Essay on Federalist No. 9

Introduction

Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 9, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements made by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 9. They are as follows.

1. Hamilton astutely writes “From the disorders that disfigure the annals of those republics the advocates of despotism have drawn arguments, not only against the forms of republican government, but against the very principles of civil liberty.” Indeed, in times of war and strife, dictators tend to rise up. They argue that only a strong leader with unlimited powers will be able to create stability. Citizens are forced to sacrifice their liberties in exchange for promised security and peace. However, once the dictator has come to power rarely to peace and security follow. More often, when citizens cease to fight for their liberties, the dictator institutes a reign of terror across the entire land. Instead of regional wars, national wars ensue. Those who dare to stand up to the despot are exterminated. There will be no peace in the land. Therefor, it is essential for all free people to resist against ever giving up any of their civil liberties. It is simply unnecessary to sacrifice our rights in the name of security.

2. Hamilton writes “The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received great improvement.” This has proved to be completely false. The science of politics has, if anything, gotten much worse. This is likely because the world is now so much richer and there are a great deal more spoils for politicians to argue over.

3. In writing about the benefits of the new constitution, Hamilton writes “To this catalogue of circumstances that tend to the amelioration of popular systems of civil government, I shall venture, however novel it may appear to some, to add one more, on a principle which has been made the foundation of an objection to the new Constitution; I mean the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT within which such systems are to revolve.” Hamilton is saying that the new constitution actually givers the government more power than governments have had in the past. The “enlargement of the orbit” means that governments would get involved in an increasing number of activities. For Hamilton, this was a benefit that was in the same league with the independent judiciary and a legislature with dual houses. This passage illuminates the Hamiltonian position on government. He was indeed a centralizer. He wanted the government to be as involved as possible in administering the lives of the citizens of the United States.

4. Hamilton describes Montesquieu as a great man. However, he uses the writing of Montesquieu when they support his position and apparently dismisses off-hand Montesquieu’s conclusions when they do not suit him. When discussing Montesquieu’s notion that the republics must operate within small geographical territories, Hamilton observes that “Neither Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, nor Georgia can by any means be compared with the models from which he reasoned and to which the terms of his description apply.” Hamilton does not view this conclusion as acceptable. He writes that “If we therefore take his ideas on this point as the criterion of truth, we shall be driven to the alternative either of taking refuge at once in the arms of monarchy, or of splitting ourselves into an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord, and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt.” From reading just this, we would conclude that Hamilton does not agree with the theories put forth by Montesquieu. However, later on Hamilton writes “the author who has been most emphatically quoted upon the occasion, it would only dictate a reduction of the SIZE of the more considerable MEMBERS of the Union, but would not militate against their being all comprehended in one confederate government.” In this case, he wishes to utilize the writings of Montesquieu as support for the constitution that he so deeply desires to see enacted. It is inconsistent for Hamilton to ignore one part of Montesquieu’s writings when it doesn’t support his argument and employ Montesquieu’s writings when it helps his cause.

5. Hamilton quotes Montesquieu, who writes “If a single member should attempt to usurp the supreme authority, he could not be supposed to have an equal authority and credit in all the confederate states. Were he to have too great influence over one, this would alarm the rest. Were he to subdue a part, that which would still remain free might oppose him with forces independent of those which he had usurped and overpower him before he could be settled in his usurpation.” This is good in theory, but what happens when the confederate or federal government slowly but surely usurps power from the various states? Once the states have sacrificed their power, there is no longer any defense from oppressors. For this reason states and local governments must resist power grabs by the federal government. Once independent governments have lost their power, their is no further line of defense.

6. Hamilton quotes Montesquieu, who writes “the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty.” Here is a point of the utmost importance. Confederate republics may be dissolved. It only stands to reason that when various sovereigns form a voluntary league, those same sovereigns may voluntarily opt out of the league if it no longer serves their best interests. This idea has been discredited by modern intellectuals. However, a writer of eminent importance, Montesquieu, clearly states that a confederate republic may be dissolved by the individual sovereigns that form it.

