Archive for Mini-Federalist

Mini-Federalist #20 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #20, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_20.html

Originally published December 11, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, James Madison (possibly with some help from Alexander Hamilton).

Another confederacy to consider is the Netherlands (which is actually more like a collection of aristocracies), but it again illustrates the points we’ve been talking about.

Their system consists of 7 peer states, each composed of cities. When it comes to important matters, they must all agree.

The central government takes the form of the “States-General” – a representative body of 50 delegates appointed by the states for various terms, either 1, 3, or 6 years – some delegates serve for life.

This body has many powers: it can make new treaties, declare war, build up the army and navy, and set taxes – but all these things require a unanimous vote, and the consent of the people. In addition, it can: appoint and receive ambassadors, handle existing treaties, collect trade-related taxes, create money, and provide some broad government to the member states. Those member states are forbidden from establishing their own treaties, or taxing trade to or from the other states. There is also a bureaucracy in place to help run the federal government.

The chief executive (called the “Stadtholder“) has now been made a hereditary position. His position holds a great deal of power, not just from its nature, but from his familial wealth and connections. He is also the Stadtholder for each of the states as well as the federal government, and in that capacity he can appoint officers in the cities. He can also create decrees within the states, preside over their courts, and grant pardons.

At the federal level though, he has tremendous power.

Politically, he can resolve disputes between the member states, participate in the States-General, and receive and appoint his own ambassadors.

Militarily, he commands all the armies (amounting to about 40,000 men), and appoints all the officers. He sets up forts and posts, and in-general, makes the rules for the military.

He is the chief of the navy, commanding every aspect of its deployment and use. Just like for the army, he appoints all the officers of the navy. Finally, as Stadtholder, he presides over military courts.

In line with these duties, he directly controls millions of dollars of government revenue.

It may sound pretty good on paper, but how does it actually work out? The government is routinely inept. There is squabbling among the member states. Foreign influence over the government is rampant. Peace is tenuous, and war presents a whole host of problems.

As Grotius said a century ago, nothing but the hatred of his countrymen to the house of Austria kept them from being ruined by the vices of their constitution.

Other people claim that the Union of Utrecht gives the States-General enough power to maintain relative stability among the states, but the states’ individual pride kept this from actually working out.

And even though all the member states are supposed to pay special taxes under the Union, it’s an impossible task – the inland states (because of a lack of trade) can’t possibly come up with the cash.

Most of the time, the tax requirements are ignored. The need for additional funds is usually so immediate that the consenting states don’t bother to wait around – they make up the difference and then try to get the money from the other states later. The state of Holland is powerful enough that it can make this work.

It isn’t uncommon for these back taxes to be eventually collected through military force. It’s a sad thing, but when one state has more power than the others, it can be done. It’s almost impossible to do when several – if not all – of the states are equal in strength.

Sir William Temple once observed that an ambassador could prevent legislation from being passed through intrigue in the cities and states. Treaties can be held up for years, and often are.

Even the requirement for unanimity has been often ignored by the States-General. Several treaties have been made throughout their history without the consent of all the states. When your constitution is weak, the government falls apart. You end up either with a government that doesn’t have enough power, or that ignores the rules to take the powers they feel like they need – and once the government starts ignoring the constitution, why would they stop? The call for “emergency powers” often leads to tyranny.

Despite the problems caused by the office of the Stadtholder, it’s likely that the government of the Netherlands would have fallen into anarchy by now if he wasn’t asserting influence over the member states. Both the Abbe Mably and Sir William Temple agree on this point.

Of course, the Stadtholder isn’t the only thing preventing anarchy. The union has to stay together to defend against foreigners. Oddly, it is those same foreigners who weaken the central government through their back room dealings.

No less than 4 times, there have been attempts to reform the constitution to correct some of these problems, but all those attempts have failed to get support. We should be thankful that our recent convention has had much more success.

There was a movement in the Netherlands to allow the central government to directly collect taxes. This failed, though.

The people of the Netherlands now have so many problems to contend with including minor rebellions and invasion by foreigners. The whole world is watching them go through it. We all wish for a revolution that will make things better for them, or at least for us to learn from their mistakes and make our own system better.

I know that we have spent a long time discussing these other historical federal governments, but I think it is necessary for us to learn from the experience of others – especially where the lesson is clear. The clear lesson from the Netherlands is that when you have a government that only controls smaller governments (and not the people individually), you end up with a violent form or coercion instead of the rule of law.

