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The Federalist Papers: No. 14

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 14 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.”

Paper 14 brings the introductory portion of the series to a close. The first 14 papers defended the proposition that the states should join together as one Union. (The alternative was for the states to break up into several smaller confederacies.)

Earlier papers had explained why the Union was needed for such matters as commerce and foreign affairs. Now James Madison (a.ka. “Publius”) turns to another argument: He contends that a Union CAN be extended across a large territory. An argument against such a large Union “seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter.”

In other words, Publius opposes large democracies. But he thinks large republics can be achieved.

To be fair, a large portion of Publius’s argument in this paper rests upon factors that have changed: In 1787, it was impossible for people to travel long distances quickly. Today, we can do so, whether it be in person or virtually, through the Internet. The huge distances were a matter of great concern to our ancestors in 1787, and they thus deserved extended consideration in this essay. However, the existence of airplanes and the Internet has not suddenly undermined the Founders’ reasons for creating a republic, as opposed to a pure democracy. Checks and balances, separation of powers, and the other, republican/federalist protections in our Constitution are needed for a variety of reasons. For now, Publius is focused on distance; he has other reasons that will be discussed in future Federalist Papers.

Also of interest: I’ve noted in past essays that Publius’s defense of a strong Union might seem odd. Publius shows us again that the 1787 definition of a strong national government differs radically from the modern definition.

In this paper, Publius specifically notes that “the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws.” Instead, it “is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic.” The states “retain their due authority and activity.”

In other words, the national government anticipated by the Founders would be strong, but only within a very narrow scope.

My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, here).