No, not that George Clinton. The governor of New York George Clinton, vice-president under both Jefferson and Madison (back then, Southerners knew they needed a Yankee on the ticket!), the man who gave his name to the neighborhood that we came to know in the film noir era as Hell's Kitchen.
Clinton was an anti-Federalist, and he wrote some of the Anti-Federalist Papers, the essays and speeches gathered together under the aforesaid rubric and published as a response to the Federalist Papers. Clinton wrote under the name Cato; yes, a name taken up by libertarians in our day.
So it might seem a little odd that I am quoting Cato, and certainly there are elements to Clinton's thinking that would please today's conservatives and displease liberals. But...
But it's kind of hard to argue with the prescience of these words, from anti-Federalist No. 14:
But whoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and commerce, the difference of extent, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interest, morals, and politics, in almost every one, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, can never form a perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to you and your posterity, for to these objects it must be directed. This unkindred legislature therefore, composed of interests opposite and dissimilar in their nature, will in its exercise, emphatically be like a house divided against itself.
Not bad for 1787, eh? Clinton goes on:
It is natural, says Montesquieu, to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist: in a large one, there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are too great deposits to trust in the hands of a single subject, an ambitious person soon becomes sensible that he may be happy, great, and glorious by oppressing his fellow citizens, and that he might raise himself to grandeur, on the ruins of his country. In large republics, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views, in a small one, the interest of the public is easily perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses have a less extent, and of course are less protected.
This is just so smart! I can't help myself. One more passage--and this one lands firmly on my side of the contemporary aisle:
The people who may compose this national legislature from the southern states, in which, from the mildness of the climate, the fertility of the soil, and the value of its productions, wealth is rapidly acquired, and where the same causes naturally lead to luxury, dissipation, and a passion for aristocratic distinction; where slavery is encouraged, and liberty of course less respected and protected; who know not what it is to acquire property by their own toil, nor to economize with the savings of industry - will these men, therefore, be as tenacious of the liberties and interests of the more northern states, where freedom, independence, industry, equality and frugality are natural to the climate and soil, as men who are your own citizens, legislating in your own state, under your inspection, and whose manners and fortunes bear a more equal resemblance to your own?
Clinton saw it all coming (a sop to you conservatives: He did say something about the enforcement of revenue collection leading to violence). And if you look at American history through this lens, you have to think that we've been divided a lot more than we've been united, and divided over what has been pretty clear:
1. A turbulent period in which national identity was always vexed by the slavery question up through 1861.
2. The Civil War.
3. Reconstruction, which was indeed occupation--more or less justified morally under the circumstances, but nevertheless pretty harsh.
4. Jim Crow.
5. Finally, through technology (the radio, train travel, highways), a country starting to become one unit, although still split violently on race.
6. World War II, when we finally did mostly pull together.
7. A tense final vanquishing of institutional and legal racism.
8. A powerful backlash against that and against the federal government that ordered it.
9. Our current period of polarization.
10. The news this week (yes, it may end up being that important) that 10 states have already said they won't accept Medicaid money under the newly constitutional health-care law. It's a form of nullification, and Jim DeMint even used the word.
In other words, we've been apart more than we've been together these last 236 years. We can live and let live about many things, and football and Mylie Cyrus and Sesame Street and NCIS can keep us distracted. But we're really not much of a union in the meaningful senses, and we might even need to have a conversation someday about whether Clinton was right after all and whether we really should be--although of course the states that would be ideologically inclined to leave are the true moocher states that couldn't survive without Washington's largesse.
All of which is my way of saying Happy 4th! No more posts today, but a column as usual tomorrow morning.