Mini-Federalist #19 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #19, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_19.html

Originally published December 8, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, James Madison (possibly with some help from Alexander Hamilton).

The ancient governments I described in the last article aren’t the only examples that would be useful to us. There are other similar ones existing today that are worth a look. For starters, Germany.

What is now Germany has been occupied by many different peoples in the past. Under Charlemagne, France controlled Germany – until Charlemagne’s heirs broke up his empire. When that happened, Germany became a free-standing state because the local feudal overlords gradually took more and more power. The Empire of France was powerless to stop it. Small wars broke out between the local rivals for land and power, until an Austrian emperor rose.

With this style of feudalism being much like a confederacy already, it isn’t surprising that the current Germanic empire is federal in nature. There is a legislature (called a diet) which is representative of the “states”, and holds much of the power. The executive (an emperor) holds a veto on the acts of the diet. There is also a dual judiciary in the form of the Imperial Chamber and the Aulic Council.

The emperor has a lot of power. He is the only person who can propose measures to the legislature, and can veto what they come up with. He picks the ambassadors, grants titles of nobility, appoints replacement legislators in the event of a vacancy, creates universities, collects and spends taxes, and is ultimately responsible for the overall public safety. In his capacity as emperor, he doesn’t get any land or money, but he is still extremely powerful.

You’re probably thinking that there is so much power in the federal government of Germany, that it must be an exception to the rule. But this isn’t the case. The core principle here is that the empire is made up of sovereign states, and the federal government affects only those states. This means (like we discussed before) that the government can’t effectively control the states, can’t protect against foreign threats, and deals with constant internal squabbling.

Throughout it’s history, Germany has had wars between the emperor and the leaders of the states, and between the leaders of the states and the states themselves. There has been disregard for the rule of law, and the weak have been preyed-upon. Foreigners have frequently invaded. Requests for soldiers and funding have been ignored (with many failed and bloody attempts to enforce those requests). In general, the government has been inept, confused, and utterly terrible.

There was a time when the emperor was at war against half of his own country. He barely escaped an attempted capture, and on a few occasions was personally beaten by one of his own princes. There have also been too many wars between the German states themselves to count. After one such war (in which Sweden joined with many of those states against the emperor) a peace that was negotiated by foreigners was enshrined in Germany’s constitution!

The empire can’t even defend against foreign threats. There is so much infighting among the member states that they can’t join together before they are already invaded and winter has come.

Because of all this, they find it essential to have a small army at the ready at all times, but it is not well maintained and its soldiers are only paid every now and then.

Since this obviously wasn’t working out well, they decided to try splitting the empire into 9 or 10 districts. The rulers of these districts were to ensure that the laws were executed (even by military means), but this only illustrated the real problem: these smaller governments were just echoes of the original one. They either ended up not getting the job done, or doing it in the bloodiest way imaginable. In some cases, these districts are entirely composed of the troublemaker states (which was the problem they were supposed to solve).

It’s easy to judge the effectiveness of this system. A Catholic leader in Donawerth tried to hold a procession and a riot broke out. Martial law was declared, and the Duke of Bavaria tried to enforce it. Arriving with 10,000 soldiers, his true intentions became clear – he wanted to take the territory for himself (disarming the citizenry in the process).

So why hasn’t their government totally failed after this long? The states’ individual weakness – that’s why. Some are weak within the empire, and even the strongest of the states are weak when compared to their foreign neighbors. The emperor also has a reputation to uphold, and wields a lot of power by keeping these separate domains held together (however strained that hold is). This makes for a weak union, but as time goes on and people become more set in their ways, it becomes harder to change. Even if they were to make the empire stronger with a better-designed government, what makes you think the foreign powers surrounding the empire would allow that to happen? They will do whatever they can to keep the individual states warring amongst themselves, and thus weak as a whole.

If you’re looking for more examples of central governments controlling only member states (and not individual citizens) you might think of Poland. Their government is constantly having problems. It can neither govern nor defend itself, and is always at the mercy of the much stronger countries around it (who recently took by force over 1/3 of it’s land and population).

Some people think that the Swiss government is a stable confederacy, but the loose union of the cantons there doesn’t really qualify as one. There is no common treasury, army, monetary system, court system – nothing.

