On Union, Factions, Size of Country

The Federalist No. 2

The people must take a comprehensive and serious view of the subject. The people must cede some rights to be governed at all. The question is how much, and to what topological extent. Union has been generally assumed, but some now insist on a plurality of unions. The country has been blessed with large extent, all natural necessities, a common language and culture, common ancestry, a common religion, and a hard-won independence. The first hurried effort at government (the Articles) was understandably deficient. A new effort was reached by a distinguished group motivated by nothing more than the love of their country; they offer the new version for approbation with unanimous consent. Yet even as the earliest Congress was resisted by those pursuing objects incommensurate with the public good, the people have generally supported a strong central, single union. In the following papers are reasons to do so.

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The Federalist No. 3

A well-informed people seldom persevere in a course adverse to their interests. Of paramount national interest is safety. A united nation with a single presence will be more effective in reducing or bargaining out of just wars, and of preventing states and others from engaging in unjust wars, as the national government, attracting chaste and enlightened leaders, will more coolly decide questions of state and violence than the more insensitive and unruly men elected at local levels. Furthermore, a strong central state has far more bargaining power than several weaker ones when dealing with other strong states.

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The Federalist No. 4

Natural commercial interests and the inclination of monarchs to war for its own sake make the prospect of war a continuing threat. A united single nation has a much better chance of not provoking or inviting hostilities than any larger number of entities dividing up the people, in part because it will speak with one reasonable voice, and in part because it can raise and manage the largest military force compared to any smaller entity.

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The Federalist No. 5

Britain, which gained considerable unity and power by combining over time England, Wales, and Scotland, may teach us some things without paying their price. Dividing the country into several “nations,” even if it could be done initially on an equitable basis, would inevitably lead to differences in power among them and in interests they exert relative to the rest of the world, reducing thereby their collective power and increasing thereby the chances for internal as well as international conflict and war.

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The Federalist No. 6

People are by nature ambitious, vindictive, rapacious, and power hungry. When at the head of state, unencumbered, they exercise these features to the detriment of others and often themselves. Numerous historical examples including three from recent history in the United States suggest that separate states are far more likely to fight with one another than exist in amity.

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The Federalist No. 7

Setting aside the general nature of mankind that brings separate states to war, the present United States have many circumstances which, without some governing central authority, would no doubt erupt into bloodshed. Numbered among these are the allocation of western land, the settlement of existing monetary disputes, jealousies arising from disparity in commercial possibilities from one state to the next, allocating and collecting on the public debt weighing now on all states from the war, and the diversity of laws of contract.

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The Federalist No. 8

Should the states remain separated or under a weak federal government, and inevitably end in violence, the ensuing wars would be devastating. Unlike Europe, where professional armies and long-standing fortifications have rendered war almost useless as a means of acquiring new territory, American states would be defenseless against a determined attack. The prospect of continuous warfare would expense those hard-won institutions of liberty in favor of ones offering security at any cost, especially a standing military. We cannot take modern Britain as an example, as its insularity allows it to enjoy relative safety without huge military resources. The continent of Europe is a more comparable situation. If we are united, we enjoy even more than England the benefits of distance and insularity. If we are divided, we will fight with one another and be prey to all the offensives of invaders from abroad.

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The Federalist No. 9

The science of politics has moved along with time. The idea of a republic, with powers separated into three branches, checked and balanced against one another, judicial offices for life, and elected representatives, is largely new. Quoting at length from Montesquieu, this essay gives the first lengthy defense of a federal form or confederated republics (it uses both titles) that the new U.S. constitution constructs. Beginning with the observation that the states were already too large to qualify as singular republics under Montesquieu’s understanding, the essay argues that a confederation in which the individual republics cede certain powers to the central authority but retain others would provide security and commercial power to the individual states and the whole. This form is neither an “association” nor a “consolidation,” but rather one in which the states form “constituent parts of the national sovereignty . . . (but) in possession (of) certain exclusive and very important portions of the sovereign power.”

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The Federalist No. 10

“As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” Those with common opinions will form factions, either one against another or one against the interests of the whole. The most common cause of such factions is inequitable distribution of property (which itself is inevitable). Even enlightened statesmen will not be able to force all to the public good. Thus factions cannot be eliminated. Controlling them while retaining the spirit and form of popular government then becomes a principal aim of civic orders. The democratic form, in which citizens administer government in person, will only lead through factions to turbulence, contention, and violence. But a republican form, with elected representatives and a greater sphere, will by its nature provide the best guard against the tyranny of majority factions. By finding a mean between too few and too many electors (the former given to protecting local interests, the latter unable to make decisions), as the proposed Constitution does, extending the central government over a large enough territory that no faction can be consolidated within its power structure, and empowering the states with as much energy as safety and commercial considerations warrant, will douse the kindled flames of factions and prevent factions taking control of the larger forms. [No simple summary can capture the depth of this essay.]

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The Federalist No. 11

Commercial interests must be high in considering the new Constitution. Without a strong central government, foreign powers will dictate terms of trade to our substantial disadvantage, moving profits from us to them. With a strong central government which adopts a position of neutrality, foreign powers will be played one against another for American markets, and American products will more freely flow into foreign countries, particularly if we have a central navy and maritime presence. We also must consider carefully the protection of our western interests, fisheries, and waterway access, all under the jealous eyes of France, Britain, and Spain. Individual states will be impuissant against such foreign powers, whereas a central force can dictate or negotiate terms favorable to each state and the whole. We owe this to the human race, under the constant threat and heel of Europe.

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The Federalist No. 12

Governments must have revenue. The possibilities for government revenue are proportional to the health of the economy, itself dependent upon “the quantity of money in circulation and the celerity with which it circulates.” However, direct taxation, excise taxes, and use or sales taxes have proved to be impractical to collect in volume, difficult to estimate fairly for the agricultural side of the economy, and offensive to the people. The twenty thousand men employed in France to this end suggests the inherent difficulty. The answer then to government revenue is import duties. These are difficult to collect state by state, and individual states would be hard pressed to avoid all the illegal entries and cabals such a condition would inspire. On the other hand, a union could establish common fees, patrol the seaboard at low expense, and minimize illegal entry. Should this not be sufficient, taxes on land are next, which are very difficult to collect.

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The Federalist No. 13

For various reasons, one common government will cost less than each state acting on its own relative to actions undertaken by the central government. The same is obviously true of any division of the thirteen states into larger combinations smaller than the whole, which combinations by a logical sequence would almost certainly be two blocs, a northern one ending with Pennsylvania and a southern one beginning with Maryland. Any such combination costs more, and injures relative to a single union the country’s economy, tranquility, revenues, and liberty.

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The Federalist No. 14

To counter the persistent if specious argument that the United States is too vast to support a republican government, let these answers suffice. A democracy must be confined to a small region; a republic may (and from Federalist 10, must) be extended over a large region. We cannot avert to historical examples, because no republic of the sort envisioned by the Constitution has ever existed. The objection of extent alone is refuted by the existing confederation in which representatives travel to a central location in time to discharge their duties. The country (he gives its boundaries) is not much larger than Germany. Moreover: (1) the federal government is charged with limited and enumerated duties; (2) expansion of the states will be no less practicable; (3) a federal establishment will improve interstate roads, making travel easier; (4) those states on the periphery, adjacent to foreign and potentially hostile forces, will compensate for the distance from the seat of government by the security offered by its successful operation. We are a nation of one people united by shared experience; to keep them separated on the grounds of liberty is to expense the security a union provides. We should not shy away from what is new. “Posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world will for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theater, in favor of private rights and public happiness.” Church bells ring at the final paragraph.

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