The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 23

Summary

The the topic of this Federalist paper, authored by Alexander Hamilton, is the "necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union." He outlines three main points:

1) what the Federal Government should provide

2) the amount of power necessary to carry out their positions

3) who in the government should do this

The third point, however, will be discussed later. To Hamilton, the answer to the first question is that the principal purpose of the Union is the common defense of the members, the preservation of public peace, the regulation of commerce, and the conducting of foreign affairs. In order to create a common defense, you have to be able to raise armies, to build and equip fleets, and to create rules for the government of both. Hamilton believed that these powers should exist without limitation because it is impossible to foresee future emergencies. To Hamilton, the means justify the ends in this case of a strong military.

Hamilton believes that even the Articles of Confederation recognized the importance of the military, because there were provisions for Congress to make unlimited requisition of men and money to direct their operations. These requests failed because the states did not have any binding interest. This failure shows us that "we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America." In sum, "the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets, and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an arm and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments."

Hamilton continues that the government must have the power to "pass all laws and make all regulation" which pertain to the common safety of the union. If people argue that these powers should not be given to the federal government, Hamilton believes they are sorely mistaken. "A government, the Constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers, which a free people ought to delegate to any government, would be an unsafe and improper depository of the national interests," a situation that the Articles of Confederation have created. Hamilton concludes, that it must be fixed.

Analysis

While many of the Federalist Papers seem repetitive, emphasizing the same points over and over again, it is important to remember that the Federalist Papers were not designed to be like a book, read cover to cover. The papers were individual pieces of propaganda appearing serialized in a newspaper. Clearly, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison did not assume that their readers were familiar with all of their words and hence the repetitive nature of their work.

The "precious advantage" that the United States had in 1787 that offered hope for a "republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government" lay in the predominance of small freehold farmers among the American population. Since the time of Aristotle, it had been recognized that yeoman farmers -­ a middle class between the greedy rich and the envious poor -­ provided the most stable foundation upon which to erect a popular government. This factor, commented on by Madison, Pinckney, Adams, and others, helps explain why the Convention did not feel it necessary to sacrifice either majority rule or popular responsibility in their new Constitution.

It is interesting to note that the plan Hamilton defends in this paper was not theoretically the soundest. The leaders of the Convention realized that a theoretical best ­- and member after member went on record praising the British constitution as the best ever created by man ­- might be the enemy of a possible good. As Pierce Butler insisted, in a different context, "The people will not bear such innovations. Supposing such an establishment to be useful, we must not venture on it. We must follow the example of Solon who gave the Athenians not the best government he could devise, but the best they would receive."