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The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis

by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and James Madison

Essay 19

Summary

Paper 19 is very similar to paper 18. In paper 19, Madison seeks to bolster his argument in favor of a stronger national government by drawing on examples of existing confederacies that have suffered tremendously as a result of inadequate authority being granted to the central government. He points to Germany and, to a lesser extent, Poland as prime examples of what happens when a country lacks strong central control. He points to the violence and instability that marked Germany’s feudal system and asserts that the “principal vassals” who constituted the German empire during that period were too powerful to be controlled by the emperor. The result was anarchy.

In the period during which Madison writes, Germany has adopted a federal system that in many respects resembles the American Articles of Confederation. However, the German system, Madison writes, has led to weak and ineffectual governments since the empire is fundamentally “a community of sovereigns.” As a result, the emperor is unable to efficiently and reliably control his empire. The empire is consistently beset by civil war and, in the face of foreign aggression, woefully unable to organize a united defense. Germany’s neighbors routinely take advantage of the empire’s weakness and even pursue a “policy of perpetuating its anarchy and weakness.”

Analysis

Madison employs extensive historical evidence to strengthen his position that having a strong, national government with supreme authority over constituent governments is necessary for the long-term strength and stability of any federal system. The example of Germany that Madison uses in this paper would have been familiar to his readers. In comparing the Articles of Confederation to the historically weak and ineffectual German imperial system, Madison provides his readers with a recognizable and memorable illustration of the perils of weak central authority.

In addition to the examples Madison cites here, there are numerous examples from the 21st century of what can happen in a state that lacks sufficiently strong central authority. The east African nation of Somalia has not had a strong, widely recognized central government since the early 1990s. Since then, the country has been beset by numerous civil wars, droughts, famines, and terror attacks. The fundamental problem in Somalia is that no political actor has sufficient power to impose the rule of law over the entire nation. As a result, numerous small militias, tribes and warlords attempt to fill the power vacuum. This leads to endless violence and suffering for the Somali people. Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many other “failed states” serve as reminders of what happens when there is no central authority in a state.

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