Motivation for federalism
“The Federalist Papers” used what was then a new definition of federalism. The colonies had just won a revolution against the King of England. They had thrown off the constraints of an oppressive monarch. The new nation was in no mood to replace it with another centralized, unrestrained regime.
They had experience with the instability and disorganization the Articles of Confederation had brought. That instability was due to jealousy and competition between the states. They knew no nation could stand long without better cohesion. The recognition of the need was what made them receptive to a substantial increase in national powers over those of the Articles of Confederation.
The question of power
From the post-revolution morass a new kind of balance was born. It was one never achieved elsewhere. The Federalist Papers sought to gain support for the new constitution. It argues for the structure of the new government that protects the people. It argues for a balance, a compromise between the nationalist propensities of Hamilton and the wariness of Madison. New York’s Hamilton reflected the commercial interests of a port city. Virginia’s Madison the more agrarian suspicion of distant authority.
Madison proposed that each state not have absolute sovereignty as contained in the Articles of Confederation. Instead the states would retain a “residual sovereignty” in all areas not requiring national concern. The very process of ratification of the Constitution, he argued, symbolized the concept of federalism rather than nationalism. It was a new approach to governance. It was not entirely original in that the Iroquois were organized with a sort of federalism.
Madison said: “This assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and individual States to which they respectively belong…. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national but a federal act.”
Hamilton suggested a “concurrency” of powers between the national and state governments. His analogy of planets revolving around the sun, yet retaining their separate status, placed greater emphasis on a central authority. Hamilton and John Jay, also from New York, cited examples of alliances in ancient Greece and contemporary Europe that had fallen apart in times of crisis.
Only limited power for a central government
The authors of “The Federalist Papers” had their differences. Yet, despite those reservations, to them the lesson was clear: Survival as a respected nation required the transfer of important, though limited, powers to the central government. They believed this could be done without destroying the identity or autonomy of the separate states.
4. Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City: The New York Historical Society; Yale University Press; 1995.
5. The Federalist Papers. Toronto: Bantam Books. 1982.
6. Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union: 1781–1789 (1987)
7. Gunn, Giles B. (1994). Early American Writing. Penguin Classics.
8. Banning, Lance James Madison: Federalist Archived January 13, 2018, at the Wayback Machine
9. Ralph Ketcham, James Madison. New York: Macmillan, 1971; reprint ed., Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
10. Henry Cabot Lodge, ed. (1902). The Federalist, a Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. Putnam. pp. xxxviii–xliii.
11. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison (Jacob E. Cooke, ed., The Federalist (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961
12. Coenen, Dan. “Fifteen Curious Facts about The Federalist Papers”. Media Commons. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013
13. Arthur, John (1995). Words That Bind: Judicial Review and the Grounds of Modern Constitutional Theory. Westview Press.
14. Adair, Douglass. Fame and the Founding Fathers. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1974. A collection of essays; that used here is “The Disputed Federalist Papers”.
15. Frederick Mosteller and David L. Wallace. Inference and Disputed Authorship: The Federalist. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1964.
16. Summarized in “Inference in an Authorship Problem”. Journal of the American Statistical Association 58:302 (June 1963)
17. Furtwangler, Albert. The Authority of Publius: A Reading of the Federalist Papers. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1984.
18. Wills, Gary. Explaining America: The Federalist, Garden City, NJ: 1981.