Bench Memos

Re: Anti-Federalist Society

Thanks, Kathryn, for the link to that silly little letter by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. about the Federalist Society (for the record, I am not now and never have been a member, nor have I attended any of their functions). He writes that its members display a “shocking ignorance of American history,” and here’s his entire reason why:

“The Federalist Party, the party of Washington, Adams and Hamilton, stood for a strong central government. The Federalist Society stands for negative government and states’ rights. If its members were honest, they would call themselves, in the terms of the 1790’s, the Anti-Federalist Society.”

Well, now. The Federalist Society uses as its logo a silhouette of James Madison, often accompanied by a quotation from one of Madison’s essays in–you guessed it–The Federalist. Clearly the Society’s focus is on the use of the name in association with advocacy of the Constitution as such.

As for the period of the 1790s, by then there were, properly speaking, no such persons as Anti-Federalists, that name being accurate only while the question of the Constitution’s ratification was still pending and for a very brief time thereafter. In the split that took place between Adams and Hamilton on one side and Jefferson and Madison on the other during the 1790s (Washington belonging to neither party), the former claimed the name “Federalists” and the latter the name “Republicans” (though their party was the lineal ancestor of today’s Democrats).

And I don’t know where Schlesinger gets the idea that members of the Federalist Society are uniformly “for negative government and states’ rights.” I have met members who are staunch Hamiltonians on such questions. It’s a pretty diverse crowd, united by little else than a rejection of the doctrine of the “living Constitution.”

Here endeth the lesson, Professor Schlesinger.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
U.S.

Questions for Those Who Believed Jussie Smollett

The “we reported the Jussie Smollett case responsibly” contention has been blasted to smithereens. Twitter accounts and headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times reported as fact Jussie Smollett’s wildly implausible allegations, and many other journalists did so as ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More