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The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Federalist Essays No.18 - No.22

Federalist Essays No.10 - No.17

Federalist Essays No.23 - No.29

Summary

There are a number of historical examples of confederacies that failed either due to infighting and competition amongst their members or invasion from outside forces. The Grecian republic ended in a series of restless alliances and usurpations that welcomed in Roman domination.

Germanic nations have attempted to sustain confederacies that result in wars amongst competing regions, the strong always preying on the week. And, the example of the United Netherlands provides evidence that a nation will disregard its constitution when need be to amass more power in unity than the confederacy can provide.

In the case of the first 6 years of the American confederacy, a number of very important deficiencies existed that could lead to a similar fate as these prior confederacies.

The Confederation Congress lacks sanction for any of its laws. There is no clause of mutual guarantee between states that would force a state to assist another state in repelling domestic dangers. Individual states can trample on the rights of citizens and the national government has no power to stop them.

The system of requisitions and quotas does not provide sufficient funds to the central government, and there is no effective and fair way to determine the worth of an individual state. This inequality of taxation could have destroyed the union long ago if there had been means of enforcement of collection as states that were unfairly taxed would most assuredly acted against the union on grounds of unfair treatment. The only sure way to sustain a flow of revenue for government is through direct taxes upon the citizens.

Congress cannot effectively regulate commerce. The inconsistencies that have resulted from states managing their own commercial policy have already damaged treaties with foreign nations.

The system of raising armies used during the American Revolution and codified by the Articles results in what is basically a bidding war for men between the states. Those states close to war sought desperately to recruit enough soldiers, and were willing to bid high salaries to get them.

The equal suffrage of each state in congress is unfair to the people of the most populous states, and violates the concept of representative government. This, like the taxation system, could also have forced the larger states to revolt from the union on the grounds that their smaller neighbors governed them. There are 9 states that could be added together and still be less in population than the remaining 4. This means that this system allows the minority to dictate to the majority.

The means by which the government can act under the Articles of Confederation is inefficient, as states need to wait around while other states agree unanimously on the need to act. Months could be wasted in persuading a state that might still not concede to the policy or law.

The Articles provide for no unified judicial power to rule on laws. If each state has final jurisdiction on a law, then there are as many final jurisdictions as there are states and no ultimate ruling. A unified ruling is especially important in matters relating to foreign treaties. Foreign nations will not respect a nation that needs the agreement of 13 different judges to pass a treaty.

The Articles of Confederation, was subject to ratification by the 13 state legislatures and not by conventions elected by the people. There is a question to the validity of this representative document that does not even rest on the consent of the people. As the power of the people is the legitimate authority in establishing a national government, the confederacy established by the Articles may not even be a legitimate form of government.

Commentary

There are a number of theoretical grounds upon which the authors of The Federalist criticize the Articles of Confederation as being not true to the principles of representative government.

In the first place, the system of requisitions and quotas was not only an ineffective means to provide for the needs of the central government, but it was also flawed in theory. As there is no effective means to place actual worth on the value of a state, there can be no fair way to requisition either taxes or troops from individual states. Taxes should be applied directly on the people themselves, as this is a more just way to determine the appropriate amount of taxation. Publius indicates that if there had been an effective means to collect taxes, the union would have certainly been destroyed because of state protests against shouldering the larger burden of taxation.

The method of determining representation at the Confederation Congress was also flawed in that the representatives did not truly represent the population. Each state, no matter how large the population, received the same suffrage in Congress. And, even though a state may send extra delegates to Congress, they all must vote with one voice or not have their voice counted at all. While this certainly contributed to tensions between the delegates of the same state, it also left many citizens without representation. Some states had a much larger population than others, yet this population had the same amount of representation in Congress as a state with a smaller population. This form of representation can never pretend to be representative government. It more resembles a meeting of separate nations.

The other theoretical problem with the system of representation and law making in congress was the probability that a minority of the people could dictate to the majority. For example, in the case of foreign affairs, in which 9 of 13 states must agree in order to enact policy with a foreign nation, if the 4 largest states disagreed, then the minority of the population would have acted against the will of the majority.

Furthermore, take a case in which additions are to be made to the powers of Congress. Under these circumstances, all 13 states must agree to the addition. This is terribly inefficient and unfair, as the states must wait around attempting to persuade a single state that might stand in the way of all the other states acting in accordance with the common good. Such circumstances often arose under the Articles of Confederation, most significantly when Rhode Island refused to agree to an amendment to the Articles that would allow Congress to levy imposts on trade.

The authors of The Federalist also emphasize the illegitimate process of ratification used for the Articles of Confederation and question the validity of the document. The authority to establish a new government is theoretically supposed to rest with the people. However, the people did not approve of the Articles, the state governments did. The authority of government does not rest with the power of the state governments, but with the power of the people and there are many grounds on which the Articles violated that principle.

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