Federalist papers #11, 12, 13

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #6

Glenn Booker  12/4/2012


Federalist Paper #11 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by Alexander Hamilton to discuss domestic and foreign commercial interactions of the Union, and the Navy.  The topics are closely connected because America has shown eagerness to carry out commercial transactions over the oceans, making the maritime countries of Europe nervous.  Those with colonies in America are also nervous because the union of States could threaten their marine power, therefore they wish to encourage divisions among the States to weaken them.  In our defense, we could create prohibitory regulations to force foreign powers to bid against each other for the US market, or else we would block them from our ports and the market generated by our three million people.  In response, a blocked country such as Great Britain could use an intermediary such as the Dutch to access the US market, but in doing so would lose a substantial amount of profit and raise the price of British goods in this country.  A better solution for all parties would be for Great Britain to allow us access to the West India market and similar markets.

Creating a federal navy would help our standing with European nations, and give us a stronger presence in dealing with the West Indies.  Having a military presence in the West Indies will give us stronger bargaining rights for commercial privileges by allowing our neutrality in that region to be up for sale.  In contrast if we are seen as weak militarily, then other countries will have no respect for us and could attack us as whim suits.  We need to be strong in order to be allowed the luxury of being neutral in the region.    That strength will also allow us to confound attempts by European countries to restrain our growth.  If we were weak then other nations could dictate the terms of our existence and restrict us to passive commerce, wherein we could only get minimal prices for our products and the other profits from our work would be given to our enemies.  This would stifle the American spirit of enterprise, leading to poverty and disgrace.

The rights to American fisheries, the Mississippi river, and navigable lakes are of great importance to the country.  Weakness in the United States would lead to loss of these rights to Spain, Great Britain, and France, who would all be happy to lose us as a competitor since we currently can undersell them in their own markets.

To support this competition, we need a strong national navy.  The southern states contribute tar, pitch, turpentine, and wood for good ships; southern and middle states have iron, and good seamen come from the North.  A key job for the navy is to protect maritime commerce interests.  Furthermore, trade among the States will support both domestic and foreign markets. Access to a wide range of products will increase their value since markets fluctuate in demand, and crops fail sometimes, so variety in products helps both of these dimensions.  The states could still trade without being united, but barriers between states would hinder it; “unity of commercial … interests can only result from a unity of government.” (p. 85)

The world is politically divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.  Of these, Europe is clearly  the strongest of all.  Hamilton prophetically makes the case that unifying the states will finally give a contender to European dominance over the world.

Federalist Paper #12, also by Alexander Hamilton, discusses how creating the Union will increase revenue.  National wealth is fed by commerce, so the latter is a key political concern.  Greed motivates industry and men.  Agriculture and commerce have interests that are intermixed.  Land values are connected to commerce.  Tax revenue depends on the amount of money in circulation and how fluidly it circulates.  Commerce helps both of these tax revenue factors increase.  Germany boasts great land and precious metal resources, but in the absence of strong commerce has little revenue.

Direct taxation has been poor at generating revenue.  Even Britain gets little from direct taxes and relies a lot on import taxes.  America will have to rely on excise taxes for a narrow range of products.  Since commerce will benefit from the creation of the Union, it will also bear the brunt of providing revenue for it (her?) through duties.  The states have many routes through which interstate duties could be avoided.  In contrast, France has 20,000 patrols who guard against dealers in contraband; an example we do not wish to emulate in a free country.  We want to unify the states and monitor a common border (the Atlantic Ocean) against vessels to tax imports, a fairly easy objective compared to France.  This would make the states cooperate with each other and not raise tariffs against each other.  Our geography (being distant from all trading partners, unlike the countries of Europe) gives us great security against contraband from foreign countries.  Hence a national government could impose import taxes much more easily than individual states could.  State import taxes are about three percent, and could triple without seriously affecting consumer demand.

A nation without revenue becomes a province.  Excise taxes are ineffective in an agricultural country.  Personal estate taxes are taxable only through consumption.  Those who own land are easy targets for revenue.

Federalist Paper #13 is where Alexander Hamilton discusses how the union leads to more efficient government.  He argues that economies of scale make a single national government more efficient than several groups of confederacies, or worse, all thirteen states becoming separate sovereign powers.  Some proposed three confederacies with four northern states, four middle states, and five southern states.  Each confederacy would need as much government structure as the united states, hence each would be less efficient.  Civil power can be spread out in a large country through careful arrangement of subordinate institutions.

