Federalist 27 – Hamilton

In Federalist 27, Alexander Hamilton seeks to answer the charge that the Constitution “cannot operate without the aid of a military force to execute its laws.”  In other words, American citizens will obey the Constitution only at the point of gun.  Hamilton refutes this idea, suggesting along the way that the people of the United States will come to respect the Federal government to such a degree that they will obey the government’s dictates.  As he puts it:

Unless we presume at the same time that the powers of the general government will be worse administered than those of the State government, there seems to be no room for the presumption of ill-will, disaffection, or opposition in the people. I believe it may be laid down as a general rule that their confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.

Loyalty to the government will thus hinge in some fashion on how well-administered it is.  This being a historical blog, I will forgo the ample number of snide comments about current affairs that are crossing my mind at the moment.

Hamilton discusses the likelihood that the “general government will be better administered than the particular governments, and summarizes the arguments in favor of this supposition.  He goes on to say:

It will be sufficient here to remark, that until satisfactory reasons can be assigned to justify an opinion, that the federal government is likely to be administered in such a manner as to render it odious or contemptible to the people, there can be no reasonable foundation for the supposition that the laws of the Union will meet with any greater obstruction from them, or will stand in need of any other methods to enforce their execution, than the laws of the particular members.

Hamilton predicts that as the general government has more day-to-day interactions with the people, it will draw from the masses a greater deal of respect and fealty.

I will, in this place, hazard an observation, which will not be the less just because to some it may appear new; which is, that the more the operations of the national authority are intermingled in the ordinary exercise of government, the more the citizens are accustomed to meet with it in the common occurrences of their political life, the more it is familiarized to their sight and to their feelings, the further it enters into those objects which touch the most sensible chords and put in motion the most active springs of the human heart, the greater will be the probability that it will conciliate the respect and attachment of the community. Man is very much a creature of habit. A thing that rarely strikes his senses will generally have but little influence upon his mind. A government continually at a distance and out of sight can hardly be expected to interest the sensations of the people. The inference is, that the authority of the Union, and the affections of the citizens towards it, will be strengthened, rather than weakened, by its extension to what are called matters of internal concern; and will have less occasion to recur to force, in proportion to the familiarity and comprehensiveness of its agency. The more it circulates through those channls and currents in which the passions of mankind naturally flow, the less will it require the aid of the violent and perilous expedients of compulsion.

No doubt IRS agents will cheerily assent to this characterization.  And after all, who is more loved than a federal bureaucrat?

Finally, the federal government will be able to employ state authorities to carry out its objectives.  This will be yet another inducement to popular attachments.

The plan reported by the convention, by extending the authority of the federal head to the individual citizens of the several States, will enable the government to employ the ordinary magistracy of each, in the execution of its laws. It is easy to perceive that this will tend to destroy, in the common apprehension, all distinction between the sources from which they might proceed; and will give the federal government the same advantage for securing a due obedience to its authority which is enjoyed by the government of each State, in addition to the influence on public opinion which will result from the important consideration of its having power to call to its assistance and support the resources of the whole Union. It merits particular attention in this place, that the laws of the Confederacy, as to the enumerated and legitimate objects of its jurisdiction, will become the supreme law of the land; to the observance of which all officers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in each State, will be bound by the sanctity of an oath. Thus the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends; and will be rendered auxiliary to the enforcement of its laws.

A thoroughly fascinating essay that proves, if nothing else, that even the greatest thinkers sometimes miss very, very badly.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 27 – Hamilton  
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The United States of Atlantis


I have always been a fan of alternate history.  Change one fact in history, say Douglas elected President in 1860, and then speculate as to how history would have been altered.  The master of the genre is Harry Turtledove, a novelist and Byzantine historian.  The past few days I have been reading his United States of Atlantis novel.  This is the second of his Atlantis books.  In these volumes Turtledove postulates that the eastern seaboard of North America, from south of Newfoundland to the tip of Florida, formed a separate continent in the mid-Atlantic.  Discovered by the French and English in 1462, the books follow the settlement of this Atlantean New World.  The continent has certain peculiarities, for example there are no native mammals other than bats, and there are no Indians. (more…)

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 6:47 am  Comments Off on The United States of Atlantis  
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