The only things binding them are geography, their own weakness compared to their neighbors, their shared peaceful culture, an inter-dependence upon their lands, the need for help with defeating internal rebellions, and the need to resolve conflict among themselves. They form ad-hoc courts from among the other cantons when needed, and choose a chief judge, or umpire if there is a split vote. This didn’t work out so well when the Duke of Savoy decided to make himself the mediator, and used military force to do it.

All of this evidence proves my point. Anytime the states within this “confederacy” had serious differences come up, the system broke down. There have been multiple wars over religion among the Swiss, and they now have two separate cantons (Catholic and Protestant), with totally separate legislatures. Their federal legislature is now almost totally powerless.

Of course, that wasn’t the only problem to come out of the big Catholic / Protestant split: the two sides are now allied with different foreign powers.

Mini-Federalist #18 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #18, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_18.html

Originally published December 7, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, James Madison (possibly with some help from Alexander Hamilton).

Of all the ancient confederacies that we know about, the old Greek “council of neighbors” seems to be the most like our current American system.

Each city-state kept its own government, and all had an equal voice in federal matters. The central government took care of whatever it thought was in the common interest of the members: declaring and running wars, acting as a court of last resort, putting down rebellions, and bringing other city-states into the fold. They ran a state-controlled religion (including courts associated with the temples). The central government was sworn to protect the city-states, and to punish both rebels and heathens.

This certainly seems like enough power, doesn’t it? But this amounts to more power than we gave our government in the Articles of Confederation. That ancient government controlled the religion of the people, and was supposed to use force against the member city-states when they got out-of-line.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. These powers ended up being executed by officers appointed by the city-states themselves, so they were never really used to their full extent. The more powerful city-states weren’t kept in-line, and merely converted the federal government into one that served their interests. Athens’ domination of ancient Greece illustrates this pretty well.

More often than not, the officers of the more powerful city-states strong-armed those of the weaker city-states into going along with whatever the stronger states wanted. The more powerful side, not necessarily the right side, won out.

Even when fighting wars with Persia and Macedonia, the city-states didn’t work together, and instead many even worked with the enemy! When not at war, the states squabbled with each other constantly.

For example, after the war against Xerxes, the Lacedaemonians tried to kick out all the traitor city-states, but the Athenians blocked the attempt because it would leave them at a power disparity within the central government. This one example shows how inefficient and unjust this union was. Even though the smaller states were supposed to have an equal say, they ended up being co-opted by the larger, more powerful states in practice.

If the ancient Greeks had really been thinking about it, they would have used the peaceful periods to make their government work better. Instead, the larger city-states (like Athens and Sparta) became power-hungry and ended up inflicting more damage than Xerxes had managed to. All that mistrust and anger culminated in the Peloponnesian war, destroying the government in the process.

Weak governments always end up suffering from internal conflict when they aren’t at war. This civil unrest naturally invites foreigners to try to disrupt things. Philip of Macedon gained control of Greece by pitting the city-states against each other over minor conflicts, and allying himself with the weaker side. It then wasn’t difficult for him to bribe his way into a leading position in the federal government.

Had their government been better-constructed and more unified, the Greeks may have avoided this sequence of events, and later been a more effective check against the power of the Romans.

The Achaean league also serves as a good example for us.

This was a much tighter and well-designed union. Even though they had similar problems, they didn’t really deserve them.

Each city-state maintained its own sovereignty, elected its own leaders, and was equally-represented at the federal level. Their central government exclusively handled declarations of war, diplomatic relations (including all treaties), and the election of a central executive called a praetor. He handled all military matters, and ran the government when the full senate wasn’t in session. Originally, they used 2 praetors, but found having only 1 to be better.

The city-states had a common set of weights and measures, used the same money, and had identical laws. We aren’t sure how much influence the federal government had in this area, but we know that when new members came on, they immediately started using the laws of the pre-existing city-states. This is the major difference between their system and that of the Athenians and Spartans.

It’s a shame that we don’t have better records of how the Achaean government actually operated. If we had more information on the inner workings of their system, it would enlighten all our discussions about how federal governments ought to work.

What we do know though, is that there was much more peace and justice, and far less squabbling in the Achaean league than in the other Greek governments where the city-states retained all the powers. As the Abbe Mably observed, there were fewer problems in the Achaean republic BECAUSE IT WAS THERE TEMPERED BY THE GENERAL AUTHORITY AND LAWS OF THE CONFEDERACY.

Of course, it was not a totally perfect set up. You can see that by the way the government ended up dissolving.

