On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 15 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.
The first 14 papers argued that a Union of the 13 colonies is necessary. This paper begins to explain why the current Union—an informal one, through the Articles of Confederation—is insufficient.
Alexander Hamilton (a.ka. “Publius”) tells his readers something they already know: The Confederation Congress does not have enough power to be effective. He explains: “[I]n theory their resolutions concerning those objects are laws . . . yet in practice they are mere recommendations which the States observe or disregard at their option.”
Currently, Publius notes, the states have no obligations to each other except “good faith.” History shows, Publius continues, that “little dependence is to be placed on treaties which have no other sanction than the obligations of good faith.” A national government cannot be effective unless it has the “power of making laws.” The Confederation Congress has not had that power.
Again, as I’ve noted in prior essays, please remember that Publius is addressing Americans who were living with a national government that was much too weak. We are on the other side, looking at a national government that is much too powerful.
Our goal is to move back toward that happy middle ground.
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).