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A revolution in favour of government: the American constitution and ideas about state formation, 1787-1788
Stockholm University.
2000 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation analyses the debate over the ratification of the American Constitution between the Federalists, who supported the Constitution's adoption, and the Antifederalists, who opposed adoption. It challenges the traditional interpretation of the Federalist persuasion as primarily concerned with limited government and minority rights. Instead, it reveals a neglected aspect of Federalist thought by placing it in the context of early modern state formation. Far from being concerned with limits to government, the Federalists aimed to create a potentially powerful national state. With the adoption of the Constitution the central functions of the early modern state, i. e. war making and resource extraction, were transferred from the states to the national government. The fiscal and military powers of the new government were in every important respect unlimited and the institutional impediment made up by the state legislatures was removed. The Constitution created a state which held all the powers of the contemporary European 'fiscal-military states' in reserve. Yet it also created a state very different from the states of Europe.

The political traditions and institutions of eighteenth-century America were averse to strong centralised government. In the debate over ratification this aversion was expressed by the Constitution's opponents. To provide an argument in support of the adoption of the Constitution, the Federalists had to show that it was possible to create a state that was both powerful and able to respect popular aversion to government. An important step towards the solution of this dilemma was federalism, which allowed the centralisation of only certain specified powers. Federalism would create a state focused on the fiscal-military sphere, but it said nothing about how to extract resources without exerting unacceptable pressure on the citizens. Here the solution offered lay in statecraft, which would create a national government that was both light and inconspicuous. It would be light in the sense that its demands would not press too heavily on the people and it would be inconspicuous in the sense that its actual physical presence would be limited. In short, the Federalists promised the benefits of government without its costs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2000. , 321 p.
Stockholm studies in politics, ISSN 0346-6620 ; 71
National Category
Political Science
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-70276ISBN: 91-7265-130-XOAI: diva2:480223
Public defence
2000-10-13, 10:00
Available from: 2012-01-19 Created: 2012-01-19 Last updated: 2012-01-19Bibliographically approved

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