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The Federalist Papers: No. 27

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 27 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.


Publius addresses the contention that the new national government will need the aid of the military if it is to enforce its laws.

Such a concern might sound odd to modern ears. However, it would have sounded much more normal to our ancestors in 1787. They lived in a world where a person’s primary allegiance was to his state, NOT to a faraway national government. People did not trust the national government, and they were fearful that it would get too big and powerful.


Thus, it was not at all weird for our ancestors to ask: Given this general distrust, how did the Constitution’s defenders expect to obtain compliance with national laws? Would military intervention be required on occasion? (Naturally, NO ONE liked that idea!)


Publius argues that such concerns are unfounded. Instead, the people’s “confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.” He believes there is nothing to fear here: The national government will be better administered than the state governments, in part because the State legislatures are able to choose U.S. Senators. The states will use “peculiar care and judgment” in selecting Senators, ensuring “greater knowledge and more extensive information in the national councils.” (Please remember that, before the 17th Amendment, the legislatures, not the people, chose Senators.)


Next, Publius observes that people are more likely to rebel against the law when they think they won’t be punished. A single state has only its own resources, but a Union of states can call on all the others for aid. Thus, aren’t people actually *less* likely to rebel against the law in the latter scenario? Publius concludes: “A turbulent faction in a State may easily suppose itself able to contend with the friends to the government in that State; but it can hardly be so infatuated as to imagine itself a match for the combined efforts of the Union.”


Third, Publius believes that, the more familiar people become with the national government, the better it will go: “[T]he more the operations of the national authority are intermingled in the ordinary exercise of government, the more the citizens are accustomed to meet with it in the common occurrences of their political life, the more it is familiarized to their sight and to their feelings . . . the greater will be the probability that it will conciliate the respect and attachment of the community.”


Finally, Publius relies upon the fact that even state officers will be bound to uphold national law because it will be the supreme law of the land. Interestingly, Publius makes this point, even as he takes time to note that the national government has limited power. It might be supreme, but *only* in its limited sphere! As Publius says: “It merits particular attention in this place, that the laws of the Confederacy, as to the ENUMERATED and LEGITIMATE objects of its jurisdiction, will become the SUPREME LAW of the land.”


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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