Hamilton discusses how the states could form three confederacies, e.g. the four eastern states would join, New York and New Jersey might join the northern states, and Pennsylvania would be torn between north and south but probably lean to the north because of business interests.  The southern states would discourage marine navigation, giving each state the right to control transportation and purchase of commodities.

In brief, the unified nation would be cheaper to run than any possible combination of smaller groups of states, because of the lower cost of the government infrastructure, guarding against interstate trade, and military establishments.


In conclusion, Federalist Paper #11 makes the case that the unified states, in conjunction with a strong federal navy, would provide much more income from marine commerce, support the American spirit of enterprise, and earn us the right to be neutral in foreign affairs if we choose.  The variety of products from across the country would give us a competitive advantage worldwide, and make it easier to make ships for the navy.

Federalist Paper #12 explains how a unified government would increase revenue through strong commerce, based on healthy and diverse agriculture and growing land values.  We want to avoid interstate duties, especially since they’re easy to avoid, so import tariffs will provide much of the income needed for the federal government.

Finally, Federalist Paper #13 explains how a single national government is more efficient than breaking the colonies into any larger number of confederacies, due to economies of scale of the government, reduced cost from avoiding interstate trade tariffs, and reduced defense costs.

This trio of papers by Alexander Hamilton therefore give a business rationale for approving the proposed Constitution based on increased commerce, improved standing among nations through a strong navy (force projection), revenue through easily controlled import tariffs, and improved efficiency in government compared to creating many confederacies.


Federalist papers #39 and 59

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #5

Glenn Booker  11/18/2012



Federalist Paper #39 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by James Madison to discuss how well the proposed Constitution conforms to strictly republican principles.  A republic is defined as a government which derives all of its power directly or indirectly from the people (not just a favored class), and is run by people who hold office for a limited time.  The House is elected directly by the people, the Senate, President, and judges are chosen indirectly.  The term of judges is limited only by their “good behavior,” which seems a stretch of the concept of a limited term.  Further evidence of republican principles is the prohibition of titles of nobility.

A major issue distinguishes between the federal form, in which the states are sovereign, versus a national government, in which the states are consolidated into one sovereign body.  The Constitution is ratified by the people of each State, therefore that points to it being federal, not national.  Furthermore unanimous ratification is needed, which further strengthens its federal character.  Were it national, then a simple majority of the people would be needed for ratification.

The House is based on the population of each state, so that is a national power, but the Senate is equal among all states, so it is federal in nature.  The election of the President contains both federal and national characteristics, since the number of electoral college members per state is based on house and senate representatives.

The operation of the government could have federal and national characteristics.  Federal characteristics are addressed by governing the states, whereas national traits govern the behavior of individuals.  In this measure, the Constitution is federal, not national, until the bill of rights are added.  But most of the government actions are against people, not the states, so in that way it is a national government.

The extent of government powers in the national sense extends to individual citizens and all persons and things that government can pertain to.  The national legislature has these national powers, but municipal legislature has these powers at the community level.  In this way the proposed government is not national, since its power extends only to specific controls over the states, and they have sovereignty over municipal level actions.  Even though disputes between federal and state government is resolved through the supreme court, the decisions made should still be impartial, and prevent hostile action from being needed to resolve the dispute.

Finally the way the constitution is to be amended is neither federal nor national.  If it were national, then a majority of the people would simply be needed for an amendment to take place.  If it were truly federal, then all states would have to ratify amendments.  Since ratification is done by the states it is somewhat federal, but since all states don’t have to agree, it’s somewhat national.

Therefore the constitution is a composition of both federal and national.  Its foundation is federal, its powers are drawn from both federal and national sources, and in the operation of powers it is national, but the extent of powers is federal, and the method for making amendments is both federal and national.

Federalist Paper #59 by Alexander Hamilton discusses the power of congress to regulate the election of its members.  The constitution says that the time place and manner of elections for senators and representatives is defined by each state’s legislature, but Congress can change such rules except for their location.  This clause is based on the assumption that “every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation.” (page 360)

It wasn’t feasible to put election laws directly in the constitution, so the rules for doing so have to exist somewhere.  The laws for elections could have come from the national legislature, state legislatures, or mainly in the state legislature but somewhat in the national one.  The last of these options is recommended by the constitutional convention.

