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The Confusion Of "Federalism"

November 3, 2008

Kevin Levin, at his fantastic weblog Civil War Memory, posted a reflection on Thomas DiLorenzo’s new book on Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means for Americans Today. I agree with Levin’s analysis of the book but added the following in comments to Kevin’s post (slight revised for H&E):

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My problem with books like this is the abuse/misuse/confusion with regard to the term “federalism.”

I know that, in the context of the Early Republic, it was meant as opposition to centralized government by a particular political party, “The Federalists.” But I consistently think of federalism in the Civil War sense—meaning opposed to con-federalism and as the nickname of Union soldiers (hence the Washington Federals USFL team—see Reggie Collier trading card to the right). So when someone calls a libertarian a federalist, or a conservative a “new federalist,” I get confused because I think of Lincoln and the notion of a strong central government in the face of a belligerent states-rights confederacy.

To apply this in particular to today, I oppose judges—particularly those currently on, or nominated to, the Supreme Court—who favor state’s rights. So I call the good judges federalists in the Lincoln Era/Civil War sense, not in the “New Federalists” (linked to Bush 43 and Republicans) or Federalist party sense (with Hamilton as an apostate Federalist in the eyes of DiLorenzo).

To make matters worse, our “Founding Fathers,” as supporters of The Constitution, were referred to as a “federalists” for a few years before the formation of the Federalist Party.

In sum, in today’s political climate I guess you can use the term “federalism” any way you want. But I’ll stick with “New Federalism” when describing today’s libertarians, very conservative Republicans, and DiLorenzo. – TL

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One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink

    As usual, Kevin Levin reveals his lack of in-depth knowledge and necessary bias against the natural incidence of resistance against government oppression of the people. The trend toward states rights is a direct result of more individual liberties and less corruption from more localized control. In other words, the South DiLorenzo were right about a central government enslaving its member states in order to feed its own interests rather than that of its citizens.

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