It seems to me that the concern with the size of government, specifically that it's too large and therefore complex, is a relatively modern concern in American politics. I would assume that given the lack of modern transportation and communication infrastructures the government was far more limited in the scope to which it could govern. Furthermore, that same lack of infrastructure and the attendant lack of specialization in a pre-industrial economy rendered much of the present day functions of the government either unnecessary or of a much more diminished importance.

I am aware that there was a major debate among the founders of the United States over the balance of power between the state governments and the federal government (ie. the federalist / anti-federalist debates). There was also much debate over the power given to a centralized authority and individual political leaders. However, I am not aware of evidence of the founders being specifically concerned with the government ever becoming "too large" or "too complex". Is there any evidence of the U.S. founders having this concern?

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Yes, absolutely. The Federalist /Anti-Federalist controversy went far beyond the issues you cite. The founders feared a tyrannical central government - the writings of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are particularly clear on this point.

The 9th and 10th were designed to limit the growth of the government.

Hamilton wanted a strong, effective government. Jefferson wanted a tiny government. Washington's first term in office was occupied with limiting the amount that they sabotaged one another. (Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury tried to manage all foreign correspondence. Jefferson hired a man to do nothing but publish a newspaper that criticized Hamilton)

When Jefferson took office he devoted much of his tenure to dismantling the institutions that Hamilton built; the only significant expansion was West Point - which Jefferson reluctantly increased because he feared that Hamilton's flunkies would stage a military coup, and Jefferson wanted to pack the Army with "right thinking" officers. (All the more remarkable because he opposed a standing army - after all a Republic had no need to fight!)

The most frequently referenced institution was the First Bank of the US. There are several books on the constitutional conventions that offer excruciating details on what the founders felt should and should not be within the purview of the government. (The South in general wanted a tiny government and an isolationist foreign policy; the North wanted a powerful government and an engaged commercial foreign policy.)

Discussions about Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution included fears that the government would become a tyrant.

I'm not aware of any discussion that state or local governments would become too complex or too large. Three possible exceptions were Vermont and Kentucky who wanted indepdence from their states, and Rhode Island - which declined to join the union in part because of the power of the Rhode Island state government. That might be another source of very good material (but I can't find a quick, useable citation - the situation was complicated).

  • I apologize, but I noted that in my question that I continually referred to the U.S. "federal" government as opposed to U.S. governments in general. I edited the question because it made my purpose less clear (I'm still unclear as to why I did this in the first place). I'm more interested in whether there were debates on the size of governments (local, state, and federal) that might have been similar in character to modern American political debates on this topic at all levels. Jeffersonian Republicans seemed to favor localized governments, but did they ever worry that they could be too big? May 22, 2013 at 15:25
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    Jefferson believed the federal government was too big, which is why he did his best to reduce it, shedding departments and responsibilities wherever he could. He was the original Minarch. Alas, I can't find any quick citations to support this. I suspect that you could find something in the records around the Philadelphia Mutiny - I recall that topic being discussed afterwards.
    – MCW
    May 22, 2013 at 16:01

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