Leaving the national elections completely up to the states would make the national government vulnerable to annihilation by the states.  No matter how likely to occur, it’s far too great a risk to allow.  Conversely, no one would have allowed the Constitution for the federal government to control elections within the states.

It is conceivable that state legislatures could refuse to appoint their own senators, and thereby harm the federal government.  However since senators are elected in three cycles two years apart, it is unlikely that such a plan could be maintained in the face of public outrage.  The House is much more vulnerable to such a plan, since all house representatives are elected every two years.  So if the state legislatures had complete control over representative elections, several key states working together could bring down the federal government.


In conclusion, Federalist Paper #39 explains how the government created by the proposed Constitution has both national (people-based) and federal (state-based) characteristics.  Federalist Paper #59 explains why the federal government is not kept at the mercy of the states for election of senators and representatives.

Federalist papers #70, 71, 76, and 77

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #4

Glenn Booker  11/5/2012


Federalist Paper #70 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by Alexander Hamilton to discuss the executive branch of government.  Hamilton asserts that a strong executive is needed for good government, because it helps defend against foreign attacks, consistent administration of laws, protects property against injustice, and secures liberty from ambition, faction, and anarchy.  Even ancient Rome had to hide behind a dictator at times to protect them from external enemies.

Hamilton then tries to concoct a recipe for a strong energetic executive, which consists of unity, duration, good support, and competent powers.  Unity is needed for decisive action, secrecy, and efficiency; and may be destroyed by splitting the power into either two equal parts or two unequal parts.  Meanwhile the republic depends on dependence on the people and responsibility to ensure its safety.

Hamilton cites the Achaeans and Romans as examples of low executive power due to dividing it among men.  Returning to a logical approach to the problem, having more than one executive produces opportunity for dissension, which weakens the office.  The interests of society can be sacrificed to the vanity of individuals; this is needed in the legislature, but can not be tolerated in the executive branch.  Arguments over decisions are fine in the legislature, but would only weaken the executive, especially in wartime.  A divided executive would hide faults and destroy personal responsibility for decisions made.  At the state level, improper appointments have had blame lost between the governor and his council.  Having more than one executive reduces the influence of public opinion on them, and makes it harder to impeach or punish them.  The king of England has no accountability, so a constitutional council is attached to him to have some point of responsibility, since the king is exempt from accountability.  Based on State constitutions, some wanted a council for the US President, but this would destroy his power for reasons already noted.  Having multiple executives will not give us more security, since a strong leader among them could easily take over the executive branch.  Finally, the cost of multiple executives would be unbearable.  In summary, this Federalist paper justifies having one President, based on historic and logical arguments.

Federalist Paper #71 justifies the term of the President, as written by Alexander Hamilton.  One factor in this duration is that the longer one is in office, the more risks one may take since he has security in his position.  A short term, in other words, will make him less interested in the position and the result will be a term marked by ‘feebleness and irresolution’ (p. 430).  In keeping with republican principles, government should be responsive to the community, but not subject to every whim. Government should serve the public good, but being human they make errors.  Politicians need time for reflection to avoid following stray whims, and stay focused on the public good.  The legislature tends to control the executive and judicial branches, because they believe they are the people and hence should not be argued with.

The duration of the executive office relates to this because a longer term will give the President more confidence to challenge the legislature when needed.  The four year term was chosen though a shorter term would protect better against overly ambitious Presidents, but is long enough to give them confidence in their security, but not so long as to threaten public liberty.

Clearly there is no guarantee of the right answer, but a four year term is the best compromise to balance security, authority, and ensuring liberty.  Federalist Paper #71 justified the four year term of the President.

Federalist Paper #76 defines executive powers, as described by Hamilton.  The President is to nominate, with Senate consent, ambassadors, supreme court judges, and everyone else not already specified in the Constitution.  Congress can vest appointment of inferior officers to the President alone, or courts, or department heads.  But after the Senate is in recess, the President can fill all other appointments on his own.  This approach is a clever way for appointments to be made to fill out the administration.  More generally, appointments can be made by one person, or by an assembly, or by one person with approval of an assembly.

