The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Essay Questions

  1. 1

    According to the authors of the Federalist Papers, what was the key failure of the Articles of Confederation?

    The fundamental weakness of the Articles, according to the authors of the Federalist Papers, was that they did not give the national government the power to enforce its decrees on the member states. The national government could levy taxes on the states or require them to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the national force, but the government had no way of punishing states that did not comply. As a result, the decrees of the national government were authoritative orders on paper, but in fact were mere requests. Essentially, the state governments were stronger than the national government, making it impossible for the latter to govern effectively.

  2. 2

    Why were the provisions in the Constitution regarding the American military so controversial?

    There is a long Anglo-American tradition of fear of standing armies, professional forces that serve during peacetime. It was widely believed that standing armies gave the government the ability to forcefully usurp power and violate the rights and liberties of the people. Standing armies stood in sharp contrast to militias, which were military forces made up of local volunteers who only served during times of war. Militias fit into the republican ideal of citizens defending their own land and freedom. Militias were thought to inspire and nurture republican virtues of independence and liberty, whereas standing armies were thought to make citizens overly dependent on professional soldiers.

    The Constitution enabled Congress to raise and maintain a professional military force to be commanded by the President. Anti-Federalists feared that these provisions would enable the executive and legislative branches of government to conspire against the people and establish a tyrannical government.

  3. 3

    What branch of government was accused of being aristocratic? Why?

    Many anti-federalists argued that the Senate would become an American aristocracy. In the original, unamended Constitution, Senators were to be elected by the state legislatures rather than directly by the people. This, combined with senatorial powers over presidential appointments to the executive and judiciary branch and treaties with foreign powers, led many to fear that the relatively small Senate would have excessive powers. Having just fought a war for independence from aristocratic England, Americans were keen to avoid recreating an aristocracy of their own.

  4. 4

    What branch of government was accused of being monarchical? Why?

    The executive branch, and the President specifically, was often derided by anti-federalists as an American king. Anti-federalists argued that, as commander-in-chief, the President would have sufficient power at his disposal to usurp power from the other branches of government and become a tyrant. Furthermore, the president’s power to appoint public officials and judges was seen as a potential source of corruption. Anti-federalists also disliked the President’s ability to veto legislation passed by Congress, since this was seen as undermining the authority of the direct representatives of the people.

  5. 5

    According to the Federalist Papers, what is wrong with direct democracy?

    In a direct democracy, citizens gather together in a public place and vote on public policy. They do not elect representatives to decide matters on their behalf, but make all political decisions themselves as one collective political entity. As Madison argues in paper 10, direct democracies are often swayed by temporary passions and frenzies. This leads to instability as the democratic society rapidly shifts policy one way or the other when a new idea becomes popular. It also leads to a violation of the rights of minorities since there is nothing to check the power of the majority. If even just 50.001% of the country, for example, supports going to war, the nation goes to war no matter how disastrous that decision might be.

  6. 6

    According to the Federalist papers, what is the difference between a democracy and a republic?

    In a democracy, all members of society gather together and administer the government in person. In a republic, citizens elect representatives to decide public matters on their behalf. According to Madison in paper 10, republican government is far superior to democracy for two reasons. First, by delegating authority to representatives, republican government ensures that “the public views” are reined and enlarged. It was thought that the elected representatives would be wiser and more virtuous than the great body of citizens and thus capable of making better decisions. Second, a republic allows for the government to extend over a large swath of territory. In a democracy, all citizens need to gather in one place to make decisions. It would clearly be impossible for all the citizens of the US to meet in Washington, D.C., and vote on public policy. However, it is very practical for a few representatives from each state to meet and make decisions. Having a larger republic means that the representatives will be chosen from a larger number of people, thus increasing the likelihood that the elected representatives will be good, virtuous people. Also, having many representatives in government helps guard against, as Madison writes, “the cabals of a few.”

  7. 7

    Define Federalism and explain its role in the American system of government.

    Federalism is the sharing of power between the state governments and the national (or “Federal”) government. In the American system of government, certain powers are exercised by only state governments or the federal government, while other powers are exercised by both. For example, only the federal government can make treaties with foreign powers or declare war, and only state governments can appoint officers in the militia. However, both the state and federal governments can levy taxes.

  8. 8

    According to the Federalist papers, what advantages did state governments have over the national government?

    The authors of the Federalist papers believed that the state governments would enjoy more support from the public than the federal government would. State officials would be closer to the people and have a more direct and obvious impact on their lives. In contrast, the federal government would be relatively distant and alien and thus less in-tune with the people. In any hypothetical conflict between the state and federal governments, the former would have a significant advantage due to the support of the people.

  9. 9

    How does the principle of checks and balances influence the constitutional process for appointing public officials?

    The founders were deeply concerned about one branch of government becoming significantly more powerful than the others. To prevent this, they created checks and balances that would enable each branch to the limit the powers of the others. In the case of official appointments, the President has the power to nominate officials, but the Senate must vote to approve these appointments. Thus, power over the appointment of public officials is shared between the executive and legislative branches of government. The clause requiring senatorial consent for presidential appointees serves as a check on the power of the president.

  10. 10

    Why did the authors of the Federalist Papers fear the influence of factions?

    The authors of the Federalist Papers believed that in any democratic or republican system of government, there was always a significant risk of certain segments of the population forming distinct interest groups. It was feared that these groups, or factions, would prioritize their own particular goals over the good of the nation. Due in part to the natural disinclination among people to admit their own mistakes or sacrifice their own interests, it was feared that factions would hinder the public policy-making process and hamstring the workings of government. The authors of the Federalist papers longed for virtuous political leaders who would act wisely and in the best interest of the country. However, they knew from experience and from their study of history that people tend to form factions and prioritize the faction’s interest over the greater good.