FEDERALISTS V ANTI-FEDERALISTS PART SIX: One Nation or a Federation Of Nations?


The bottom-line difference between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist positions was that the Federalists believed in “National” Government, in which the Central Government acted directly upon the citizens the various States, and the Anti-Federalists believed that the Central Government should act solely upon the States.

In the first scheme, there is a sort of dual citizenship; in the latter, the people are citizens of their home States, and the States are members of the SupraState organization.

Something similar to what the Anti-Federalists imagined would be today’s United Nations… Although the United States is a member of that SupraNational body, the citizens in the U.S. have no direct relationship with the U.N. (although, perhaps that is arguable in some areas in which people can be held individually accountable, such as with so-called “crimes against humanity” ?).

Writing in Federalist #15, Hamilton stated that individuals, not States, were “the only proper objects of Government.” In Federalist #16, he expands… “A Federal Government capable of regulating the common concerns and preserving the general tranquility” […] “must carry its agency to the persons of the citizens. It must stand in need of no intermediate legislations, but must itself be empowered to employ the arm of the ordinary magistrate to execute its own resolutions.”

It may surprise us today to consider it, but Patrick Henry despised the expression “We the People” which begins the U.S. Constitution. In his speech of 5 June 1788, he declaimed… “the question turns, sir, on that poor little thing– the expression, WE, THE PEOPLE, instead of the States of America.” […] “The assent of the People in their collective capacity is not necessary to the formation of a Federal Government. The people have no right to enter into leagues, alliances, or confederations. They are not the proper agents for this purpose: States and sovereign powers are the only proper agents for this kind of Government.”

Hamilton felt completely differently upon the subject. “It has not a little contributed to the infirmities of the existing Federal system,” he exposited in Federalist #22, that it never had a ratification by the people, resting on no better foundation than the consent of the several legislatures.”

Hamilton was concerned about the belief, held by some, that — being the States had been the parties to agree to union– a State could unilaterally withdraw from the union. “However gross a heresy it may be to maintain that a party to compact has right to revoke that compact, the doctrine itself has had respectable advocates,” he wrote. “The possibility of a question of this nature proves the necessity of laying the foundations of our National Government deeper than in the mere sanction of delegated authority.”

“The fabric of the American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the People,” stated Hamilton. “The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

The Law, stated Hamilton in Federalist #15, requires the power of sanction. And there are two ways to apply sanctions… 1) via Individual Coercion, or 2) via States or other political bodies.

The first way is implemented by Government officials, the second way by Armies. If the second way is chosen, said Hamilton, “every breach of the laws must involve a state of war.”

In Federalist #16, Hamilton wrote that if the National Government attempted to legislate by State rather by Individuals, then a large army would have to be constantly at the disposal of the National Government. Ultimately, the situation would come down “to a war between parts of the Confederacy,” in which “the strongest combination would be most likely to prevail.” A prudent man, he says, would never voluntarily commit his happiness to such a situation.

Madison wrote in Federalist #39 that if the proposed Government of the Constitution be considered National with regard to the OPERATION of its powers,” since it would act directly on the People, but “it changes its aspect again when we contemplate it in relation to the EXTENT of its powers.” That is because the jurisdiction of the proposed General Government would extend “to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” In this sense, then, “the proposed government can NOT be deemed a national one.”

In his essay “Number One” (18 October 1787), Brutus countered that, “although the Government reported by the convention does not go to a perfect and entire consolidation, yet it approaches so near to it, that it must, if executed, certainly and infallibly terminate in it.”

Centinel, writing in his own “Number One,” of 5 October 1787, assumed that the “all-prevailing power of taxation,” taken together with the “extensive Legislative and Judicial powers” vested in the Central Government, would eventually and necessarily “absorb the State legislatures and judicatories.”

Melancton Smith, in his speech of 20 June 1788, declared that the “Power which had both the purse and the sword had the government of the whole country, and might extend its powers to any and to every object.” On 25 June, he opined that in a future not so far away, the domain of the State governments would be whittled down to meeting… “once in a year to make laws for regulating the height of your fences and the repairing of your roads.”

Brutus was astounded that the Framers honestly thought that the overlapping jurisdictions of the Federal and State Governments would actually work in the long term. “It contradicts the scripture maxim,” he wrote in “Number Six” (27 December 1787), “which saith, ‘no man can serve two masters.’ The one power or the other must prevail, or else they will destroy each other, and neither of them effect their purpose.” Brutus compared the situation to one in which opposing mechanical forces act on the same body– if equal, the body remains at rest, if unequal, “the stronger would prevail and overcome the resistance of the weaker.”

A similar opinion was expressed, on 18 December 1787, in the Minority Report Of The Pennsylvania Ratification Convention. “We apprehend that two co-ordinate sovereignties would be a solecism in politics.” “It would be contrary to the nature of things, that both should exist together; one or the other would necessarily triumph in the fullness of dominion. However, the contest could not be of long continuance, as the State governments are divested of every means of defense, and will be obliged by ‘the supreme law of the land’ to yield at discretion.”

Madison, writing in Federalist #45, argued that States would retain more than enough power to counteract any Federal encroachments. “The State Governments will have the advantage of the Federal Government, whether we compare them in respect to: the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other.”

Hamilton agreed. Writing in Federalist #17, he assumed that, as a general principle, people would naturally feel more partiality towards their State Governments than towards the Central Government– “unless,” he caveated, “the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.”

As far as the possibility that the General Government would encroach into the political domains of the individual States, Hamilton couldn’t fathom why any officials at the Federal level should wish to stoop to mundane State affairs… “I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons entrusted with the administration of the General Government could ever feel” he wrote in Federalist #17, to divest the States of their little local powers. “The administration of private justice between the citizens of the same State, the supervision of agriculture and other concerns of a similar nature, all those things, in short, which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction.”

For Hamilton, the “passion” of ambition would flow naturally UP to the Federal level, not DOWN to the local. “Commerce, finance, negotiation, and war seem to comprehend all the objects which have charms for minds governed by that passion, and all the powers necessary to those objects ought, in the first instance, to be lodged in the national depository. It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils to usurp the powers with which they are connected.”

Madison was equally naive, writing in Federalist #45 that “the number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States.” … “compare the militia officers of three millions of people with the military and marine officers of any establishment which is within the compass of probability.”

“Should it happen, however,” he continued, “that separate collectors of internal revenue should be appointed under the Federal Government, the influence of the whole number would not bear a comparison with that of the multitude of State officers in the opposite scale.” Madison could not foresee the encroachment of the Federal authority upon domestic affairs, and contended that Federal power “will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce, with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.”


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