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The Federalist Papers: No. 23

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 23 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.


You’ll remember that, in past papers, Publius has discussed why a formal Union of States is needed. Then he argued that the current Union, under the Articles of Confederation, was inadequate. Now he turns to a discussion of why any new government must be “energetic.”

He knows that Americans are fearful of a too-powerful government. He is trying to reassure them that it is okay to delegate a certain amount of power to a new national government.


Publius divides the discussion into three parts: First, what objects are to be entrusted to the national government? Next, how much power does the government need to accomplish those objectives? Finally, upon whom does that power operate?


Publius lists a few proper objects to be entrusted to the national government: defense, regulation of interstate commerce, and foreign affairs. Yes! He agrees that there is an open question about whether any one of these responsibilities should be given to the government in the first place. However, once this question “is decided in the affirmative” then the “government ought to be clothed with all the powers requisite to complete execution of its trust.”


In other words, don’t give someone responsibility for something, then deprive them of the tools needed to accomplish their task.


The country’s experiences with the Articles of Confederation should have taught the nation, by now, that such an approach does not work.


Naturally, Publius acknowledged, the people must be vigilant to ensure that their government is created in such a form that it can be “safely vested with the requisite powers.”


Alexander Hamilton wrote this particular essay. 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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