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Martin Describes Air of Dissent Surrounding Constitution Signing

On the occasion of 226th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, Professor of Government Rob Martin spoke on the political landscape surrounding the Constitution and its influence on American democracy.

Dissent has been an integral part of American politics long before the signing of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787 and is at the core of the relationship between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. With this in mind, Martin set out describing how the political landscape surrounding the Constitution influenced it.

As a country founded on dissent, it comes as no surprise that the Constitution was not ratified without proper opposition. Resisting the creation of a stronger federal government, the Anti-Federalists found themselves challenging the opinions of George Washington and Ben Franklin, who favored federalist ideals.

Gaining support was hard enough, but anti-federalists soon ran into more technical problems. Printers began requiring Anti-Federalist writers to disclose their real names, despite the widespread use of pseudonyms in publishing. Prof. Martin described how this caused a chilling effect on the Anti-Federalists that stopped them from voicing their dissent, a common tactic in the politics of distraction that is still used today. Because news was widely distributed through printed materials, Martin described the importance of newspapers with an anecdote of the postmaster general. His conclusion ending with patriotic fervor: “thank you for your attention and I look forward to your dissent.”

During the discussion that followed, a main topic was the use of modern technology to spread dissent. With mass access to the Internet, the sharing of ideas has never been faster or more ubiquitous. This has created gridlock, preventing ideas from reaching their desired audiences by becoming lost in a sea of blogs, articles, and social media. The back-and-forth eventually elicited the theme of the evening: the quality of dissent is more important than its quantity.

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