7. Hamilton writes “The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power.” The seventeenth amendment removed the right of states to choose senators from the state governments and gave it to the people. This strengthened the federal government at the expense of the state governments. Many, myself included, believe that it would be much better for state governments to choose senators. Under such an arrangement, the senators would be forced to represent the interests of the states. As it stands, senators are much more likely to spend their time focused on national issues. This enhances the power of the federal government. Of course, the tenth amendment states pretty clearly, as does Hamilton here, that many powers were to remain with the state governments. Any powers not specifically ceded to the federal government in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution were to remain with state governments. This has been constantly cast aside by the federal government throughout American history.

8. Hamilton writes “Yet Montesquieu, speaking of this association, says: ‘Were I to give a model of an excellent Confederate Republic, it would be that of Lycia.’ Thus we perceive that the distinctions insisted upon were not within the contemplation of this enlightened civilian.” Earlier in the same paragraph Hamilton describes the Lycian republic as consisting of “twenty-three CITIES or republics.” Once again we see Hamilton ignoring Montesquieu’s important insight that republics only work for small territories. Instead, he focuses only on what makes his point: Montesquieu believed in confederate republics. The way that Hamilton baldly ignores the implications that don’t suit his thesis is troubling.

Summary

A strong union between the states would be the best way to protect the American people from internal revolutions and rivalries. When reading the histories of the republics of Greece and Italy, one is struck by the constant uprisings that interrupted society and stalled the march towards civilization.  Those societies were kept from existing in a true state of peace. Instead they were always caught between despotic rulers and states of virtual anarchy. Calm only lasted for brief periods of time and was always followed up by more turmoil and violence. Whenever things appeared that they were getting better, it actually caused more sadness than happiness because everybody knew that the good times wouldn’t last. Sooner or latter, the pleasant scene would give away to “tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage.” Likewise, even though things in the United States may appear to be tranquil for the time being, we must keep on guard and prevent the government from abandoning those things that it has done to cause the peace.

Many tyrants have used the chaos and disorder of past republics as examples of why they should impose their despotic order on society. They have claimed that republics cannot provide stability and that civil liberties must sacrificed in order to have security. Such despots claim that all free societies will be disorderly and unorganized, and therefor have rallied against the notion that a free people can govern itself. Thankfully for those who support liberty, there are examples of countries that have had striking successes with free government. Some day, America too would be another such example, proving that people can govern themselves. Others would then emulate the American experiment and make further improvements where necessary.

It is also important to note that those who oppose republics tend to focus on the weaknesses of the original republics. If improvements in form couldn’t be made to the original republics, it would indeed be a bad idea to live under such a government. There were serious flaws in the construction of those ancient republics. However, the “science of politics” has been able to develop various improvements over the ancient governments. Principals of government now exist that didn’t exist during the times of ancient governments. For example, it is now known that the government’s power should be divided among various different branches. The legislative branch is divided into two houses. Judges hold their offices for life as long as they behave well. The people democratically elect their representatives to the national congress. These are all modern inventions and moved government towards perfection. Under these circumstances, a republican government can properly govern a country. Many of the old imperfections have been eliminated.  In addition to the advances mentioned above, it must be added that the Constitution gives the government the power to be involved in the administration of more parts of public life than it has been in the past. This may not seem like a benefit. Indeed, many have rejected the Constitution because of it. The form of government described in the Constitution, if employed by the states or a confederacy of various states, would give those governments more power as well.

The idea that a confederacy of separate states can be used to put down internal revolutions, reduce violence between members, and provide greater security from an external threats is nothing new. It is an idea that has been utilized throughout history and is something that almost all political philosophers agree upon.  Opponents of the proposed constitution attempt to use the writings of Montesquieu to prove that a republican government is impossible for a country as large as the United States. However, they have ignored what Montesquieu wrote in other parts of his works. Nor have they thought through the consequences of their position.

