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The Pit—And the Pendulum

Our Founding Fathers understood that they had inaugurated a republican federal union unique in its balance and distribution of powers. Unlike their descendants, who self-indulgently congratulate themselves on their democracy, the Fathers also understood that the preservation of such a regime was a daunting and demanding task, requiring virtue (in the masculine Roman sense) on the part of the citizenry as well as national good fortune. How to prevent rulers from usurping the rights of the people in the long run—as rulers inevitably tend to do—and, on the other hand, prevent majority rule (in its proper role as the deliberate sense of the people) from devolving into tyranny?

From the beginning, the founding generation identified dangers to the republican federal union under two antagonistic rubrics worked out in the quarrels between the friends of Mr. Jefferson and the friends of General Hamilton. The latter believed the greatest danger to be "disunion," that without a vigorous central power, self-government would perish from its own anarchic tendencies. The Jeffersonian party felt that liberty could be destroyed just as surely by another danger, "consolidation": the absorption of the sovereignty of the inhabitants of the various states by any or all branches of a "general government" intent on grasping powers beyond its legitimate and limited few.

Jefferson clearly regarded disunion...

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