Hamilton makes the unfortunate premise that the President will be “a man of abilities, at least respectable.” (p. 454)  On that basis the President is better able to judge the qualities of candidates than the Senate as a whole.  He will have more direct responsibility for those appointees, and so verify their qualities needed for the job.  He will have fewer personal attachments, and so be less susceptible to nepotism.  He will be less subject to partisan politics and mutual favors for various offices.

Giving the President the power of nomination controls a lot of the process, but keeps him under control by requiring Senate approval.  Hamilton assumes the Senate would not block a nomination often, or the next candidate could be even worse.  Still, the Senate confirmation keeps the President from blatant favoritism, and keeps his administration more stable.  The possibility of rejection will keep the President very careful in his choices, or his reputation will suffer.  The Senate is large enough that the President would not likely be able to influence, corrupt, or seduce them all.  Finally, the Senate is forbidden from being appointed to any civil office, so they can’t approve their own position.   In summary, Federalist paper #76 justifies how the President and Senate fill out the administration through nomination and concurrence of candidates.

Federalist Paper #77,  also by Alexander Hamilton, completes discussion of the President’s appointing powers and discusses other executive powers.  The Senate must also consent to remove officers from the administration, which provides stability in the event of the President’s displacement.  The Senate is more stable than the presidency, hence this helps maintain stability in the government.  The President doesn’t have influence over the Senate, since the latter restrains him.  And the Senate doesn’t influence the executive, since the latter chooses the candidates.  The power to originate is stronger than the power to obstruct.

The blame of a bad nomination falls completely on the President, whereas the censure of rejecting a good candidate would be clearly the fault of the Senate.  If a bad appointment gets made, then both President and Senate are at fault.  In contrast, State appointments are made by a committee of 3-5 people, one of whom is the governor.  While the governor can nominate, no one knows who voted for or against any candidate, and appointments can be made by scheduling the vote when an outcast isn’t available to meet.  The committee is too small to avoid bargaining for votes, where 12-20 men would make that much harder.  Such a committee has been proposed for the Constitution, but it would result in increased expense, favoritism and intrigue, unstable government, and more executive power.  It was also proposed to have the House participate in appointments.  That body is too large and too much in flux to exercise that much power.  Wisely Hamilton recognized that the House could grow to 300-400 people in the next century, and would be completely unwieldy for appointments.

The other powers of the executive branch include giving the state of the union message, recommending legislation, convening Congress when needed, forcing them to adjourn, receive ambassadors, execute laws, and commission officers.  The power to convene could be needed for the Senate to address treaties, for example.  Hamilton addressed the issue of ambassadors in another Federalist Paper.

In summary, these executive powers give them the energy needed to do their job, and maintains safety to exercise their responsibilities well.  The President is subject to impeachment, trial, being dismissed from office or deemed incapacitated, and can be prosecuted under the law.  He remains under the control of the legislative branch.  This should be enough to meet the needs of “an enlightened and reasonable people.’ (p. 463)


Federalist Papers #70 and #71 describe the need for an executive which is singular in number, in power long enough to build confidence to serve the public good and challenge the legislature when needed.

Federalist Paper #76 and #77 describe the executive powers, focusing on the ability of the President to nominate ambassadors, supreme court judges, and many other executive branch positions.  The Senate must consent to these appointments, providing an effective checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. The President gets power from being able to choose the nominees, and the Senate makes sure those choices are reasonable.  The House stays out of the process since they are too numerous and transient to make effective appointment decisions.  The Senate is needed to remove officers, which keeps the government more stable in the event of a change of President.  Fear of publicly making a poor choice or rejecting a good one constrains both President and Senate, unlike the covert process used at the State level.

Federalist papers #62, 63, and 69

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #3

Glenn Booker  10/30/2012


Federalist Paper #62 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was probably written by James Madison to discuss the Senate in nine specific areas.  Four areas are discussed in #62, two more in Federalist Paper #63.

#1 Qualifications.  A Senator must be at least 30 years old, and a citizen for at least nine years, versus 25 years and seven years for members of the House.  The Senate requires the ability to handle more trust than the House, hence the higher requirements.  Specifically, the Senate requires the ability to handle more information and needs more personal stability, in part to be able to conduct “transactions with foreign nations” (p. 374) soundly.  The longer citizenship requirement is to avoid excess foreign influence by recently adopted citizens.