It is true that Montesquieu recommends a small territory for republican republics. In fact, Montesquieu recommends a territory even far smaller than many of the existing states. Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia would have been unable to function properly as republics according to the theory of Montesquieu. In fact, taking his theory to its logical conclusion, the United States would either have to accept a Monarchy or break itself into many, many, tiny little republics with no power and no protection from each other or external threats. Some objectors to the new constitution have realized the problem their reasoning leads them to. Their response to the challenge is to propose that the various states should perhaps be made smaller. Such a policy would lead to the creation of a ridiculous quantity of unqualified politicians. While this might be good for men who want to extend their political influence locally “it could never promote the greatness or happiness of the people of America.”

Taking a look at the problem from a different angle, we will see that while Montesquieu’s theory would require smaller member states, his theory in no way invalidates the notion of a confederacy between the various states. Indeed, that is the true essence of the issue at hand.

In fact, Montesquieu was not against the idea of a confederate republic at all.  Montesquieu writings teach that a confederate republic is the proper form of government for “extending the sphere of popular government, and reconciling the advantages of monarchy with those of republicanism.”

Montesquieu taught that mankind would have been forced too suffer forever under the oppression of kings had they not come up with constitutions that extended the benefits of republicanism internally while maintaining the benefits of monarchies externally. Such a constitution is that of a confederate republic.

A confederate republic is made up of several smaller states joining together to form a single government. Many societies converge to create a new society. When the various societies join forces, their power increases until they are able to provide security for all the members of the confederacy.

The confederate republic is able to protect itself from external attacks while promoting peace internally. This form of government eliminates many problems.

If a single person tries to takeover the government, that person will have a hard time exorcizing authority over all of the states at once. When a person becomes too powerful in one state, the people of other states will get worried. Even though one part of the country may fall under oppression, the states that remain free can fight against the would-be dictator and overthrow him before he takes over the entire country.

When revolutions take place in one state, the other states can come together to stomp them out. If some state governments start to abuse their privileges, other states can keep them in check. Even if the confederacy were to be dissolved, the state governments would remain in existence.

Each small republic lives in happiness and tranquility internally. Meanwhile, they have the same protection that a large monarchy would provide externally.

It is important to look at the writings of Montesquieu at length because they provide essential insights in favor of the Union. The passages quoted above also show that the writings of Montesquieu have bee misused by opponents of the constitution. Nothing in Montesquieu’s writings imply that a confederate republic in the United States would be unworkable. The above passages also make direct mention of the issue that this paper is intended to address: the Union’s ability to put down revolutions and violent conflicts between the states.

Some have written that there is a difference between a ” CONFEDERACY and a CONSOLIDATION of the States.” Under a confederacy the confederate government may only govern the various state governments that make up the confederacy, not the actual people in the states. The federal government would have no authority to take part in the internal governing of the various states. It is also put forth that each member of the confederacy should have an equal vote in the national government. These positions are very weak. They are supported neither by reason nor historical examples. While it is true that some confederate republic governments have been restricted from ruling directly over the people of the member states, it hasn’t been the case in every example. It isn’t strictly necessary that it must be that way. In fact, there are many examples in which the national government has governed directly over the people. Therefor, we can conclude that there is no universal rule governing this issue. It will be shown in future papers that when the national government can’t enforce its laws within the states that “it has been the cause of incurable disorder and imbecility in the government.”

A confederate republic is defined simply as a collection of societies or the merging of two or more states into a single state. The actual authority of the national government will vary depending on the circumstances in each case. As long as the various states remain in existence and they continue to govern locally, even though they are subordinate to a national government, the association would still be defined as a confederate republic. The proposed constitution in no way seeks to eliminate the various state governments. Quite the opposite, the state governments actually make up part of the national government through their representation in the senate. Further, the constitution leaves a large portion of governmental power in the hands of the states. This is entirely consistent with a federal form of government.

The Lycian confederacy was made up of twenty three separate republics. The largest republics had three votes in the national government. The middle republics each got two votes. The smallest republics each got one vote. Under the Lycian confederacy, the national government had the responsibility of  choosing judges and governors for each member of the confederacy. This was, of course, a very serious power to turn over to federal government. If there is one power that member states should retain, it is the ability to select their own local government. However, Montesquieu once wrote: “Were I to give a model of an excellent Confederate Republic, it would be that of Lycia.” This shows us once again that Montesquieu was not against confederate republics. Any who suggest that he was, do so in error.

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