Constitution Sunday: “Publius,” The Federalist IX [Alexander Hamilton]

“Publius,” The Federalist IX [Alexander Hamilton]

Independent Journal (New York), November 21, 1787

Following are excerpts from Alexander Hamilton’s writings in the Federalist Papers:

“When Montesquieu recommends a small extent for republics, the standards he had in view were of dimensions, far short of the limits of almost every one of these States. Neither Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New-York, North-Carolina, nor Georgia, can by any means be compared with the models, from which he reasoned and to which the terms of his description apply. If we therefore take his ideas on this point, as the criterion of truth, we shall be driven to the alternative, either of taking refuge at once in the arms of monarchy, or of splitting ourselves into an infinity of little jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt. Some of the writers, who have come forward on the other side of the question, seem to have been aware of the dilemma; and have even been bold enough to hint at the division of the larger States, as a desirable thing. Such an infatuated policy, such a desperate expedient, might, by the multiplication of petty offices, answer the views of men, who possess not qualifications to extend their influence beyond the narrow circles of personal intrigue, but it could never promote the greatness or happiness of the people of America.”

“So far the suggestions of Montesquieu from standing in opposition to a general Union of the States, that he explicitly treats of a confederate republic as the expedient for extending the sphere of popular government and reconciling the advantages of monarchy with those of republicanism.”

“In the Lycian confederacy, which consisted of twenty three cities, or republics, the largest were intitled to three votes in the common council, those of the middle class to two and the smallest to one. The common council had the appointment of all the judges and magistrates of the respective cities. This was certainly the most delicate species of interference in their internal administration; for if there be any thing, that seems exclusively appropriated to the local jurisdictions, it is the appointment of their own officers. Yet Montesquieu, speaking of this association, says ‘Were I to give a model of an excellent confederate republic, it would be that of Lycia.’ Thus we perceive that the distinctions insisted upon were not within the contemplation of this enlightened civilian, and we shall be led to conclude that they are the novel refinements of an erroneous theory.”

Hamilton touches on one of the fundamental questions of the Early Republic: Could the states remain united, despite their differences and despite the temptation to be independent republics?

In retrospect, the answer is clear. However, at the time Hamilton published this article in the Independent Journal, the states appeared to be positioning themselves for a loose union. At the time of the writing, there was no republic in the world that combined the diversity of opinions and individuals in one country in the way that the Constitution did.

Nonetheless, Hamilton was confident that republicanism would not simply be limited by the extent of territory. Republicanism could be established and nurtured in even more ambitious ways than any country had imagined. It was simply a matter of believing it was possible and taking all steps possible toward accomplishing that goal.

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