Madison defends the powers granted to the national government in the proposed constitution. He structures his argument into two broad categories: the sum of power vested in government and the particular structure of the government. In this paper, he focuses on the first category and asks whether the “general” or national government has been granted too much power. He argues that it has not. In particular, Madison defends in detail the powers granted to Congress to declare war, grant letters of marque, provide armies and fleets, regulate the militia, raise taxes and borrow money.
Madison bases his argument on the principle that all forms of government are imperfect: “in every political institution, a power to advance the pubic happiness, involves a discretion which may be misapplied and abused.” That is, governments must be given power in order to govern. However, by giving governments power, the people run the risk of that power being abused by government.
Madison illustrates this principle with reference to standing armies. He admits that they are dangerous to liberty, but nevertheless necessary to defend against foreign aggression. If Congress cannot raise armies in times of crisis, then Americans will fall prey to foreign invaders or internal disruptions. It is better to endure the risk of having a standing army than to be totally defenseless against hostile forces.
Madison furthermore contends that the power to raise armies and revenue cannot be limited because future threats and needs cannot be predicted. However, he reminds his readers that Congressional authority only extends to certain, enumerated powers.
This paper introduces a series of papers that defend the extensive powers granted to the union by the Constitution. Madison takes a very systematic, highly structured approach to the presentation of his arguments. He begins the paper with an outline of the argument to follow and then expounds on each point in detail. This style differs somewhat from the Hamiltonian approach, which often lacks the careful, methodical approach of Madison.
Madison’s essential goal in this paper is to address the concern that the federal government would have too much authority under the proposed constitution. What is striking about Madison's argument is that, rather than offer a glowing assessment of the virtues of a strong national government, he defends the central authority outlined in the Constitution as a necessary evil. He argues that granting any government any degree of power risks the government abusing that power. However, the alternative of a weak and ineffectual government is simply not an option. Without strong government, America cannot defend itself from foreign aggression, guarantee the rule of law or raise revenue to address national problems that transcend state boundaries.
Therefore, there is a central tension between liberty and strong government. On the one hand, liberty cannot long survive with a strong government to protect it from foreign aggression or domestic turmoil. On the other hand, strong government has the power not only to protect the people but to oppress them as well. Madison and the other founders argue, however, that the solution to this dilemma is to establish a strong government that is accountable to the people and subject to checks and balances that ensure it does not violate the rights of the people