Ancient Israel and the Constitution

Little attention is paid these days to either the debate over the Constitution or the period of the Judges in Israel. The Constitution was vigorously opposed by a large minority of the people and was barely ratified at all. The writings of the opponents, called the Antifederalist Papers, are filled with prophetic warnings of what evil men would make of the Constitution. There was also an antifederalist in ancient Israel. His name was Samuel. Samuel also wrote against consolidating the government of Israel under one earthly king. He was a true prophet of God and his prophecies were proven by the test of history. The test of time has also proven the vision of the American Antifederalists.

There are several parallels between Israel and the United States. First, there were thirteen tribes in Israel if you consider that Ephraim and Mannaseh, the sons of Joseph, as individual tribes. There were thirteen colonies at the time of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Israel existed for the period of the Judges as a loose confederation among the tribes. The United States existed for a time as a loose confederation of independent states under the Articles of Confederation. After a time, both sought the prestige and power afforded by a more centralized government. Consider these passages from 1 Samuel, and Antifederalist No.3:

1 Samuel Chaper 8

10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. 18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. 19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; 20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

Antifederalist No. 3, "New Constitution Creates a National Government; Will Not Abate Foreign Influence; Dangers of Civil War and Despotism";

There are but two modes by which men are connected in society, the one which operates on individuals, this always has been, and ought still to be called, national government; the other which binds States and governments together (not corporations, for there is no considerable nation on earth, despotic, monarchical, or republican, that does not contain many subordinate corporations with various constitutions) this last has heretofore been denominated a league or confederacy. The term federalists is therefore improperly applied to themselves, by the friends and supporters of the proposed constitution. This abuse of language does not help the cause; every degree of imposition serves only to irritate, but can never convince. They are national men, and their opponents, or at least a great majority of them, are federal, in the only true and strict sense of the word.

Whether any form of national government is preferable for the Americans, to a league or confederacy, is a previous question we must first make up our minds upon….

That a national government will add to the dignity and increase the splendor of the United States abroad, can admit of no doubt: it is essentially requisite for both. That it will render government, and officers of government, more dignified at home is equally certain. That these objects are more suited to the manners, if not [the] genius and disposition of our people is, I fear, also true. That it is requisite in order to keep us at peace among ourselves, is doubtful. That it is necessary, to prevent foreigners from dividing us, or interfering in our government, I deny positively; and, after all, I have strong doubts whether all its advantages are not more specious than solid. We are vain, like other nations. We wish to make a noise in the world; and feel hurt that Europeans are not so attentive to America in peace, as they were to America in war. We are also, no doubt, desirous of cutting a figure in history. Should we not reflect, that quiet is happiness? That content and pomp are incompatible? I have either read or heard this truth, which the Americans should never forget: That the silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people. The Swiss have been four hundred years the envy of mankind, and there is yet scarcely an history of their nation. What is history, but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered?

An inquisitive reader asked me about my objection to the slogan, "One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny" from the LRC article on my impromptu tour of the South. The answer is that I agree with the Antifederalists and the prophet Samuel. Government that is not strictly decentralized tends to desire to take the place of God himself. The Antifederalist is right in that the history of nations is "…but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered?" Was he a prophet? Sherman's March and Reconstruction seem to have proven him right.

January 28, 2003