In one of his comments in the thread on all the things wrong with the Tea Party version of history (see here ) Nathan accused Dr. McClanahan of the Tenthers movement, and by extension all other authors sharing this ideological platform, in methodologically wrong approach to history. Two main points of Nathan's indictment were: 1. McClanahan cherry picks historical facts and quotes of historical figures that suite his political agenda, and 2. He uses a "welter of detail" (thanks, Nathan I learned a new word!), without showing the place of these details in a bigger picture. Well, Nathan, in my opinion, this criticism is not entirely fair, and is based on misinterpretation of objectives of McClanahan's article. If McClanahan tried to argue that the ideas of the compact theory and of strictly limited federal government with enumerated powers in early American history was the singular or at least a prevailing point of view, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with you. However, his objective, at least the way I saw it, was very different and much narrower. All what he tried to do was to repudiate the notion that these ideas, which were the basis of the Tenthers movement, never played an important role in earlier American political discourse or as Mr. Millhiser (McClanahan's liberal opponent) put it "tentherism has no basis in the Constitution or its history. President George Washington himself rejected tentherism early in American history, and this radical view of the Constitution gained no traction at all until fairly late in American history." With this limited goal in mind, I think that McClanahan's use of quotes from Hamilton or Marshall is justified. Dr. McClanahan is obviously well aware of political positions of both these men and of devastating effect on the "compact theory" of the Marshall's ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland . This circumstance, however, makes these quotes all more important because they essentially confirm the point that the ideas supported by the Tenthers were pretty much on the mind of the leading politicians of the time including those who eventually accepted the opposite point of view. I am not arrogant enough to think that I can say anything new about Marshall's ruling in this case, which is probably one of the most studied and written about Supreme Court cases in US history, but I would like to bring to attention the opening phrase of his arguments, which says: "This government is acknowledged by all, to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it, would seem too apparent, to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted." This statement is in direct contradiction with Millhiser's assertions, and even though Marshall continues to establish the idea of implied powers and to negate the compact theory, this opening confirms than the notion of enumerated powers is not the figment of Tenthers' imagination, but played an important part in establishing American Constitutional order.
These quotes also play an important role in understanding the "Big Picture", which you, Nathan, are so concerned about. I agree with you that the key members of the Founding generation were complex people, who constantly debated the ideas that laid the foundation of American Constitution, revising and developing them and their own views on various principles of organization of American republic. They were not a uniform group of people, there were fractions and counter-fractions and political maneuvering sometimes of the worst kind. One thing, however, united them all, and this is my understanding of the Big Picture. They participated in the birth of a new political order, which was a product of the rebellion of people against the King. This idea of the King, understood in a broad metaphorical sense as any arbitrary rule with unlimited powers over men, was pretty much on the minds of everybody in the Revolutionary generation. The new order, which they created, was supposed to eliminate the King, make it impossible for any person or institution to become the King. Thus, the idea of limiting the power of government, particularly, federal government was the central theme of all the debates that seek to find the right compromise between the form of government that could actually govern without becoming the King. In this context, the quotes from leading proponents of stronger government, which were cited by McClanahan, are very important. They allow to suggest that when Hamilton, or Marshall, or Madison talked about strong central government they actually meant something different from what present days supporters of the strong government have in mind. This is a frequently occurring but not too often acknowledged linguistic and gnoseological phenomenon - the substitution of the meaning. The phrase "strong central government" is just a "meaning holder", an empty frame, which is being filled with different meanings in different cultural and political contexts. I do not think that Hamilton in his wildest dreams envisioned that his views of strong government would be taken to give the government the power to establish the Department of Education, to control the minimum wage or hiring practices of private businesses, or to establish the system of public welfare. All these things might or might not be justified on various grounds, but to use the position of Hamilton to justify them is historically and logically wrong. Take the case of Madison, for instance, who is said to be flip-flopping on the issue of the strong federal - versus state governments. You mentioned that Madison became a supporter of the former, but the context of this flip-flop is very telling. He just lost a humiliating war against Britain and realized that one cannot fight a war with state militias, without a centrally commanded standing army and without centralized means to finance it. Thus, he became a supporter of the "strong federal power", but for him it meant just two things: to have an army and to be able to issue federal currency. This is a far cry from "implied powers" of today's federal government.
This is essentially the "Big Picture" how I see it. And in my mind this picture only proves how right was Jefferson, when he warned against the dangers of federal government without explicitly specified limits on its power. The history demonstrates that governments behave like gases: just as a gas expands to occupy all available to it volume, governments expand to grab all the power, which is not explicitly denied to them. It is sadly ironic, of course, that Jefferson himself contributed to the demise of his concept of limited government through his Louisiana Purchase. This story, however, is more complex than your, Nathan, comment suggests (see its nice recapitulation here . Jefferson understood very well that this act was unconstitutional and wanted to pass a Constitutional amendment to remedy this situation, but he fell the victim to the political expediency as so many other great men after him. Unfortunately, his weakness opened the flood gates of federal activism and expansion of federal powers, which sometimes, indeed, have been used for good, but most often, were detrimental to the development of the country.