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The Federalist Papers: No. 28

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 28 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 his discussion: Will military force be needed to enforce national laws? The previous paper discussed why such force would not normally be needed. Now Publius turns to possible exceptions.


Warning: Some of you will be turned off by the beginning of Publius’s arguments!! Persevere to the end. You’ll like his final words on the subject better than his first words. 

Publius assumes that such force will sometimes be needed. He notes that “emergencies of this sort will sometimes arise in all societies, however constituted.” “[S]editions and insurrections” are always possible, but such possibilities exist in ANY government. Thus, they are not really an objection to the proposed Constitution. Any government that is formed might sometimes find it necessary to “make use of a force constituted . . . to preserve the peace of the community and to maintain the just authority of the laws against those violent invasions of them which amount to insurrections and rebellions.”


He turns to a more important point: Such power can be entrusted to the proposed new government because it is but an instrument of the people. Publius concludes: The “whole power of the proposed government is to be in the hands of the representatives of the people. This is the essential, and, after all, only efficacious security for the rights and privileges of the people, which is attainable in civil society.” In short, if the government truly represents the people, then the people have nothing to fear, even when force is needed to put down an insurrection.


Publius next addresses what will happen if the government ever ceases to represent the people and becomes abusive—and his thoughts on the matter are interesting!


“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents,” he writes, “there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.” This right of self-defense, he says, works better under the Constitution than under other forms of government—but he adds a big “if.” It will work, he writes, “provided the citizens understand their rights and are disposed to defend them.”


Arguably, we have failed to satisfy Publius’s big “if” in recent years.


Finally, Publius assumes that the people will not be betrayed by the national and state governments simultaneously. Thus, if the national government is invading the people’s rights, they can rely upon the state government “as the instrument of redress.” If a state government is invading the people’s rights, those citizens can turn to the national government for the same purpose. But, mostly, Hamilton relies upon the state governments to “afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority.” The states will be able to see what is happening, and they will “unite their common forces for the protection of their common liberty.”


It’s really too bad that our modern state governments have given so much of their power away to the national government. Their ability to protect us, as they were supposed to do, has been severely compromised.


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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