Notice & Comment

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed: Another Quiet Week

The D.C. Circuit didn’t release any opinions during the week of October 23–27. Since there weren’t any opinions to recap, I thought I would highlight one of my favorite passages from the Federalist No. 1, which was published 236 years ago on October 27, 1787.

In that paper, Alexander Hamilton recognized that the Constitution would face serious opposition from those who would benefit personally from its defeat. Hamilton could have simply dismissed those opponents’ views as illegitimate, as the product of self-interest and ambition. But he didn’t. Instead, he argued that people should engage with those views, humbly and respectfully, for three reasons.

First, Hamilton refused to assume that his opponents had bad motives. Despite their self-interest, they very well might have had the best of motives, but simply reached the wrong conclusion. After all, good people are often wrong:

I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable—the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy.

Second, Hamilton likewise refused to assume that his supporters had good motives. After all, bad people are often right:

And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.

Finally, Hamilton recognized that persuasion requires humility and moderation:

Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Good advice, whether you’re arguing before a judge or talking to a family member at Thanksgiving.

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