Glenn Beck’s new book, Miracle and Massacres, is about helping people connect with the true, untold history of America. In Chapter 3, Glenn details that arguments between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists that led to the Virginia Convention. These disagreements ultimately forced both sides to compromise, inspiring the Bill of Rights and leading to a debate over the size and role of government that still goes on today.
When you see an old painting of the Founders meeting, they all look like they got along just fine with one another. But don't kid yourself. The 1788 Virginia Convention that laid the foundation for the S.S. Constitution was a knock-down, drag-out battle of wills: James Madison versus Patrick Henry. Federalist against Anti-Federalist --- fear of anarchy versus fear of tyranny.
Over the course of 26 hot June days, these men, including Henry, Madison, George Mason and Edmund Randolph debated the appropriate size and strength of government.
One side worried that any central federal government would start to expand and grab power, that taxes would be pushed ever-higher as the treasury was drained by runaway spending. They worried that elitists would take over the capitol and create a permanent ruling class of career politicians.
The other side was convinced that a nation divided into so many completely independent parts simply could not stand the tests of time. They argued that a strong but limited federal government was critical to the country's survival --- that the essential benefits of more centralized power far outweighed the obvious risks.
Ultimately, the sides came to a tense compromise that we're still living with today. But Patrick Henry and his fellow Anti-Federalists were worried. They knew that the price of liberty would be eternal vigilance against an ever-growing government...and they wondered whether that was really possible over the decades and centuries to come.
On the eighth day of debates, Patrick Henry took the convention floor and offered a warning that became nowhere near as famous as his “give me liberty or give me death” line from 13 years earlier, but that today, 225 years later, sounds more relevant than ever:
“If you have a good president, senators and representatives,” Henry said, “there is no danger. But can this be expected from human nature?"
“Without real checks it will not suffice ...virtue will slumber. The wicked will be continually watching: consequently you will be undone.”