Madison argues that the powers granted to the national government by the Constitution do not threaten the powers left to the states. Madison asserts that state governments will lose some of their importance and sovereignty as a result of the Constitution. However, this is essential to the preservation of the union, which Madison asserts is essential to the public good.
Madison points to the history of confederations and feudal states to support his claim that the federal government will to “prove fatal to the state governments.” Historically, “local sovereignties prevailed” in contests with central authorities. Madison then lists several reasons for why the state governments will continue to have significant power and relevance under the Constitution. He argues that, if anything, it is the federal government that is at greatest risk of being rendered feeble, as under the Articles. The Constitution corrects that problem by offering the federal government greater powers.
Madison closes by asserting that the powers granted to the federal government are not really “new powers” so much as an “invigoration” of the “original powers” granted to it by the Articles. The Constitution does not expand these powers. It just “substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them.”
Having established in previous papers the necessity of giving the national government all the powers described in the Constitution, Madison now seeks to reassure his audience that such a powerful general government will not threaten the remaining authority of the state governments and render them wholly subservient. This paper is further evidence of how suspicious the American people were of the proposed national government.
There is an inherent tension in Madison’s argument. On the one hand he argues that there is an urgent need to invigorate the national government with sufficient power to govern effectively. The central failure of the Articles was the weakness of the central government. On the other hand, Madison labors to convince his audience that the state governments will still retain a significant degree of authority and will, in many respects, have a far greater impact on daily American life than the national government. This tension illustrates the central compromise between state and federal authority that serves as one of the key pillars of the American Constitution.