Originally, the Achaeans weren’t a big player in Greece, but once the Amphictyonic confederacy fell to the Macedonians, it wasn’t long before that foreign influence tried to break them up, too. Some were actually invaded, others were eroded from within through political corruption. The desire for liberty was awakened by these events, and eventually came close to uniting all of Greece under the Achaean system. The Athenians and Spartans, worried about maintaining their own power, put a stop to this though. While the Achaeans were trying to form an alliance with the Egyptians and Syrians, the Spartans attacked and spoiled the plan.

So the Achaeans were in a bad spot: they either needed to give in to the Spartans, or try to ally with the Macedonians. They choose Macedonia (who was only too happy to “help”). They sent an army to defeat the Spartans and eventually occupy the Achaean republic. The Achaeans tried to remove the Macedonian occupiers by allying with the other Greek states, but this wasn’t enough – they needed foreign help again, and this time they turned to the Romans who came in and did the same thing that the Macedonians had just done. The Romans fostered animosity between the Greek city-states, and convinced each that they should be totally sovereign. This led to the total destruction of the last great hope for a free Greece.

I’ve explained all of this seemingly unimportant history because it serves as a lesson – not just about the makeup of these ancient governments, but that it is much more likely for a federal system to fail because of dissent among its members, than by a tyrannical leader in charge of it.

Mini-Federalist #17 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #17, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_17.html

Originally published December 5, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

There is another counter-argument to the Constitution that I haven’t addressed yet: the Constitution gives too much power to the central government – power that should rightfully stay with the States. Now, it’s certain that people will be power-hungry, but I can’t think of a reason why the federal government would be able to take away State power. Policing the States about civil matters, or local agricultural concerns isn’t attractive. Regulating trade, negotiating with foreign powers, money, war – these are the powers that tempt people, and the Federal government is the rightful holder of those powers already. Trying to assume the States’ powers would just be extra work, with no real benefit.

Even if we assume I’m wrong, the national legislature, elected by the people would be in a place to prevent this. It would be easier for the States to wrongfully gain power from the central government, than the other way around. The States will have more direct contact with the people, enabling them to convince the people that they are competent to have more power. This is reason enough to ensure that the central government’s power is well-protected.

The States get most of their power from the importance of the things they control.

Human nature is that people don’t care about what they can’t see. People care about their family more than their neighborhood; their neighborhood more than their town; and so on. The same is true of their State in relation to the Federal government (unless the State governments to a terrible job all the time).

People will naturally be attracted to their State’s government.

I’m not going to list out all the concerns that the States will have power over, but suffice it to say that there are so many, that the States will have an unending source of influence.

Of course, the States hold one trump card: the day-to-day running of criminal and civil courts. This power alone is the most visible defender of people’s lives and property, and a source of comfort and fear. Everyone has an interest in the dispensing of justice, and done well, the people will revere those who do it. Holding so important a function for the people, the States will no doubt become a threat to the power of the central government.

Since the powers that the Federal government has are so general and detached from the people, they won’t form that same bond with the Federal government. Only a few people will observe the good that it does for us.

We’ve seen this happen with every constitutional government in history.

The old feudal systems were obviously not confederacies, per se, but they did have smaller subordinate territories, all reporting to a central government. Each smaller territory had a ruler with almost total control over that territory. Ultimately, what ended up happening was that the individual “states” (if you will) grew more powerful in relation to the central authority and frequently went to war with one another. The central government was powerless to keep order or to protect the people. Anarchy reigned.

Sometimes the central government would end up with an extraordinary leader who could keep things under control, but this was the exception not the rule. There were even times when the central magistrate was completely kicked out. In those rare times when extraordinary leaders were able to take control, it was because the local governments were so terrible that the people fought back against them, too. If those local governments would have been good to their people, they might have remained in power.

I’m not just making this up – think of Scotland. The clan system (in which the local governments were more like families) meant that no central government could prevail there. That is, until the powerful central government of England asserted the more rational rule of law over them.

It’s a fair comparison to say that our States are much like the old baronies of the feudal days. Like I explained, this kind of relationship means that the people are pre-disposed to support them, and defend them against unwarranted power-grabs by the Federal government. Our States are in a power struggle, and (just like the old Baronies) have the upper hand in that struggle.

Looking at the history of confederacies is vital to understanding this part of their structure. We haven’t paid enough attention to the history though, and that’s been the source of many of our problems. Our ignorance has led us to choose the wrong side in the fight. We’ll go into this topic further in future papers.