#2 Appointment.  Senators are appointed by the State governments (as of this paper’s writing), so that a link is formed between the State and Federal governments.  This is clearly a move to get the States to approve the Constitution by giving them clear influence over a superior legislative body.

#3 Equal representation.  Equal representation in the Senate by all States is part of the balance achieved by having one body based on proportional share in government (the House) and the other body based on equal share (the Senate), making up the compound republic of the United States.  Madison acknowledges that the compound compromise is based not on theory, but out of necessity as an indispensable concession to balance the wishes of the larger States against those of the smaller States.  He describes it as the ‘lesser evil’ (p. 376) needed to recognize the residuary sovereignty of each State.

This structure for the Senate also provides another layer of checks and balances, since all Federal legislation must meet approval of the people (via the House) and the States (via the Senate).

#4 Number and term of Senators.  The Senate differs from the House in as many ways as possible to make it harder for the usurpation of power to occur. The smaller size and longer term of the Senate are to avoid seduction by factious leaders.  The longer term also helps Senators develop due acquaintance with the legislative processes.  Good government stays true to the happiness of the people, and has the means to achieve that.  The Constitution focuses a lot on the latter, in order to help secure the former.

The House changes membership 50% with each election, so the Senate is in contrast to that to avoid a government which is too unstable and too mutable.  A government too unstable is not respected by other countries.  Internal instability also reduces liberty, if the people can’t tell what the laws are today, or understand them, or they change tomorrow anyway; and it favors the rich who can manipulate the laws to favor themselves.  Unstable government also reduces free enterprise, since people won’t take business risks when they can’t count on their government. Finally, the government needs to be stable and orderly to capture the hearts of the people, and to earn their respect.

Federalist Paper #63, also probably by James Madison, continues discussion of the Senate.

#5 National character.  The Senate should define the national character of the US to the rest of the world through consistent, enlightened, wise, honorable, and unbiased policy.  The small and consistent Senate membership should help achieve these lofty goals.

#6 Responsibility.  The government should be responsible to the people for both short term measures as well as vision of the longer term chain of measures that will influence the direction of the country.  The Senate should also provide a “defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.” (p. 382)  Madison seems quite aware that the people can experience violent passions or support unjust measures which would be harmful to the country, and the Senate’s job is to defend against those misplaced passions and measures.

The Senates of Sparta and Rome had life membership, hence the precedent for that being considered in the United States.  While we don’t want to imitate those ancient governments, we still want a way to blend stability with liberty.  Madison repeats the theme that the bicameral legislature is designed to protect the people from being betrayed by their representatives.  In Greek democracies, the executive function was by elected officers, such as the Athenian Archons who later acquired legislative powers.  Sparta, Rome, and Crete had bodies elected by the people annually with varying powers.  American government keeps people from participation directly, and allows representatives to do that on their behalf.  In order for the American government to become corrupted, the Senate, State legislatures, House, and the people would all have to become corrupted, in that order.  The Maryland Senate has similar structure, and has not shown signs of corruption.  We learned from the British example, whose Senate is composed of hereditary nobles.  In Sparta their annual representatives took power from the lifelong Senate; and similar stories from Rome’s Tribunes and Carthage all show that this proposed structure for the Senate will keep it from becoming disproportionately powerful.

Federalist Paper #69 by Alexander Hamilton discusses the character of the executive branch by comparison to the king of Great Britain and state governors.

The President is elected every four years, unlike the king of Great Britain who is a hereditary monarch for life.  The President can be impeached or tried for crimes, unlike the king who is inviolable.  The President can return a bill to Congress for reconsideration (a ‘qualified negative’, p. 415); the king can veto any act of both houses of Parliament.  The President is commander-in-chief of the military, and can grant pardons and reprieves.  In the former role, he gives direction to the army and navy, whereas the king raises and regulates fleets and armies.  In some cases, State governors have more military and pardon authority than the President.  The president can only adjourn congress when they can’t decide when to do so.  The king can suspend or dissolve the Parliament.  The president needs the senate to make treaties; the king has sole authority to do so, with possibly implementation help from Parliament.  The President nominates ambassadors, judges, and various officers, whereas the king can appoint and create offices at will.  And finally, the king is the head of the national church, a title the President certainly can’t claim!  Other than treaties, the President has more or less power than the governor of New York, and far less than the king of Great Britain.


