that form a free republic, not their representatives and with the population and size of America the people would hardly know who their representatives are.
- He explained that the assemblies would be made up of people that an average citizen may not be acquainted with and who may not understand the issues of the people.
- He particularly objected to the power the Congress would have to change its own members through internal elections.
- The issue of slavery was also deeply discussed by Brutus in his essays. He strongly objected to the representation based on the three-fifths compromise.
- According to the three-fifths compromise agreed by the state delegates during 1787, the number of slaves in the southern states would count as three-fifths of their total population.
- This would increase the representation of the southerners in the assembly and also tie their taxes to the population of free and enslaved people.
- Brutus opposed this provision because he believed that the slaves have no share in the government and as such their population should have no impact on the number of members elected in the assemblies.
- He viewed this provision as corruption even though the foundational reason for the three-fifths compromise was the conflict between the small states and the large states during the Constitutional Conventions.
- The only aspect of this provision that Brutus agreed with was that each state will have the same number of senators no matter their size.
- But he strongly disagreed with the tenure of the senators which was 6 years. He thought that if a senator spends 6 years without direct contact with his constituents, he will become out of touch with their issues and concerns.
- Another issue that Brutus recognized was the method of electing senators. He suggested a rotational system to prevent lifetime appointments in the senate.
- He strongly opposed the appointment and impeachment of officers by Congress. He thought that it would focus the executive and judiciary powers in the same hands and could become very detrimental to the United States in the long run.
- According to Brutus, the constitution gave powers to the judicial branch which allowed it to increase the legislative authority, extend the jurisdiction of the courts while reducing and destroying the legislative and judicial powers of the states.
- He felt threatened by the Supreme Court’s power to discern the constitution according to its ‘spirit and reason’ which meant that it could dictate rulings that were beyond the words of the constitution.
- In England, the courts had the same power and they used it to manipulate the government however they pleased.
- He also warned that the state judiciaries would become redundant if the supreme court could scrap the decisions made by the state judiciary in relation to state legislation.
- He advocated to apply more checks and balances in the federal judiciary and include other reasons as grounds for the removal of the judges besides their involvement in criminal activities.
Ratification and the Bill of Rights
- The arguments of the Anti-Federalists were based on individualism. They believed that the constitution proposed by the Federalists would interfere with the rights of the individual.
- The position of a president was new at the time and they feared that too much power would make the United States a Monarchy and their President their King.
- Many states were supportive of the Anti Federalists and opposed the constitution strongly.
- The states of Delaware, New Jersey, and Georgia were the only ones that accepted the constitution without much opposition.
- Other states uniformly felt the need to include a bill of rights that would protect their individualism and prevent the tyranny of the federal government.
- The strongest opposition against the constitution was displayed in the state of Rhode Island where 1000 armed protestors almost began a civil war.
- On July 4, 1788, Judge William West led members of the Anti-Federalist party into Providence, Rhode Island to display their discontent and outrage against the constitution.
- In Massachusetts, the discontent was similarly felt, however, instead of protesting the delegates agreed to a compromise.
- The delegates of Massachusetts agreed to ratify the constitution only if it came with amendments made through a bill of rights. It was called the Massachusetts Compromise.
- Following the example of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York made similar demands in their ratifying instruments.
- These compromises meant that Congress had to include a set of 12 amendments as soon as the Constitution was brought into force.
- In 1789, 10 out of the 12 amendments were approved right away and were known as the Bill of Rights. While one out of the remaining two became the 27th Amendment almost 200 years later.
- Even though the Anti-Federalists were not able to stop the adoption of the constitution, the Bill of Rights overcame their objections and provided for a more stable and equal government.
- Therefore, the Anti-Federalists are remembered as the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
The first question that presents itself on the subject is, whether a confederated government be the best for the United States or not? Or in other words, whether the thirteen United States should be reduced to one great republic, governed by one legislature, and under the direction of one executive and judicial; or whether they should continue thirteen confederated republics, under the direction and control of a supreme federal head for certain defined national purposes only?
This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends, for by the last clause of section 8th, article 1st, it is declared “that the Congress shall have the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution, in the government of the United States; or in any department or office thereof.” And by the 6th article, it is declared “that this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and the treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby anything in the constitution, or the law of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” It appears from these articles that there is no need of any intervention of the state governments, between the Congress and the people, to execute anyone power vested in the general government and that the constitution and laws of every state are nullified and declared void, so far as they are or shall be inconsistent with this constitution, or the laws made in pursuance of it, or with treaties made under the authority of the United States.
P.S. If you enjoyed what you read and are a teacher or tutor needing resources for your students from kindergarten all the way up to high school senior (or even adults!), check out our partner sites KidsKonnect, SchoolHistory, and HelpTeaching for hundreds of facts, worksheets, activities, quizzes, courses, and more!