The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 18


In this paper, Madison continues to outline the inadequacies of the Articles of Consideration. His core concern in this paper is to establish the fundamental weaknesses inherent in a system of government composed of multiple sovereigns under a relatively powerless central government.

Madison uses the example of the ancient Greek republics under the Amphyctionic council as historical evidence for why the Articles of Confederation would ultimately lead to disaster in America. He begins by showing that the system of government in this confederation seems to provide the central, governing council with all the powers it would need to keep the confederation strong and prosperous. However, it has a fatal flaw: each republic in the confederation “retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council.” Without an unquestioned higher authority to keep all the constituent republics in check, the council was soon torn apart by various divisions as the more powerful members sought to intimidate and exploit the weaker ones. Ultimately the republics, unable to maintain their unity, fell under the control of foreign powers.

Madison also invokes the example of the Achaean League and suggests that the general authority and laws of the confederacy were able to temper the disorders within the members of the league. By giving up their sovereignty to the confederation, the members of this league experienced fewer disturbances and divisions. The downfall of the league only came when the Achaeans practiced “arts of division” and allowed their union to be dissolved.


This paper is essentially an furtherance of the previous paper’s argument that federal systems, in which power is shared between a central government and smaller, constituent government, are more likely to suffer from disunity and anarchy than tyranny. This paper is an attempt to directly contradict the argument of anti-federalists that the proposed constitution will lead to the reestablishment of monarchical rule in America.

Madison is furthermore trying to strengthen The Federalist’s position on this issue by drawing on examples from Greek history. He is essentially arguing that if Americans do not do away with the Articles of Confederation in favor of a system of government with a stronger national government, the country will ultimately repeat the tragic mistakes of the ancient Greeks.