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The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis

by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and James Madison

Essay 9

Summary

Alexander Hamilton explains that "a firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection." While other republics have provided good examples, they are merely examples and should be used as a starting place, not an ending place. Improvements have been made in political science, as well as the other sciences, since their inception. Hamilton trusts that at some point in history, America's constitution will also be a starting place for governance. These improvements include "balances and checks," such as the elected judges and two separate legislative bodies to represent different aspects of the people. After making these assertions, Hamilton makes an astute analogy, comparing the nation and the states to an orbit of planets around the sun, each still being their own entity but all forced to orbit around something more powerful in order to survive.

Hamilton concludes that the utility of a confederacy is to suppress faction, to guard the internal tranquility of States, and to increase their external force and security. For Hamilton, a strong government would be able to suppress rebellions in other parts of the country because they would not have the same ties to the region - this is an advantage of a larger republic. He believes that people who use Montesquieu's arguments against the size of a nation not being suitable for a republic are false and using the philosopher's words out of context. To try and persuade people that they are wrong, Hamilton quotes the philosopher at length. The majority of Montesquieu's comments used by Hamilton are concerned with the value of the size of a republic in avoiding internal corruption, domestic factions, and insurrections, not the impossibility of liberty existing in a large republic.

The author then proceeds to discuss the difference between a confederacy and a consolidation of States. While people believe a confederation to be an alliance with no "object of internal administration," Hamilton believes this position is arbitrary, with no basis in precedent or principle. For him, the definition of a confederate republic is an "assemblage of societies," or an association of two or more States into one State. The rest is the discretion of those involved in forming the government. As long as there is no abolition of state governments, something that is not proposed by the Constitution, the government is indeed a confederation. Hamilton concludes his essay with an example of the Lycian confederacy, a government that existed with representation based on the size of the population. Montesquieu, speaking of this association, said "were I to give a model of an excellent confederate republic, it would be that of Lycia." Hamilton, then, emphasizes that the novelties in the Constitution are not completely new and even approved by the philosopher most frequently quoted by critics.

Analysis

It is important to understand Alexander Hamilton's political philosophy in order to clearly view this essay. During the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton proposed to copy the British constitution as closely as possible. In the first place, he advocated the creation of a senate that would correspond to the House of Lords and represent the wealthy few. Recognizing the impossibility of making this upper house hereditary, Hamilton nevertheless hoped to give it strength and power by electing senators for life. The chief "organ" of Hamilton's "strong souled" government, however, was not its senate but its elective king. As Hamilton insisted in Philadelphia, nothing less would check "the amazing violence & turbulence of the democratic spirit." This "republican" monarch, like the senate, would be elected for life; he would have power to veto all national legislation, and the prerogative of appointing the governors of all the states, which would thus, under Hamilton's scheme, be reduced to administrative satrapies of the national government. Finally, he hoped this elective king would be given control of the patronage in order to bribe the legislature and insure a steady administration. His study of England had convinced him that this "corruption" was required for a stable government.

This "strong souled" government copied after England's was Hamilton's ideal for America. Only in the establishment of a state which institutionalized in its very organs a "will" independent of the people could the class struggle be allayed in the Untied States. When the Convention turned Hamilton's scheme down in favor of the more democratic and responsible government outlined in the Virginia Plan, he was bitterly disappointed. In July he left the Convention and returned to Philadelphia only for the last sessions. When he signed the Constitution he admitted "no man's ideas were more remote from the plan than his were known to be." He further confessed that this signature was given only because the choice was between "anarchy and Convulsion on one side, and the chance of good to be expected from the plan on the other."

It was in this same spirit of disdain, only partially concealed, that Hamilton wrote as Publius, especially in #9. He was never reconciled to the Constitution's "weakness" as long as he lived. Even while he was preparing to write The Federalist, he drew up a private memorandum in which he prophesied its failure unless additional power could be "squeezed out its clauses by interpretation." Hamilton felt so strongly about the need for an overruling, irresponsible, and unlimited government that it showed through even in his Federalist essays, in spite of his attempt to conceal his opinions in order to achieve ratification. Federalist 9 indicates clearly that he expected a continual use of military force to be necessary for keeping the rebellious poor in their place. In this essay the union is advocated because it will permit the use of troops raised in one section of the country to stamp out revolts in other districts, an expedient restored to Hamilton during the Whiskey Rebellion.

It is characteristic of the different outlooks of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison that Hamilton, in this Federalist Paper, advocated the new union because it will make it easier to suppress with military forces such outbreaks as Shay's Rebellion, while James Madison, in Federalist #10, argues that the union will prevent the recurrence of any such outbreaks. Hamilton prized the union as an instrument guaranteeing that the rich would win every class struggle; Madison hoped that union would prevent class war from being declared in the first place. This dichotomy is part of the internal conflict of the Federalist Papers, something for which many critics have criticized this document. In contrary, these two different approaches provide two different aspects of the constitution, allowing both to become an important part of this philosophic document.

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