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The Federalist Papers: No. 18

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 18 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They were written under the pseudonym “Publius” and argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

Publius continues an argument begun in earlier papers: The loose confederation of states under the Articles of Confederation must fail, in the long term. To make his point, Publius focuses almost exclusively on historical examples from ancient Greece. Honestly, his examples can be hard to read today because we are so unfamiliar with those stories.

Interesting that the founding generation knew enough about history that the examples were not totally lost on them?

Publius notes that certain Grecian republics operated in a manner very similar to the then-existing American confederation. But, as Publius notes, the form of government didn’t work. Or, as he put it, “Very different . . . was the experiment from the theory.” The result of the loose confederation was “weakness,” “disorders,” and “the destruction of the confederacy.” Why? Because the “more powerful members . . . tyrannized successively over all the rest.” In American terms, this is analogous to the large states tyrannizing over the small states. Making matters worse, the “members never acted in concert.” Thus, they had constant problems in their relations with other nations.

In other words, the Articles of Confederation should be replaced by the Constitution. Otherwise, Americans risk being dominated by the large states, and their disorganized and disunited efforts will make them vulnerable to the machinations of other nations.

Unlike the prior papers, the authorship of this paper is disputed. James Madison claimed that he wrote it, but Alexander Hamilton claimed that he also contributed to the paper. (Remember that the papers were initially anonymous. Authorship came up later, so it is possible for Hamilton and Madison simply to have differing memories.)

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).



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