In summary, we see in Federalist Papers #62 and #63 clear arguments why Senators need to be older and more established citizens than House Representatives, that Senators are appointed to give a stronger connection between Federal and State governments, the contrasts between the House and Senate (proportional versus equal shares, few number of Senators and longer term of service) provide checks and balances on each others’ power and help ensure that the Senate is not easily swayed by nefarious powers.   The Senate defines the long term character of the country, protects us from short term foolishness by the people, and based on historical examples will keep from getting too powerful.

Federalist paper #69 gives detailed comparisons among the President of the United States, the king of Great Britain, and often the governor of various states (often New York).  Madison shows that the President in more cases may have more or less power than a state governor, and has far less power than the king.

I find the Senate an odd legislative body.  I don’t think the founding fathers would have expected such a huge disparity in the sizes of States over time.  California now has over 66 times the population of Wyoming[1], yet each State gets two Senators. In contrast in the 1790 census[2], the ratio of Virginia’s population to Delaware was only a factor of about 12 (747,610/59,096).  Would Madison have designed the Senate differently if he anticipated such large differences among the States?

The mutability of the US Government is a major international issue.  I heard Chancellor Schmidt of Germany discuss the European view of the US, and he indicated that they were very frustrated by the massive changes in US foreign policy every 4 or 8 years; and in the case of the Ford administration, even within his own administration!



Federalist papers #46 and #51

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #2

Glenn Booker  10/9/2012

Federalist Paper #51 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by James Madison to discuss checks and balances needed in the new Constitution.  He recognizes that external provisions to partition power among the departments of government are inadequate, so internal structure must be contrived to keep each other in place.  To preserve liberty, it is essential to separate powers of government, and ensure that each department has as little influence over the appointment of people in the other departments.  Ideally the executive, legislative, and judiciary departments should be chosen by the people with no cross communication with one another.  To be practical, however, a different approach is recommended.  The judiciary needs special qualifications and is permanent, so selection by the people seems unwise.

Clear separation of the powers of each department is needed, and is implemented by addressing constitutional and personal motives.  Madison wisely recognizes the power appeal of government, and uses it to achieve balance.  “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” (page 319)  Government magnifies human nature.  If, as St Augustine said, everyone were angels, Madison agrees that government would not be needed.  That not being the case, internal and external controls are needed so that the administered are controlled as well as the men under them.

A key goal of government is to divide power to check on each other, so that personal interests keeps guard over the public interests.  However in a republican government, the legislative branch has excess power, which is why it is divided into two branches to weaken it.  Having different means of selection and ways of doing business also helps keep the legislative branches under control.  Making the executive branch stronger might also be needed.  While the executive branch could have veto power over the legislative branch (absolute negative), that power could be abused, hinting at the ability of Congress to override a Presidential veto.

These guidelines for checks and balances also apply to the States.

America is a compound republic, since people are subjects of not only the country but also their State.  As a result,  the State and Federal governments control each other, providing another layer of checks and balances.

In a republic it is also important to guard against one part of society oppressing another part.  The rights of the majority can ignore the rights of a minority.  To protect from this happening, the will of the community (i.e. society as a whole) can prevent this oppression; this approach can work weakly in hereditary or self-appointed governments.  Second, the people could belong to so many groups that any one can’t be strong enough to oppress the others; this is used in the United States.  The effectiveness of the latter approach depends on the number of groups (“interests and sects”, page 321), and how many people are in each unit of government.

Justice is the goal of government and of civilized society.  Anarchy results when the weak are not protected from the strong; but even then the strong will want a government to protect their interests.  Given the diversity of the United States, a coalition of the majority of society will usually be based on justice and the common good.  Usually.

Federalist Paper number 46, also by James Madison, compares the power of the state and federal governments.  The state and federal governments are designed to have different powers and purposes, so they aren’t rivals.  The authority for both governments lies with the people, not whether the state and federal government fight over their jurisdictions.  Madison expects that people will have more loyalty to their State than to the federal government, and therefore more people will be drawn to State government.  Most people also know their personal and local affairs better than national ones, so that will also tend to push them to state or local government.