Mini-Federalist #16 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #16, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_16.html

Originally published December 4, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We aren’t the only confederacy to fall into the trap of only making laws for the member states, and not for individuals. All of the previous ones that we know of did this in some capacity. I’m going to lay this all out because I think it’s worth remembering. Before I do though, I’ll say that the Lycian and Achaean confederacies (by all indications we have) seem to have done this the least, and they are (not coincidentally) the most highly-regarded of the ancient confederacies.

This error in thinking leads directly to anarchy. Like I explained in the last paper, it is natural for the states to ignore the laws of the central government. When that happens, the only eventual outcome is military enforcement by the central government against the states – in other words, civil war.

But would military force be enough to get it done? If we don’t have a standing army, this enforcement won’t happen often, and even if it does, it will result in the individual States choosing sides, and the more powerful side will win (regardless of whether it is the pro-union side or not). It’s extremely unlikely that this would only affect one State – it will probably be a group of them who ignore the Federal power – so they will naturally form an alliance. Smaller States that are on the fence could get drawn into the conflict by a larger, more powerful neighbor (many times using less-than-honorable or less-than-truthful justifications – especially if those larger States are in the anti-union camp). States that can’t find allies here will surely look to foreign nations for support (and you know they’d be happy to see us squabbling amongst ourselves). This will snowball out of control quickly, and the Union will be lost.

This shows only the potential “violent” death of the Union, though. Right now, we seem to be on the edge of a different kind of dissolution. Our States are wise and friendly enough that they will not immediately jump to war – instead, they will just get tired of fighting to maintain the Union by themselves and will drop their participation to the level of the least-participating State. In that scenario, since every State is guilty of ignoring the Federal government, who is going to decide which State to employ military force against? Even so, how could you determine which States don’t have the resources to participate, and which simply don’t want to? It would be impossible to tell, and whichever faction gains control of the central government would be free to use force against whichever States they wanted.

It seems pretty obvious that a government like this – with a standing, roving army to enforce even it’s most basic provisions, is NOT what we want. But this is exactly the kind of government opponents of the Constitution would lead us to. Even if this was an idea that could be accomplished, it would end up as a police state. It’s a nonstarter, though. We simply don’t have the means to maintain an army the size we’d need to be able to enforce Federal rules against the larger States. This is mythical, David and Goliath-type stuff here!

Historically, even smaller confederacies haven’t had success with military force against disobedient states. It was only used against the weakest states, and most of the time led to terribly destructive civil wars where every state took sides against the others.

All of this evidence points to an obvious conclusion: if our government is to succeed, it can’t have influence over only the States (as our opponents believe) but must be able to govern citizens as individuals. Not relying on the States, it must have the power to enforce its own laws. Any powers entrusted to the Federal government must come with the power to enforce those powers – just like the States have.

Of course, some of our opponents might say that we could still end up in a situation where the States get in the way, and we’re right back to military force again.

But there is a difference between non-compliance and active resistance. If our system requires the States’ participation in order to have the federal laws enforced, then the States can render the federal government utterly toothless by simply not doing anything. This inaction could easily be disguised as a lack of resources or ability by corrupt state leaders. In this situation, the people wouldn’t necessarily know that the Federal government is being actively fought against.

If we set the government up so that the Federal government can enforce its own laws with the people directly, then any resistance by the States would be plainly seen as the unconstitutional intrusion that it is. The States wouldn’t be able to get away with such encroachments anymore unless all the people, courts, and other States went along, too.

What about a group of individuals in rebellion? We can handle that the same way we do today – the courts can handle enforcement for the federal as well as the State laws. Better still, the Federal government can bring a lot more resources to bear against rebellious groups than any one State could hope to. If one of these disturbances spread nationwide (which doesn’t happen often) it would basically amount to a revolution and break-up of our government, and there’s no way for any government to fully prevent that from happening. Since those events would be rare and impossible to control, we shouldn’t judge the proposed Constitution on whether it can deal with them.

Mini-Federalist #15 – The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

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 #15, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_15.html

Originally published December 1, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

In my previous essays, I’ve laid out the case for Union by explaining how important it is and pointing out the risks involved in dissolving the Union (an argument that is advanced with sometimes less-than-honorable means). I’m going to give you more insight about things we haven’t discussed up to now. If the path ahead seems unclear, remember that these are some of the most important and difficult questions that a free people can consider, and that the obstacles in our way are the result of small-minded people. I’m going to remove as many impediments as I can along the way.

