The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 16


Hamilton begins this essay by restating that it is an absolute fact that the present confederation, because of the manner in which it has been set up, is the "parent of anarchy," and that the delinquencies of the states of the Union are the "natural offspring" that will lead the country to civil war. From this point, Hamilton proceeds to hypothetically go through the consequences of a lack of a large, standing, national army. In Hamilton's opinion, the end would be a war between the states because the strongest state is likely to prevail in any disagreement with no national army to put the states in their proper place. This would be the violent death of the confederacy. The other alternative would the "natural death" - what Hamilton thought the country was in the midst of at the writing of the Federalist Papers. If there is not war between the sates, the states would simply do their own bidding, disregarding the federal government, and the federal government's power would erode until it was completely eradicated.

At this point, Hamilton reminds his reader that the country should prefer a national constitution, and one that has provisions for a large army, "continuously on foot to execute the ordinary requisitions or decrees of the government." While some of the critics of the constitution want to believe that there is an alternative, anything else is impractical. From this argument for a standing army, Hamilton proceeds to discuss the necessity of not governing merely the states, but of the government having power over the individual. The government must "carry its agency to the persons of the citizens." Hamilton proceeds to argue that the individual state legislatures should not have to approve the laws because they could disregard the laws, and their disregard would ruin the system of law in the country. Unity of the country is paramount, and the only way unity can occur is through a strong, national government. Alexander Hamilton concludes his essay by claiming that no government can always avoid or control those who will be disorderly, but it would be "vain to hope to guard against events too mighty for human foresight or precaution, and it would be idle to object to a government because it could not perform impossibilities."


This essay continues Alexander Hamilton's theme of the importance of the government to the unity of the country. While this is apparent from the conclusion of the essay, how does the first part of the essay fit with the second part? A standing, national army represents the nation's right to enforce the laws on all of it's citizens. Only by having power over the individual do you have the right to arrest them, to imprison them, and to set them free. This same right also lets the government avoid having to deal with the individual agendas of the differing states. In essence, you bypass their concerns and create a more national government which, in Hamilton's terms, is able to effectively preserve the "general tranquility."

This essay belongs to the second major division of The Federalist, the commentary on "the insufficiency of the present Confederation to the preservation of the Union." While Hamilton wrote 15, 16, and 17, Madison, however, was to write three of the essays of this section, for his careful research on the subject made him more competent than Hamilton to compare the "vices" of the Confederation with the weaknesses of other historic confederacies. Thus, after Hamilton's Federalist 15, 16, and 17 developed the theme that no national government could endure unless it had jurisdiction over the individuals in the states rather than over the states in their corporate capacities, Madison took up his pen again. In Number 18, 19, and 20, he enforced Hamilton's arguments by an appeal to the history of the Amphictyonic Council, the Achaean League, the Holy Roman Empire, the Swiss Confederation, and the United Netherlands. Madison in writing thee essays merely had to turn to his elaborate research memorandum entitled, "Notes of Ancient and Modern Confederacies."

It is interesting to note that Hamilton's conviction regarding peace within the states was not a new-found philosophy, but rather a long-standing belief. During the Revolutionary war, he feared dissensions among the members of the Confederation. Stating that the republics of the Greek leagues as well as the Swiss cantons were continually at war with each other in spite of the vicinity of foreign powers, Hamilton warned that the danger of interstate tensions was considerably greater in America, due to the absence of strong neighbors. He was concerned about disputes over state boundaries, and regretted that the prospects of future tranquility were not flattering. In "The Continentals," published in 1782, Hamilton again reproached the states for their mutual jealousy. When he congratulated Washington at the conclusion of the preliminaries of peace, he added a note of caution, saying that "the centrifugal is much stronger than the centripetal force in these States ­ the seeds of disunion much more numerous than those of union." He remained concerned about the harmony among states throughout his entire life.