Essay on Federalist No. 13


Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 13, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements made by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 13. They are as follows.

1. Hamilton writes that “When the dimensions of a State attain to a certain magnitude, it requires the same energy of government and the same forms of administration which are requisite in one of much greater extent.” Hamilton is saying that there is a specific minimum size that a government must attain, given a a certain amount of territory. However, once the government reaches that size, it will be sufficient for much larger countries as well. Or, a country can keep growing while that absolute size of the government remains the same. Applying this logic to our current situation, we could literally go back to the government we had out our country’s founding. This is perhaps one of the only times I’ll applaud Hamilton’s logic, even if he wouldn’t agree with me using it in this way…to make the government smaller.

2. In Hamilton view the job of the government is to “direct the passions of….society to the public good.” This is absolutely not the job of government. If the government has a job, and that is a mighty big if, it is to secure liberty by protecting property rights. Government’s job is not to influence our opinion. It is not to make us more righteous. It is not to tell us how to live our lives. It is not to educate us and take care of us when we’re sick. It is not to give us all houses and clothes and food. The government should exist to keep other people from robbing and killing us, that’s it. If it can’t even do that job well, we should fire the government by stripping it of all power and allowing it to cease to exist. Government just isn’t necessary beyond that mandate.


While we are discussing the issue of government revenue, it also makes sense to consider another issue of a similar nature: government thriftiness. Any money not spent one thing can be spent on something else. If the government spends less, the people will have more money to spend as they please. A single national government would entail but one national bureaucracy. The existence of many lesser confederacies would require a multitude of different national administrators and government workers.  At the same time, there would need to be additional civil servants in order to work on coordination between the various confederate governments. Any plan that would require the thirteen states to form thirteen totally separate governments is too dangerous and complicated for any serious person to honestly consider. Those who imagine what America would look like if it were to form itself into separate confederacies tend to envision three distinct nations. The three countries would be made up of the four northern states, the four middle states, and the five southern states. It is unlikely that there would be any more than three confederacies. Under this arrangement, each of the unions would be larger than the country of Great Britain. No educated person will argue that a new country of such size can be governed by any government that is less comprehensive in nature than the one proposed in the new constitution. When a country reaches a certain size, the government must be as active and well organized as governments of much larger countries. Of course, it is impossible to say exactly what size a government should be. There is no way to know how many bureaucrats will be needed to govern various sized populations. When we look at Great Britain and her eight million people, we observe that she is about the same size as each of the separate confederacies would be. By examining the government power needed  to “direct the passions of so large a society to the public good”, it becomes obvious that a government with similar strength would also be able govern a much larger country. Governmental prerogative, if properly organized, can be imposed on great swaths of land. It’s authority can, indeed, be carried out even to the far corners of a “great empire” as long as the correct institutions are in place.


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