During the Revolution and shortly after, this loyalty to local and state affairs was clearly seen, in part because the federal government was so weak.  Attempts to strengthen the federal government were met with opposition.  People will continue to support state government more fully, since it is administered better than federal.

The rest of the paper discusses how state and federal governments resist each other’s laws.

Federal government is more dependent on state than vice versa, because of the aforementioned fondness for state matters and issues over national ones.  Politicians need to meet the needs of their State before they can expect public support for national issues.  Similarly, federal politicians tend to focus too much on local matters.  This pattern is the same seen at the State level, compared to cities and counties within it.  Federal politicians are supposed to be “impartial guardians of a common interest” (page 293), but instead just look out for the needs of their States.  Based on this, the new Constitution will avoid messing with States’ rights and governments, or no one will support it.

If the federal government tries to extend its power, the states can suppress it, and will unify to act against a threat to only one of their number.  But if a state does something overly offensive, federal intervention would only make them mad, AND not be effective unless very unpleasant means were used (war?).  It’s possible that the federal government would build an army for “projects of ambition”  (page 295) against the state governments, but Madison believes this is terribly unlikely because the people and the states would not support it and could repel it.   Interestingly, he claims the largest possible army for a nation is 1% of its population, or 4% of those able to carry arms.  At the time of this writing, that would give a federal army of no more than 30,000, against state forces of nearly half a million.  The presence of a heavily armed populous, combined with favored local governments, forms a strong barrier to federal military intervention.  European kingdoms make armies as strong as their economy can bear, and don’t trust people with arms, yet if their people and local governments united against them, then “the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned.” (page 296)

In summary of this paper, a federal government  that is dependent upon its people will be kept in check by those same people.  A federal government that is not dependent will be overthrown by the States.  The powers given to the federal government are as weak as possible compared to state powers, but still needed to form a Union.  As a result, States have nothing to fear from this new Constitution.


Federalist papers #51 and #46 outline the key basis for checks and balances in the proposed Constitution.  Number 51 recognizes that people crave power, so the internal structure of federal government is divided to keep each department under mutual control.  The departments (executive, legislative, and judiciary) are selected and managed separately to avoid cross communication as much as practical.  The legislative department is inherently more powerful in a republic, so it is further divided into two houses to weaken it.  The judiciary department requires special skills and is a permanent job, so it is treated quite differently from the other departments.  The executive branch is fairly weak, so veto power gives it more power, but legislative veto override keeps it from going overboard.  The rights of the minority are protected by having a diverse range of groups in the country, so the majority will usually be just and good.

The state government also provides substantial checks on federal power, as expanded upon in paper #46.  The state government has massively more public support and interest than the federal government, so the latter is weak and unable to oppress the states.  The bad side effect is that the federal politicians will tend to favor local and state issues to the exclusion of the best interests of the nation.  The result is that state rights are very strong, and the federal government has limited resources to pressure rogue state actions.  Military action against states is very unlikely, since the people love their state far more than their country, and local militias are far larger than the federal army.  Local governments could even overthrow European kingdoms if they united to do so.  The clear message is that states will have substantial power under the new Constitution, so they should ratify it and not fear the new federal government.

An aside:  I’ve lived at least a few months in nine states, so I’m really confused by the extent of state power and autonomy.  Perhaps if I and generations of my family only lived in one state, then the latter obsession might make more sense.

Federalist paper #15

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #1

Glenn Booker  9/26/2012

Federalist Paper #15 was written by Alexander Hamilton to discuss inadequacies in the current government under the Articles of Confederation.  He apologizes for the subject, since those inadequacies are “a position which is not either controverted or doubted.” ([1]101)  The matter at hand is urgent, because something must be done “to rescue us from impending anarchy.” (101)  The nation is described in very anthropomorphic terms, as they have “reached almost the last stage of national humiliation,” and there is hardly anything left that can further “wound the pride or degrade the character” of the nation. (both 101)

