On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Cato” writes his third contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
Can the proposed Constitution “answer the ends for which it is said to be offered to you, and for which all men engage in political society, to wit, the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates”?
Cato thinks it is impossible, due to the large size of the country. Cato, of course, was addressing a nation of thirteen states. What would he say about our much larger nation of fifty states? Cato concludes:
“[W]hoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and commerce, the difference of extent, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interest, morals, and politics, in almost every one, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, can never form a perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to you and your posterity . . . .”
Instead, the Congress “will in its exercise, emphatically be like a house divided against itself.”
Logistically, Cato thinks such a large republic can’t work. “[T]he science of government will become intricate and perplexed,” he believes, “and too mysterious for you to understand and observe; and by which you are to be conducted into a monarchy, either limited or despotic.”
Hmm. Did he successfully predict the many tens of thousands of pages in the Federal Register?!
Practically speaking, large republics have other problems. Some portions of the country are too far from the seat of the government. They thus lack confidence in it. Without such confidence, can compliance to laws be ensured without a standing army? And will citizens in distant states care about the protection of your liberty? Cato asks his New York audience: “[Is it] reasonable to believe, that inhabitants of Georgia, or New Hampshire, will have the same obligations towards you as your own, and preside over your lives, liberties, and property, with the same care and attachment?”
Cato thinks the answer is “no.” Was he right?