The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)
Federalist Essays No.10 - No.17
The practical advantages of the union held together by the U.S. Constitution include a reduction of factions, proactive promotion of trade and wealth, and a more cost-effective government. In theory, as well as in practice, the new plan of government is far superior to the old and more likely to be sustained.
A republican form of government provides the closest remedy for factions without eliminating liberty altogether. A faction is defined as any number of citizens that are inspired by some common passions to act adversely towards the rights of other citizens. The republican form of government works to prevent factions because a higher number of representatives guard against the attempts of the few, and because the extended sphere of the republic makes it less probably that a faction will become a majority of the whole.
The union serves as a better means to promote commerce, especially in competition with Europe. It allows for uniform prohibitory trade regulations that would eventually lead to privileged trading in the British markets. It also provides for a federal navy that will assist the United States in establishing commercial privileges in this hemisphere.
The union serves as the best means of promoting the overall wealth of the young nation. Revenue in the whole nation will benefit from the consistency of commerce brought about by the union. The ability of the citizens to pay taxes is proportional to the overall amount of wealth, and this increases with commercial success as well. If there is no union, it will be easy for states to trade illicitly amongst themselves and smuggle contraband, both undermining the national revenue. With a single union, there's only one border to protect for trade violations--the Atlantic side.
If there is no national revenue, then taxes will not be taken from commerce and instead will be placed on the land. Landowners will become the most burdened class in society.
It is more cost-efficient to run a union government than to support 13 separate governments. It will be more expensive to staff the separate governments, especially because each would have to worry about inter-state threats to their own security and defense.
The republican form of government established by the Constitution is superior to other plans of government. It does not fall into the category of turbulent and anarchic republican governments such as Ancient Greece or Modern Italy. Instead, America lays claim discovering the unmixed and extensive republic.
The natural limit of a republic is the distance from the center that will barely allow the representatives to meet as often as necessary to administer public affairs. Since a congress has continually met, with representatives from each state, up until this point, we must assume that it will be continually possible to do so.
Furthermore, the proposed plan of government allows for shared responsibilities with state governments, which are still located closer to the people. The purpose of the government is to preserve the union of the 13 states, and allow for additional states to join as necessary. The communications and ease of transportation throughout the country is daily improved. Almost every state is on at least one side, a frontier, and therefore finds incentive to join in the union for protection. Therefore, those states that lie farthest from the heart of the union will also be the most exposed to foreign danger and most compelled to maintain the union.
Americans have never been inclined to shy away from newness in favor of antiquity and tradition. They should be proud of the experimentations made with the confederacy that is now upon them to improve and perpetuate. If their original work contained imperfections, it is amazing how few there were. It is left to the current plan of union to fix them.
The imperfections of the original plan of government led to the last stage of national humiliation, making it obvious that the United States was bordering on anarchy. The problems of the government include poor public credit, mounting debts, and an inability to repel foreign nations on our territory, to defend our right to free navigation of the Mississippi River, or to serve as ambassadors that are well received abroad. It is terrible that such poverty of pride and possessions should befall a nation that is so rich in its abundance of land.
The biggest overall problem with the original plan of government is that it has no authority to compel, only to recommend. The confederation government cannot directly extend its requirements to individual citizens of America. The government needs the authority to enforce its laws, either through military or judicial powers.
It was originally thought that the individual states would act in concert with one another out of good will and patriotism. This expectation was clearly incorrect, as states judge for themselves what is in their best interest. States have been increasingly non-compliant with congressional requests over time.
As a hypothetical situation, examine the possible outcome of the current form of government under the Articles of Confederation. As the states become increasingly less willing to work together, the national government would become less able to accomplish its goals. This would either lead to continuous civil wars between states, or between the national authority and the states or for the national government to raise a standing army to force the states into compliance. This would result in military despotism.
On the other hand, if the laws passed directly from the national government to the people, than states that attempted to disrupt them would be in open violation of national law. An individual that attempted to disrupt national law would be dealt with by regulations already in place to deal with insurrection within the state authority.
Some critics claim that a national government that becomes too powerful threatens to dominate the powers of the state. Matters that are by their very nature local matters will be left to the states. Even if the national government wanted to encroach on state powers, the people remain much more attached to their local government and will not be inclined to allow this to happen.
Replacing the confederacy with a republican form of government will allow for a degree of financial prosperity and a competitive edge not possible under the Articles of Confederation.
Not only will the strong central government be better suited to establishing advantageous commerce and providing protection for it through a navy, but it will also lead to a wealthier and more cost-effective nation overall. The solid union of states will prevent illicit trading and force foreign nations into commercial negotiations and beneficial trade policies. The success of the commercial economy in the United States will translate into greater wealth for all areas of the economy, and will lead to increased revenue for the central government. With this increased revenue, the central government will be able to provide further advantages to the country in the form of defense and better roads for transportation. The nation will have to spend less money on the administration of government, because it is more cost-effective to support one strong central government, than to support 13.
Although this federalist essay, like all the rest, is signed Publius, it is clearly the work of Alexander Hamilton, who judged a nation's value on its financial stability and overall worth. The most important trait of a strong central government, according to Hamilton, was the financial advantage gained from a single government authority.
Hamilton later executed many of his beliefs as Secretary of the Treasury when he masterminded plans to pay off the debt of the individual states and the nation, and when he established the Bank of the United States. His actions during George Washington's presidency were contested as being unconstitutional, but he insisted that the establishment of a national bank and the repayment of debts fell under the authority of the central government to regulate commerce.
Hamilton's ideas about the importance of strong national financial stability are mixed with his ideas about the importance of the central government's power resting with the people. Hamilton was a firm believer in a national government, and had even gone so far to propose an elimination of the states altogether when he attended the Constitutional Convention. He argued in favor of a government in which nothing stood between the people and the governing authority.
Viewing the states as an impediment both to good government, and to the security of the people's rights, he envisioned a system of government in which the people would directly empower the central government and the central government would act directly upon the people. In this system, the states would exist as an extension of the national government closest to the people, but would receive their authority from the federal government not from the people themselves.
This thinking clearly opposed the thinking of patriots that met to compose the Articles of Confederation. They believed that the power of the people should stay closest to the people, in the state governments. Hamilton believed that if the people directly empowered the central government, it would provide the strongest protection to their civil rights against state governments that may not be able to act in favor of the common good. Additionally, a government directly empowered by the people would have the authority of acting directly on the people. States that interfered with the actions of the central government on behalf of the people would be clearly interfering with the best interest of the people.