Today, we’re going to talk about the “insufficiency of the present Confederation to the preservation of the Union.” Now, everyone agrees that the Articles of Confederation make a bad government (even opponents of the Constitution feel the same way). So why do I need to even mention this? Well, it’s obvious to everyone that we need to fix this system – there are serious problems with it.

Our current national state is just embarrassing. Our government can’t do the basic things it is supposed to do: We can’t pay back our debts from the Revolution (and seem to have no real plan to do so). Foreign powers are in possession of parts of our territory (and we’re powerless to do anything about it – we can’t even effectively protest the occupation). Spain is stopping us from using the Mississippi (even though a treaty states we should be allowed). Our government has no credit. Trade is at a very low level. The incompetence of our government means that no other nation will bother negotiating treaties with us. Real estate values have plummeted – not for any normal reason, but because people don’t have any faith in our government institutions to protect that property. Private credit has dried up for the same reason. I’ll spare you more examples, but can you think of an indicator of governmental failure that we aren’t currently experiencing? I sure can’t.

This sorry state of affairs has been produced by the same kind of thinking that the opponents of the Constitution want you to use. It’s bad enough that they’ve led us to the cliff – now they want to push us over the edge! Don’t be fooled. Don’t let them do it.

Even though everyone agrees that the current government doesn’t work, opponents of the Constitution are presenting a tired old solution that won’t work either. The ideas expressed in the Constitution are our only hope. Opponents acknowledge that the current government doesn’t have enough power, but they resist giving any more power to the government. When it comes down to it, they are afraid to change anything, so obviously we need to lay out exactly what is wrong with the Articles of Confederation so that it is clear that these aren’t minor issues, but serious structural problems (and of course, explain the causes behind them).

The first major problem is that the current system deals just with the States, and not with individuals. The federal government has no power to tax citizens, but only to ask for money from the States. Theoretically, these requests are binding law, but in reality the States just ignore them.

It’s amazing that even after all the problems they have caused, opponents of the Constitution still cling to their ideas (especially since a government that can’t touch the people doesn’t seem like much of a government anyway).

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with treaties and alliances. Every country in the world has entered into them (and broken them, too). In recent history, European countries have heavily engaged in creating alliances with each other – sometimes very complicated ones – in the hope that they would create lasting peace. Of course, all of these treaties were eventually broken. It just goes to show you how long a treaty will hold up when it is solely based on “good faith”, and the governments in question find themselves with other priorities.

Now if we’re really afraid of all this, we may decide to go on as 13 separate countries, leading us to all the problems I’ve already discussed, and forcing us into being friends and enemies simultaneously (depending on which foreign powers we fall victim to).

If we really don’t want that to happen, we have to think about our situation and create systems that will lead us to have a government, and not just a set of treaties. And the only thing that a government can really affect is individuals.

Governments make laws. Laws are meaningless without punishments for disobeying them. The enforcement of laws can either come from courts, or from raw military power. Courts can deal with individuals, but militaries have to deal with other countries. So, if we don’t have one government, capable of reaching individuals, the States will perpetually be at war with each other.

Originally, we were told that the States would all cooperate with the Confederation willingly, and there’d be no reason to expect problems. Our experiences have not shown this to be true. This point of view ignores human nature – why do we even need a government in the first place? Because people will not treat each other fairly all the time. What makes us think that a group of people (like the States) would be more responsible than the individuals that make it up? In fact, the grouping makes it worse as it tends to remove individual responsibility for the actions of the group.

Further, people who are in power want to remain in control of that power, and resist any outside limits placed on them – this is also just human nature. So in a confederacy, the individual states will naturally try to remove as much of the central government’s influence over them as they can. How can we expect them to work for the common good when it goes against human nature?

If the central government relies on their laws being executed by the individual states, those laws simply won’t be followed. The leaders of the States will only enforce laws that also mesh with their interests – disregarding the greater national good, in favor of local convenience. Every one of the States will do this. The laws of the Federal government would be worthless since they would vary from place to place. If you know how hard it is to get one legislature to agree on a solution to a problem, imagine how hard it is to get multiple ones, spread across a continent, to do it.

