Mini-Federalist #14 – Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #14, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_14.html

Originally published November 30, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, James Madison.

So far, we’ve established that Union is better for security from foreign threats, peace at home, trade, and protection from “special interests“. The only common objection left to talk about is the size of our land area. Opponents of the Constitution are desperately trying to convince you that no single government could control a land as large as ours, but they are just grasping at straws.

I’ve debunked this thinking already. All I can say is this seems to be a product of confusing a “republic” and a “democracy” – thinking that a republic works just like a democracy. Of course, this isn’t true. A democracy is where the people directly make the decisions, a republic uses representatives of the people for this purpose. It is democracies that are limited in size, not republics.

There have been some prominent writers (themselves living under monarchy) who perpetuate this confusion in order to make monarchy seem better by comparison. By mixing the two definitions, they can make people think that republics have flaws that really only apply to democracies, and by the same reasoning that republics can only operate on a small scale.

It’s easy to fall into this trap. All the ancient governments (like Greece) were more purely democratic, and the few examples of representative government we have from Europe (like Britain) aren’t totally based on that concept – there are still monarchical elements. Here in America we have come up with something totally new – a purely representative form of government. It’s a shame that some people here don’t want to see this innovation fully come to pass.

The limit on the size of a democracy is the distance to the central place where everyone meets (and the limit on the number of people who can effectively meet in that place). In a republic, it is the maximum distance that will allow the representatives to meet often enough to conduct the government’s business. So does this Union fall within those limits? The length of the east coast is our largest distance to travel, and it hasn’t been a problem yet for representatives from all over the map to show up for meetings of the Continental Congress.

Before we go further, let’s define how large an area we’re talking about. Our borders are somewhat irregular, but on average it is about 868 miles north-and-south, by about 750 miles from the Atlantic to the Mississippi (we think). Comparing that to some European countries, a republic seems possible. We aren’t that much larger than Germany (where they assemble representatives from all across the country). Same thing in Poland until recently. Even in Great Britain (which is obviously smaller than we are) the northernmost representatives have as far to travel as our most distant ones.

As good as the evidence is so far, it gets even better.

First, we aren’t talking about a government that will control everything, but one that will only have a few limited powers that are national in scope. Most power will be left with the existing State governments. If we were talking about getting rid of the State governments entirely, then the opponents of the Constitution might have a valid argument. As it stands though, the proposed Federal government needs the States.

Second, we know that our current goal is to unite the 13 original States (and this is obviously possible, as we’re doing it already), but we also want to be able to deal with any new States that get formed from the largely uninhabited country to the west and northwest that we control.

Third, we’re constantly making fantastic improvements to our communication and transportation infrastructure and these will only get better over time. More and better roads & canals, along with increasing use of our rivers and harbors to transfer goods between the States is inevitable.

Fourth, and most importantly, practically every State has an external border right now. This will cause each State to invest resources in its own defense. The States that are farthest from the national capital may have a harder time sending representatives to meet about national issues, but without the Union, they will definitely have a worse time trying to go it alone against potentially threatening foreign nations on their borders. Sending representatives might be expensive, but war is even more so.

I’ll let you be the judge. You know how rough the path of disunion would be. Don’t let people tell you that we can’t get along as one people. Don’t let them tell you that this Union is impossible to maintain. We have shed too much blood together to part ways now. If anyone has radical ideas, it is those who suggest that we break up our Union under the guise of increasing freedom and happiness. Why should we fear the new ideas contained in the Constitution? Simply because they are new? We’ve never had a blind loyalty to tradition when we can see a better path. We can be a shining example of proper government for all the world. Think of the spot we’d be in if the Revolutionaries had been slaves to tradition! Luckily for us, they created something new – a government that had never existed before. Sure, it has some flaws – the work of creating a government from scratch is hard – but we can overcome and correct those problems. This is what the Constitution does, and that’s what you need to think about when deciding whether to ratify it.

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