Do federal elections really matter?  The answer around the Tenth Amendment Center seems generally to be No.  Perhaps a more nuanced way of answering the question would be, in the near term, Yes, but in the long run, No.

The trouble is with the place itself.  Washington, D.C., has indeed become ‘ “the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious” ’ that New York Anti-Federalist George Clinton predicted it would become (Bill Kauffman, Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet (hereafter FFDP), ISI Books, Wilmington, DE: 2008, p. XIII).  It has a culture all its own, and when elected officials go there to serve out their terms of office, that culture has an effect on them.

‘I have smelt/Corruption in the dish, incense in the latrine, the sewer in the incense,…’ (T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral (MitC hereafter), HBJ, New York: 1963, p. 67)

Luther Martin, an Anti-Federalist from Maryland, described that troubling effect this way:  ‘ “If he [a U.S. senator] has a family, he will take his family with him to the place where the government shall be fixed; that will become his home, and there is every reason to expect, that his future views and prospects will centre in the favors and emoluments of the general government….  [H]e is lost to his own State.” ’ (FFDP, p. 97)

Why should this surprise anyone?  ‘Their paymaster in the federal city, predicted Martin, will absorb their energies and loyalties.’  (FFDP, p.37)

‘…the smell of sweet soap in the woodpath, a hellish sweet scent in the woodpath, while the ground heaved.’  (MitC, pp. 67-8.)

We may get a reprieve every so often…but all too soon the allure of the ‘federal city’ overwhelms the minds of the new arrivals and the independent, reforming spirit is dead.  ‘…Only/The fool, fixed in his folly, may think/He can turn the wheel on which he turns,’ Eliot’s Thomas à Becket declared (MitC, p. 25).  And today there is hardly a bigger fool than the one who thinks he can ‘change Washington’, rather than merely escape after his term has expired without that city devouring his soul.

‘I…have seen at noon/Scaly wings slanting over, huge and ridiculous.  I have tasted/The savour of putrid flesh in the spoon.’  (MitC, pp. 66-7)

For the government in Washington, D.C. has become little more than a ‘death-bringer’ (MitC, p. 66), in some ways figuratively, as with our dignity and our property, but in a growing number of ways, literally, through unnecessary wars or over-regulation of food and medicine.

‘…Rings of light coiling downwards, descending/To the horror of the ape.’  (MitC, p. 68)

You may put away your talisman of elections.  It has no effect on the corpse-citizens who perpetually inhabit our rotting, sepulchral capital city, who corrupt the well-meaning from the hinterlands, whose undying, ever-lusting appetites gnaw at their brains and hearts and spleens.

Far better would it be for us, now, to heed the words of Patrick Henry, the words our ancestors rejected in dissolving the Articles of Confederation and replacing them with the Constitution of 1787.

‘We fought then [the War for Independence with Great Britain] for what we are contending for now — to prevent an arbitrary deprivation of our property, contrary to our consent and inclination. I shall be told in this place that those who are to tax us are our representatives. To this I answer, that there is no real check to prevent their ruining us. There is no actual responsibility. The only semblance of a check is the negative power of not reëlecting them. This, sir, is but a feeble barrier, when their personal interest, their ambition and avarice, come to be put in contrast with the happiness of the people.’  (Speech before the Virginia Ratifying Convention, 9 June 1788,

Walt Garlington
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