Our Confederation requires 13 members to agree. This just doesn’t happen, and the laws of the Union subsequently go unenforced. The States’ carelessness has, over time, ground the operation of the Federal government to a halt. Congress can’t keep things operating until the States can come up with a better idea. This has been a long time coming. Though some States did the right thing at first, how long can that hold up when everyone else is slacking? Why should only a few well-functioning States do all the work and bear all the costs? People can only fight their own selfishness for so long. Consequently, all the States have since withdrawn their real support of the Federal government, to the point that it’s about to collapse and smother us all.

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.

Mini-Federalist #13 – Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government

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 #13, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_13.html

Originally published November 28, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We just got done talking about government revenue. A very closely-connected subject is government efficiency. If the government is more efficient, it will be able to stretch its revenues further. There will be nationwide problems – wouldn’t it be more efficient for 1 government to handle those, rather than 3 or 4 (or even 13 – although no one seems to advocate this anymore)? Even the governments of 3 confederacies would each need to be as powerful and have as many departments and officials as the 1 proposed by the Constitution – I mean, each confederacy would be larger than Britain is today! We certainly wouldn’t need a government 3-times the size to get the job done.

There’s another thing going on, too – if the system breaks down, we’re likely to fall into 2 confederacies, North (concerned with trade and shipping) and South (who couldn’t care less about those things). Pennsylvania and New Jersey are the swing States there, but they will most likely go to the North – and if New Jersey goes to the North, there’s no hope of a 3rd confederacy.

Since it’s clear that there will at least be some form of confederacy (or confederacies) if we are disunited, isn’t it better to have just one national government, supported by all the States, than to have national governments supported by a smaller number? How would that be cheaper (as opponents to the Constitution claim)?

Besides the number of departments needed, think about the huge number of people we’d have to have employed by the separate confederate governments to guard our borders against smuggling (since that activity would be a killer on tax revenue) and the massive militaries that would come up to defend against the threats we talked about in earlier papers? If we really consider it, we realize that separate confederacies will be worse not only for efficiency, but for trade, peace, revenue, and freedom.

Mini-Federalist #12 – The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue

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 #12, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_12.html

Originally published November 27, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We’ve talked about trade. How about the Union’s effect on government revenue?

Obviously, trade generates a lot of money. Because of this, it is a chief concern of the government – everyone wants our commerce to continue to do well and even increase. You might think that there would be tension between the producers of goods and the exporters, but they’ve come to see that they need each other. Increased trade has other advantages, too – like higher property values. Workers, manufacturing firms, everyone benefits from better trade.

A country needs to have good-quality money, and you can only achieve that through trade. Look at Germany: they have good land for farming, and the most impressive precious metal mines in Europe, yet their economy is floundering because they have very little trade.

The best thing the Union would do for revenue would be providing a broader tax base. It is very difficult to raise a large sum of money by directly taxing the people – for one thing, they won’t allow it (and without sufficient revenue themselves, just plain don’t have the money to give), so the states end up with very little money as a result. This is no surprise to anyone who knows how other countries deal with these issues. Britain has a much richer population than we have, and even they have trouble raising money through direct taxes. They get most of their funding through indirect means: tariffs, imposts, and duties on trade. Shouldn’t we do the same thing here?

As it stands, we already have taxes on imports and these are going to be what we need to get us by in the future. This is because taxes on some goods and services produced within each state (we call them “excises”) aren’t very popular, and don’t generate much revenue anyway. Taxing personal property is too difficult, as it is easily hidden. There aren’t a lot of options.

Any system that would make tax collection easier and better must be a good thing. The Union accomplishes this goal.

Remaining as separate States, we’d have a hard time collecting taxes on imports from the other States. Since we are very well interconnected with rivers and we share a common language and culture, smuggling and black market trading would not only pop up quickly, it would be almost impossible to prevent. We’d be forced to implement elaborate border security patrols (France has these and they are huge – more than 20,000 men in all – and do we really want that many armed men wandering around?). Failing that, to compete with smugglers, the States would need to keep their import taxes low, and thus wouldn’t collect enough revenue. Since the other kinds of taxes are unworkable (as discussed above), this would leave the States in an impossible financial place.

On the other hand – think what the Union could accomplish. We’d have one border to worry about: the Atlantic coast. All foreign trade would need to come through that avenue, and there are only so many ports. A small navy could ensure that no unloading happens before coming in to dock and pay the taxes. It would be much harder to sneak through that border than it would be the borders between our States.

