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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Elizalde

The Federalist Papers | 1-10, 15, 31, 47, 51, 68-71

NO. 1 General Introduction (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton writes: "It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force." How have the last 200 or more years of our nation's history determined an answer to Hamilton's "important question"?

NO. 4: The Same Subject [Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence] Continued (J. Jay)

Jay writes: "But admit that they [a disunited set of states or confederacies] might be willing to help the invaded State or confederacy. How, and when, and in what proportion shall aids of men and money be afforded? Who shall command the allied armies, and from which of them shall he receive his orders? Who shall settle the terms of peace, and in case of disputes that umpire shall decide between them and compel acquiescence? Various difficulties and inconveniences would be inseparable from such a situation; whereas one government watching over the general and common interests and combining and directing the powers and resources of the whole, would be free from all these embarrassments and conduce far more to the safety of the people." If John Jay's argument is valid, why should there be any limit to the size of this "one government"? Why is the one government of a state inferior to the one government of a confederacy? Why is the one government of a confederacy inferior to the one government of a national union? Why might the one government of a national union be inferior to the one government of a continent? What actually determines the scope and scale of the one government? Is it geography alone? Is it a common set of values and interests?

NO. 6: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton writes: "A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighborhood would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages." Hamilton's arguments clearly depend upon convictions made about the nature of man. Herein he argues that history has proven man to naturally be ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious against his neighbor. Later in this same essay Hamilton describes man as driven by "the love of power or the desire of pre-eminence and dominion" as well as other "private passions." Hamilton argues that the genius of a united commercial republic is its ability to pacify and "soften the manners of men" and to "extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars." So, how does a commercial republic temper the private passions of man?

NO. 8: The Consequence of Hostilities Between the States (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton writes: "If we are wise enough to preserve the Union we may for ages enjoy an advantage similar to that of an insulated situation. Europe is at a great distance from us. Here colonies in our vicinity will be likely to continue too much disproportioned in strength to be able to give us any dangerous annoyance. Extensive military establishment cannot, in this position, be necessary to our security. But if we should be disunited, and the integral parts should either remain separated, or, which is most probable, should be thrown together into two or three confederacies, we should be, in a short course of time, in the predicament of the continental powers of Europe - our liberties would be a prey to the means of defending ourselves against the ambition and jealousy of each other." For Hamilton, an "insulated situation" is a condition of being geographically isolated or distant from neighboring threats. Hamilton argues that in a united and insulated situation the necessary size of a military is reduced to a size that can (and should be) be kept in check by greater civil powers. He prefers such conditions. Do we currently enjoy the benefits of an "insulated situation" with a properly sized military kept in check by civil powers?

NO. 15: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton writes: "Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint." Why will the passions of men not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint?

NO. 31: The Same Subject [Concerning the General Power of Taxation] Continued (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton lists the following "primary truths" or "first principles" of ethics and politics: "...that there cannot be an effect without a cause; that the means ought to be proportioned to the end; that every power ought to be commensurate with its object; that there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation." Upon these axioms, Hamilton makes an argument that the general power of taxation in the national government (to secure revenue for general operation for superintending national defense) should not be limited by law but rather will naturally be limited by the "prudence and firmness of the people" who will "always take care to preserve the constitutional equilibrium between the general and the State governments." Upon the same axioms, is it possible to construct an argument that would place limits on the national government's power of taxation?

NO. 47: The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among It's Different Parts (J. Madison)

Madison writes: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." Madison goes on to argue that the Constitution admits only a partial agency of each branch in the work of the other two but by no means, allows for the whole power of two (or all three) separate branches to rest in the hands of the very same people. Is tyranny the inevitable end of the accumulation of legislative, executive, and judiciary powers all in the same hands of one person or a small body of the same people?

NO 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments (J. Madison)

Madison writes: "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." Men are not angels. Why does the non-angelic nature of man require external and internal controls both in private and public affairs, and certainly in the greater work of a national government?

NO. 71: The Duration in Office of the Executive (A. Hamilton)

Hamilton argues that it is the propensity of the legislative branch to absorb the authority of the executive and judicial branches. He explains, "The representatives of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights, by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often appear disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments; and as they commonly have the people on their side, they always act with such momentum as to make it very difficult for the other members of the government to maintain the balance of the Constitution." Hamilton argues that term limits better position the President to maintain the independence of the executive branch and hold the legislative branch in check against these propensities? How is this the case?

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