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The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

Summary

Federalist Essays No.45 - No. 46

Summary Federalist Essays No.45 - No. 46

The federal government will not be able to take the power of the state governments because it would risk angering the people in the state. If the federal government tried to pass an act of legislation that the states disagreed with, the people in the state could protest that act by refusing to comply with it.

If the federal government was not responsive to the protest by the people, a general alarm would spread throughout the other states and they would unite as if uniting against a foreign enemy. Why would the federal government pursue their power to such a point? It happened in Great Britain only because it was the more numerous parts against the less numerous parts. Who would be the comparable parties in such a conflict between the federal and state governments?

The critics claim that the federal government will have enough power to amass a military force and force the state government to give up their power. As it was said before, it is very unlikely that an uninterrupted series of representatives would all support this military effort.

Even if it had happened, the people in each state are numerous enough to bear arms against such a military threat as evidence by the action of the local militia in the American Revolution. In addition to the people of the United States being allowed to bear arms, they have the advantage of being loyal to state governments who appoint the militia officers. This is an advantage that no European nations allow their citizens, and the one that will sustain liberty in this country.

Either the federal government is going to be so dependent on the authority of the people as to prevent the abuse of its power, or it will not have the confidence of the people and its plans to usurp power will be easily stopped by the state governments. In either case, the objections to the federal government on the grounds that it will hurt the sovereignty of the individual states have no foundation in reality.

Commentary

The debate over whether the balance of power should rest with the states or with the federal government began in the Second Continental Congress, and has only been resolved over time through the guidelines placed by the U.S. Constitution and historical necessity.

The American people who sent representatives to the Second Continental Congress did so under the threat of war with the strong centralized government of Great Britain. They longed for the days of salutary neglect prior to the French and Indian War when their colony had governed itself without intervention by any outside force. This is what they hoped to attain when they constructed the loose confederation of states under the Articles of Confederation. Fearful of a strong national government, the people believed that they could best protect their rights by placing their authority in the state governments.

This dislike of a centralized government stemmed from the belief that the union of states was formed solely for the purpose of common defense against Great Britain. Radicals argued that the purpose of the Revolution was to form more democratic governments, by definition requiring a close relationship between the people and their government. To radicals, the only purpose of the confederation was to provide a foundation for mutual defense and foreign policy should they be threatened by an outside power again. They interpreted the Articles of Confederation as a pact between 13 separate states that agreed to delegate certain powers for specific purposes, not granting general powers to a central government.

The ineffective and disunited governance that resulted between 1781 and 1789 proved to the people that they could effectively disempower the national government by placing many checks and controls on its power. However, it also demonstrated to most people that their rights and liberties would be threatened in the absence of a national government that could serve as a supreme authority over all of the states. The majority of arguments in The Federalist rests on the theory that a strong central government not only prevents inter-state competition and hostilities, but also serves as the best means to provide for the common defense.

The U.S. Constitution provides a system in which the federal and state governments are interwoven and have some concurrent powers. Although the state governments are all subordinate to the authority of the national government and to national law, they perform significant duties to support the central government as well as to check its power. The concurrent powers include enforcing laws, establishing courts, borrowing money, protecting the health and safety of the people, building roads and collecting taxes. State governments are solely responsible for establishing schools, administering elections, regulating businesses within the state, establishing local government, regulating marriages, and any other powers not specifically given to the federal government.

Although the U.S. Constitution established the relationship between the state and federal government, it did not resolve the debate between those in favor of states' rights and those in favor of a strong central government. Slavery and tariffs were issues that became especially divisive along these lines, and raised the question of how far the federal government should interfere with state governments to ensure the protection of civil liberties. The Civil War began because the nation elected a president that not a single southern state had voted for. The southern states seceded from the union and the federal government had to invade in order to bring those states back into the fold. During the Civil Rights Movement as well, the federal government intervened against state governments to force the acceptance of equality and desegregation. In both cases, the affected states expressed tremendous resentment against the national government for intervening in state affairs.

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