More specifically, ” we owe debts to foreigners and to our own citizens” which cannot be repaid, and we have “valuable territories and important posts in the possession of a foreign power” which should have been surrendered to them. (both 101)  They have no effective military capability nor a way to pay troops; “we have neither troops, nor treasury, nor government.” (101)  Spain has excluded them from “free participation in the navigation of the Mississippi” river. (102)  They have no credit, and commerce is at “the lowest point of declension.” (102)  Their ambassadors have no respect abroad; they are “the mere pageants of mimic sovereignty.” (102)  Real estate prices have plummeted; “a violent and unnatural decrease in the price of land.” (102)  Private credit has dried up; it has been “reduced within the narrowest limits, and this still more from an opinion of insecurity than from a scarcity of money.” (102)

Given this context for their situation, Hamilton clearly favors adopting the proposed Constitution; “let us make a firm stand for our safety, our tranquility, our dignity, our reputation.” (102)  It appears that his opponents favor keeping the Confederation, and want “an augmentation of federal authority without a diminution of State authority,” a combination Hamilton describes as “repugnant and irreconcilable.” (both 103)  His goal is to show the Confederation has major defects, “fundamental errors in the structure of the building.” (103)

The “great and radical vice” in the Confederation is “legislation for states or governments, in their corporate or collective capacities” as opposed to the individuals in them. (both 103)  As a result of this approach, “the United States have an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men and money; but they have no authority to raise either by regulations extending to the individual citizens of America.” (103)  As a result, federal laws are “mere recommendations which the States observe or disregard at their opinion.” (103)  Hamilton then chastises them for breaking rules of government which are well known.  The outcome of their approach is that violence or military solutions will prevail instead of peaceful law-abiding solutions; their government “must substitute the violent and sanguinary agency of the sword to the mild influence of the magistracy.” (104)

Hamilton recognizes that independent nations may form leagues or alliances to meet their interests, and discusses how this has been done often earlier in the (18th) century.  The existing Confederation treats the States much like independent nations in an alliance, which is a possible form of government, but “abandoning all views toward a confederate government, this would bring us to a simple alliance offensive and defensive” where we would be “alternate friends and enemies of each other” just like friendly nations can turn on their former allies.  (both 104)  Hamilton distinguishes between a league and a government.  For the latter, “we must extend the authority of the Union to the persons of the citizens – the only proper objects of government.” (105)

Governments create laws, which must be enforced by either court penalties, or by military force.  The former applies to men, the latter to States.  As a result, if the government only applies to communities or organizations, “every breach of the laws must involve a state of war.” (105)  Furthermore, the States were expected to be strictly law-abiding; “breaches by the States of the regulations of the federal authority were not to be expected” (105) but this won’t happen “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” (106)  Groups of men act with less rectitude than individuals, because “regard to reputation has a less active influence when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one.” (106)

Hamilton describes sovereign power as having “an impatience of control” which results in weaker members of an association “to fly off from the common center.” (both 106)  As a result, intervention is needed to ensure that the members of the Confederacy comply with its measures, or each member will comply or not according to its whims and interests.  This has been seen in the “thirteen distinct sovereign wills” (107) of the Union having not executed the latter’s measures.  This has “arrested all the wheels of the national government and brought them to an awful stand.” (107)  This condition came about over time, as some States complied less with Union requisitions, setting a precedent (“pretext of example” (107)) for others to also non-comply.  Then the complying States wondered why they bothered to comply; “why should we do more in proportion than those who are embarked with us in the same political voyage?” (108)  And this concludes this paper, summarizing the effect of this gradual withdrawal of support from the common Union; “each State yielding to the persuasive voice of immediate interest or convenience has successively withdrawn its support, till the frail and tottering edifice seems ready to fall upon our heads and to crush us beneath its ruins.” (108)


In Federalist Paper #15, Alexander Hamilton is conveying the urgency to support the new Constitution because the United States under the Articles of Confederation is ready to collapse.  The issues identified include:  debts to foreigners and citizens which can’t be repaid, land unfairly in the hands of foreign powers, no military power, no treasury, no right to navigate the Mississippi river, no public or private credit available, and little commerce.  As a result, our ambassadors are a laughingstock, and real estate prices have dropped.

The main cause of these problems is that the Confederation legislates only for corporations or communities, not individuals.  The only way to enforce such laws is through violence, which everyone knows won’t happen, so the States can ignore Union laws they don’t like without consequence.  This has reduced the national government to a figurehead, completely without power.  Essentially, the Confederation became like the European Union, a loose collection of mostly independent states.  Hamilton wants to reunify the Unites States through the new Constitution.

[1] All references are page numbers from Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.