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The Federalist Papers: No. 46

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 46 is published. James Madison (a.k.a. “Publius”) discusses which level of government—state or national—will have greater support from the people and which can better defend itself from encroachments by the other.

This essay offers a glimpse into how very far we have fallen! Madison seems literally unable to imagine a world in which the national government could encroach too greatly upon the state governments. Indeed, at one point he asks: “[W]hat degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity”?

The people, he thinks, will be far more attached to the state governments than to the national government. The state governments, after all, will be handling “all the more domestic and personal interests of the people.” The national government will not be so intertwined in Americans’ daily lives.

If the national government tries to “extend its power beyond the due limits,” the states still have an “advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments.” Indeed, “the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand.” Such encroachments “would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole.”

Indeed, Madison takes it even a step further: Americans, he states, will view overreach by their national government with as much distaste as they would interference from a foreign government.

What on earth would Madison think of the United Nations?!

The only other scenario that Madison can imagine is if the national government “accumulate[s] a military force for the projects of ambition” and tries to overtake the state governments by force. He does not believe that will happen for the reasons discussed in other papers. “Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger.”

After all, he notes, Americans are armed, an advantage “which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.” Keep in mind that he is making this statement even before the 2nd Amendment was ratified, solidifying that right still more.

Honestly, reading this paper simply makes me sad. We have come so very far from the original understanding of our Constitution.



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