Part VIII. Anti-Federalist Papers: A [Maryland] Farmer

Abstract

The essays written by A [Maryland] Farmer were printed in the Maryland Gazette during February, March, and April of 1788. While no direct evidence of authorship has been found, it seems likely that A [Maryland] Farmer was John Francis Mercer, a non-signing member of the Constitutional Convention and an active Maryland Anti-Federalist. The attribution is inconclusive since it depends almost entirely on a similarity in argument between those of A Farmer and those known to have been made by Mercer. The chief source of Mercer's views is Madison's report of his speech in the Convention on 14 August. We have in addition a useful letter to Jefferson, written in 1804, and the "Address to the Members of the Conventions of New York and Virginia".

In the first essay he replies to a Federalist pamphlet by Aristides, the pseudonym of Alexander Contee Hanson, a Maryland legislator and judge. A Farmer contends that, whereas in a monarchy numbers are typically on the side of the individual, in a popular government the danger to the individual lies in the interests or heated passions of the majority and that, therefore, the freer or more democratic the government, the greater the need for clear expressions of individual rights. A Farmer concludes this essay with the question whether a national government is to be preferred for the United States to a league or a confederation.

In his second essay A Farmer takes up the subject of representation. The argument is that representative government is aristocracy, which is corrupt and tyrannical and which leads the desperate people to hand themselves over to a single man. Normally, then, representative government leads to tyranny supported by a standing army; but A Farmer holds out a possibility of tempering the aristocracy with a strong and independent executive.

In the third essay, A Farmer takes up the question of whether a national or a federal government is to be preferred. A Farmer sees little in the present corrupted manners of his fellow citizens to suggest that they are now capable of sustaining self-government, and provides a very interesting sketch of the three main classes in the United States, and their probable future.

In the fourth essay A Farmer criticizes the absence of provision for trial by jury in civil cases and discusses the value of the jury as the democratic part of the judiciary—the people's check on government and their school in public affairs.

In his fifth essay, A Farmer returns to his major theme of representation. He argues that we should proceed slowly and carefully. A representative system can only succeed if based on fixed and permanent orders, but the only such order in America is the yeomanry, which is powerless. The Constitution tries to erect a republic on the ruins of a corrupt monarchy. A government for the United States founded on representation requires at least an executive for life and a senate also for life appointed by the executive. The problem is to prevent the executive from becoming hereditary.

In his sixth essay A Farmer replies to Aristides on various minor points, chiefly the question of concurrent jurisdiction of federal and state courts.

In the seventh and final essay, extending over several numbers of the Maryland Gazette, A Farmer replies to some further criticisms of Aristides and summarizes his own argument. He traces the decline of government from its initial devotion to equal rights to its unavoidably unequal operation. Oppressed by the few, the people call on one man to rule them.