Wednesday, November 4, 2020

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - A Commitment to Deep Thinking About Our Political Origins in the Presence of Noise (Paper No. 15)

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - Part 13.  Uncannily, Hamilton opens his 15th paper, which I read on a U.S. election day of historical proportion, saying - look, I've told you how important the union is to our safety and happiness.  The opposition to union amounts to either personal ambition, greed, jealousy, or outright lying. If you still need convincing, remember this: are in quest of information on a subject the most momentous which can engage the attention of a free people:...and that the difficulties of the journey have been unnecessarily increased by the mazes with which sophistry has beset the way. It will be my aim to remove the obstacles to your progress in as compendious a manner, as it can be done...

 But for the words compendious and sophistry, that could have been written today. A journey "unnecessarily increased by the mazes with which sophistry has beset the way." So that's why the last four years have felt so long. Alexander, please! Remove those obstacles.  And in case you wish to read along...  A link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers.

If we aren't all agreed on the efficacy of a union, Hamilton begins, might we at least agree that the present confederation is flawed? 

We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely any thing that can wound the pride, or degrade the character of an independent nation, which we do not experience.
The list of indignities was long: we owed money to foreign nations, the confidence of creditors in the value of American assets and its ability to meet its financial obligations was weak. We wished access to lands and waterways important to our livelihood but these belonged to foreign nations.  Our ability to conduct trade was weak, other nations would neither listen to our protests nor negotiate with us. In short,

We have neither troops nor treasury nor government. 

The difficulty was that under the Articles of Confederation, although the union could ask the states for men or money, those requests had no teeth because the federal government did not have the power to enforce individual citizens' behavior under the law.  A government must be able to make laws that impinge upon its people and to exert their authority with the promise of penalty for failure to comply. In addition, Hamilton cautioned that the States themselves must, as a last resort, be subject  to penalty for violation of the law.

There was a time when we were told that breaches, by the States, of the regulations of the federal authority were not to be expected - that a sense of common interest would preside over the conduct of the respective members, and would beget a full compliance...Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals? The contrary of this has been inferred...

If states are only to be subject to some sort of loose alliance, writes Hamilton, they will observe and break those agreements as the wind blows them. 

This tendency is not difficult to be accounted for. It has its origin in the love of power.

A union must be binding and enforceable. A confederacy has been attempted, writes Hamilton, and it has been demonstrated not to work. 

The measures of the Union have not been executed; and the delinquencies of the States have step by step matured themselves to an extreme...Congress at this time scarcely possess the means of keeping up the forms of administration... Each State yielding to the persuasive voice of immediate interest and convenience has successively withdrawn its support. 'till the frail and tottering edifice seems ready to fall upon our heads and to crush us beneath its ruins.



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