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The Federalist Papers: No. 22

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 22 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.


Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) continues with his discussion of the defects in the then-existing confederacy under the Articles of Confederation. He has a laundry list of problems with the Confederation, and he runs through them in this (lengthy!) essay. Please know that summarizing the verbose Hamilton can be quite a trick. 

First, Hamilton bemoans the “want of a power to regulate commerce” among the states. The lack of such a power was already causing problems in American attempts to trade with other nations overseas. Indeed, trade with Great Britain was suffering because that country was waiting to see “whether the American government was likely or not to acquire greater consistency.” Hamilton concludes that commerce is suffering because of the “interfering and unneighborly regulations of some States, contrary to the true spirit of the Union.”


Next, Hamilton notes that the Confederation is handicapped in its ability to raise an Army. His readers would know this well from their experience during the Revolution! Hamilton describes the effects: “The States near the seat of war, influenced by motives of self-preservation, made efforts to furnish their quotas, which even exceeded their abilities; while those at a distance from danger were, for the most part, as remiss as the others were diligent, in their exertions.”


Hamilton has several problems with the “right of equal suffrage among the States” in the Articles of Confederation. (Remember that the Articles operated on the principle of “one state, one vote” rather than “one person, one vote.” Our Constitution, of course, incorporates BOTH principles.) With the Articles in place, Hamilton notes that a “majority of States” might constitute a “small minority of the people of America,” yet still decide an issue. Worse, in some cases, Hamilton notes that a small minority has been able to block action by the rest of the country.


Next, Hamilton notes the lack of a national judiciary power. It is needed to “avoid the confusion which would unavoidably result from the contradictory decisions of a number of independent judicatories.”


Finally, Hamilton notes that the single Assembly in the current Congress is inappropriate for the country going forward: It might suffice for a weak national government; however, “it would be inconsistent with all the principles of good government, to intrust it with those additional powers which, even the moderate and more rational adversaries of the proposed Constitution admit, ought to reside in the United States.” Entrusting so much power to a single body would “create in reality that very tyranny which the adversaries of the new Constitution . . . [are] solicitous to avert.


Hamilton concludes by noting the importance of a Constitution endorsed by the people. The then-existing Articles of Confederation were never directly considered by the people.


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).

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