Title: The Same Subject Continued (The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union) Author: James Madison with Alexander Hamilton (Publius) Date: December 7, 1787
Volume: 1 - The Union General topic: The insufficiency of the Articles of Confederation Specific topic: Historical examples of confederacy and union
Our present confederation will be as weak as the Amphictyonic Counil, but a union would be as strong as the Archean League. We should unionize.
“Had the Greeks, says Abbé Millot, been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of closer union.”
“Had Greece, says an judicious observer on her fate, been united by a stricter confederation and persevered in her union she would never have worn the chains of Macedon; and might have proved a barrier to the vast projects of Rome.”
“…The popular government, which was so tempestuous elsewhere, caused no disorders in the members of the Archean republic, because it was there tempered by the general authority and laws of the confederacy.”
“Shame and oppression erelong awakened their love of liberty. …Their example was followed by others as opportunities were found of cutting off their tyrants.”
A great analogy for our present confederation is the Amphictyonic Council of ancient Greece.
Members had independence and equal votes in the council. And the council had the power to declare war, decide conflict between members and to protect the unity of the confederation.
In theory, the Council should have worked. But in practice, it didn’t.
Deputies [representatives?] from stronger cities used intimidation and corruption to overpower those from weaker cities. So a succession of different cities had full control of the council, and many were susceptible to bribery from enemies.
French historian Abbé Millot credits a lack of union for the eventual fall of the Amphictyonic Council.
Eventually, Athens and Sparta fought each other in the Peloponnesian Wars, and Philip of Macedon became “master of the confederacy.”
A great analogy for our proposed Union, on the other hand, is the Achean League of ancient Greece.
Cities had jurisdiction and equal representation in the Senate. The Senate had the power of war and diplomacy. And the Senate was led by chief magistrates whose power was checked by the senators. There was even a primitive Constitution.
From what we know of this league, its different parts operated with cooperation and deference to each other.
Historian Abbé Mably credits the league’s commitment to the authority of their laws for their peaceful government.
Because the Achean League was made up of weaker Greek cities, they were eventually overpowered. But even then it created a spark of rebellion against tyranny.
Eventually, The Acheans were forced to invite Roma to overthrow Philip of Macedon, and Rome ended their League—and their liberty.
I’ve provided these analogies for a couple reasons: One, to show the positive example of the Achean League’s constitution. And two, to show that federal bodies more often lead to internal anarchy than to tyranny.
This paper presents a sound argument through solid historical examples.
At times, Madison gets a little too deep into the historical detail. That might add credibility to his historical claims, but it also looses a little of his argument’s momentum.
For the first time since I started reading these papers, I fully favor the idea of union over confederacy. Madison accomplished in one paper what Hamilton failed to do in several.
The ending was pretty abrupt though. After so much historical detail, it would have been helpful for Madison to make his point more explicit.
Title: The Same Subject Continued (The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union) Author: Alexander Hamilton (Publius) Date: December 5, 1787
Volume: 1 - The Union General topic: The insufficiency of the Articles of Confederation Specific topic: Why state governments shouldn’t fear a federal government
The federal government won’t interfere with state governments, because their interests are different and people will be more loyal to their state governments anyway.
“Allowing the utmost latitude to the love of power which any reasonable man can require… let it be admitted, for arguments sake, that mere wantonness and love of power would be sufficient to beget that disposition.”
“It is a known fact in human nature that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object.”
Some might argue that the federal government shouldn’t be able to directly influence citizens with its legislation, because that would take away from other authorities—like the state governments.
But state and federal governments have very different concerns.
And even if the federal government tried to overstep its bounds, the state governments would use their greater influence over the people to stop it.
People will always favor their state governments over the federal anyway. State governments provide direct protection of individuals’ lives and properties, and the concerns of a federal government are uninteresting to the average citizen.
The feudal system is a great example of how a lack of centralized influence leads to violent tensions.
It is also a great example of how people favor their local governments (vassals) over their central government (monarchs). Consider Scotland’s clan loyalties.
“I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons entrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the states of [their] authorities.” Now you’re just playing dumb, Hamilton.
Hamilton says that the state governments will keep a reign over the federal government because they have a greater influence over the people. But he says this while arguing for the federal government to have a similar influence over the people. He can’t have it both ways.
Hamilton wants to empower the “weak” federal government with “all the force which is compatible with the principles of liberty.” But federal governments are rarely weak. And force and liberty rarely go together.
I think Hamilton is right that the average citizen is uninterested in political theory and speculation, but he also greatly underestimates the public’s interest in the drama national politics.
The feudal system is a weird choice for an example of a lack of centralized power.
It’s disturbing that Hamilton argues his points from the perspective of power over the people and not from representation of the people. He clearly doesn’t hold individual citizens in very high regard.
Hamilton asserts that the public will favor local government over federal government, but history has proven otherwise. A century of American wars has nationalized the public consciousness. And most people see local government less as the primary supplier of justice and more as the primary obstacle to starting a business. So the premise of Hamilton’s whole argument just doesn’t hold up.
…And that is why we do see the federal government encroaching on state authority today.