A single national government would therefore be able to keep import taxes higher than any state can by themselves. I don’t think any State has an import tax rate higher than 3% right now. France has theirs at 15%. Britain’s is even more than that. I’m sure we could hit at least 9%. As an example, think of the liquor we import: our whole country brings in about 4,000,000 gallons of the stuff per year. Even if we taxed it at only a shilling a gallon (which I’m certain people would be willing to pay), we’d generate £200,000 in taxes! Even if people aren’t willing to pay that much tax, wouldn’t it be just as well for our own economy (and morality) that we not have so much foreign liquor around anyway?

So what if we don’t follow the plan I’m laying out? Well we certainly can’t last long without tax revenue – that’s for sure. We might be forced to join back up with Britain! You know that’s not a realistic option. We NEED tax revenue – but from what source? Taxes on goods and services produced are unpopular (and in primarily agricultural states, insignificant). Taxes on property are hard to track, and may also make people feel hounded by the government – landowners would have to make up the slack (and we know that they alone would never be able to satisfy the government’s appetite for money). The answer is obvious: the people’s hatred of direct taxes, and our State governments’ inability to gather enough money with them, will come together and make plain the need for the higher taxes on trade that only the Union can produce.

Mini-Federalist #11 – The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy

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 #11, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_11.html

Originally published November 24, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

The economic benefits of the Union are the most obvious – both in domestic and international trade.

Our commercial abilities are so great, they make Europe very nervous. Many European nations have a foothold in the new world with small colonies, and they are worried about what our future economic dominance will do to their place in the world. They would LOVE to see us wasting time, fighting amongst ourselves (and consequently) not becoming a threat to them. I could even tell you which countries would like it the most!

There’s a lot that we can do to prevent these foreign desires from happening, if we stick together. We can have uniform taxes on imports – forcing foreign countries to fight with each other for the right to sell their manufactured goods here in our giant market. We can also use that power to get better terms in the foreigners’ markets, too. Sure, excluded countries (say, Great Britain) could still trade with us through a third party (say, the Dutch) but at a much greater expense than if they traded with us directly. Foreign countries would be crazy to let that happen, and in this case their gain would be our gain.

It gets even better for us if the Union can create a navy. Imagine how powerful it could be with the resources of all the States together! We have to be able to protect our trading interests – especially in this hemisphere, and particularly in the Caribbean. When a war breaks out between the European powers, it will spill over into the Caribbean. Even if we didn’t have a huge navy, we could have enough ships to tip the balance of power to one side or the other if we were to join in the fight – that threat could be enough to keep our neutrality (and thus, our profitable trade) alive.

As individual States, we’d have no chance of doing this. The warring powers would prey upon our shipping as they see fit. Who would stop them? When you’re weak, you can’t even be neutral – you become easy cannon fodder.

As a united country, Europe wouldn’t even try to mess with our trading ships. As individual States, foreign powers would dictate the terms of trade to us, and may even be able to dismantle our trade entirely, making us dependent upon their shipping. We would have snuffed out our potential to become the greatest country in the world.

If we dissolved the Union, how would we deal with the Mississippi? With the Great Lakes? Britain and Spain would like to see us flounder there, so that they could take possession of those resources for themselves.

And let’s not forget – maritime trade benefits the whole country, not just the parts with ports. A national navy will have the same benefits. While most of our experienced sailors are in the north, the south has the best shipbuilding wood available. The south also has readily available tar, pitch, and turpentine. Along with the south, the middle states produce good-quality iron needed for shipbuilding and naval guns. It will take the contributions of all the States to make a world-class navy. We simply couldn’t do it as individual States, or even as small confederacies.

Along with foreign trade, we should also keep trade free amongst ourselves. This will calm the effects of disasters like local crop failures, as replacements can be easily brought in from a neighbor, and will also ensure that this country always has something to export. We need a diversified market to make sure our economy functions well. Obviously, this is much easier with the Union than with any smaller combinations we could come up with.

Even with an assumption of “friendly” relations between the States with regard to trade, I’ve already explained in previous papers how quickly those arrangements can fall apart. Only a united government gives us hope of free interstate trade.

Like it or not, the reality is that Europe has considerable power in the world. To some extent, they control (or like to think they control) the rest of the planet. Asia, Africa and the Americas have all fallen victim to their influence. The Europeans think that they are super-human and that we lowly Americans are nowhere near as capable, powerful, or intelligent as they are. To their eyes, it’s an established fact. Let’s show them how wrong they are. We have to stay united and powerful enough to control our own destiny!