Alexander Hamilton


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The Federalist

The Battle for
A More Perfect Union

by Robert Trout
January 18, 1999

American System

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more
perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and
secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States
of America."
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

During the recent 30 years, American thinking has been
dominated by an ideology that promotes free trade and
globalization as ideals which are consistent with freedom and
democracy. However, on the opposite side of the globe, a group of
nations, centered around China, have now launched the Eurasian
Land-Bridge, the world's largest development project, and an
excellent example of the proper role of government in the
American tradition. Unfortunately, when faced with this dramatic
choice between these two futures, many Americans are incapable of
determining which path leads to survival and which leads to
destruction. A crash course in the principles of the American
System is required.

One of the best sources for such a crash course is "The
Federalist,", also called "The Federalist Papers, which was
written in the effort to secure the ratification of the U.S.
Constitution back in 1787. "The Federalist" is a series of
85 essays authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and
John Jay, and published under the pen name "Publius." These
essays have held a key place for 200 years in educating Americans
on the Constitution. Until the Baby-boomer paradigm shift, "The
Federalist" was required reading for most students. A reading of
these essays should astonish people today with how far this
country has declined from the level of political debate, that
was conducted in establishing and ratifying this nation's

The American colonies were a project by European republicans
to establish a society, free from the landed and financial
aristocracy that dominated Europe. The first modern nation state
had been founded by Louis XI (r.1461-83) in France. However,
European republicans were unable to free Europe from the grip of
the aristocracy, so the nations of Europe remained only imperfect
nation states. It was only in America, where the oligarchical
hold was much weaker, that republicans were able to found
the first true nation state, based on the Libnizian ideal of
"life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Benjamin Franklin gave a humorous, and accurate account of
the differences in character between Europe and America in his
1784 essay, "Information to Those Who Would Remove to America."
Franklin wrote of America that, "The Truth is, that tho' there
are in that Country few People so miserable as the Poor of
Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called
rich: it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails.
There are few great Proprietors of the Soil, and few Tenants;
most People cultivate their own Lands, or follow some Handicraft
or Merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their
Rents or Incomes; or to pay the high Prices given in Europe, for
Paintings, Statues, Architecture and the other Works of Art that
are more curious than useful."

Franklin was certainly not against art and learning, for he had
personally made major contributions to promote education, and
America had achieved a level of literacy which was dramatically
higher than in England. Franklin's remarks should be compared to
Frederick Schiller's criticism of the aristocratic classes of
Europe, as "barbarians" who had imposed an ideology of egoism
and hedonism upon art and culture. Franklin recommended that
aristocrats not emigrate to America stating, "Much less is it
advisable for a Person to go thither who has no other Quality to
recommend him but his Birth. In Europe it has indeed its Value,
but it is a Commodity that cannot be carried to a worse Market
than to that of America, where People do not enquire concerning
a Stranger, What IS he? but What can he DO?" Franklin states
that aristocrats would fare poorly in America, since it is a
"land of labor" and aristocrats, like hogs, do no work.

Gondolas in Venice; Actual size=240 pixels wide

Benjamin Franklin recommended that
aristocrats not emigrate to America:
'Much less is it advisable for a
Person to go thither who has no
other Quality to recommend him but
his Birth....'
Ariistocrats would fare poorly in
America, since it is a 'land of
labor' and aristocrats, like hogs,
do no work.


Background of "The Federalist Papers"

During the recent years, "big government" has been a favorite
wiping boy for Conservative Revolution ideologues of the Newt
Gingrich variety. However, as Hamilton, Madison and Jay described
in "The Federalist," a new Constitution was urgently required
because the weak national government that the Continental
Congress had created in 1777, with the Articles of Confederation,
had failed to provide for the basic needs of the new country.

America, which had just won the Revolution against the
British Empire, was in danger of being recolonized by British
economic warfare. Following the American victory in the
revolution, and the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British, under
the direction of Prime Minister Shelburn, launched an economic
war against the new nation, and our ally, France, under the rubric
of "free trade." Manufacturing, which had grown up in America
during the revolution, was being wiped out by British dumping of
cheap manufactured goods. As Friedrich List later reported, the
British were selling their goods at lower prices in America, even
after transporting them across the Atlantic Ocean, than they were
selling them in London or Liverpool. However, American exports to
Britain rose to only 50% of their pre-war level because of British

The weak American government of the Articles of Confederation
was incapable imposing a protective tariff to stop the blatant
economic warfare. Under that Constitution, a trade treaty had to
be approved by all 13 states, which proved to be impossible.

The national government was unable to honor the debts that
it had contracted to finance the Revolution. The economic
downturn, which resulted from the British economic warfare,
collapsed the tax base. The weak central government was unable
impose needed taxes. As Hamilton stated in "The Federalist,"
unless the central government had the power to defend the nation
from this economic warfare, including increasing tariffs--which
he recommended be tripled--the victory of the American Revolution
against colonialism would be nullified: "Destitute of this
essential support, it must resign its independence, and sink into
the degraded condition of a province."

Even worse, the economic crisis was feeding separatist
tendencies. For example, the New York State government demanded
that all taxes that the State paid to the national government be
ear marked to repayment of Revolutionary War debts issued by New
York State. Hamilton wrote in "The Federalist" Essay 15, that a
failure to a adopt strong central government would lead to the
complete disintegration of the Union. Hamilton warned, "This is
the melancholy situation to which we have been brought by those
very maxims and councils which would now deter us from adopting
the proposed Constitution; and which, not content with having
conducted us to the brink of a precipice, seem resolved to plunge
us into the abyss that awaits us below." Hamilton and Madison
both warned that the break up of the Confederation into sections
would not bring peace, but would lead to wars among the separated
sections, more devastating than the wars that ruined Europe.

Even after the Constitution was drafted at the Constitutional
Convention in Philadelphia, its ratification was by no means
certain. Alexander Hamilton, who had played a key role in
organizing support for establishing a new central government,
had been a delegate for New York State to the Constitutional
Convention. However, in New York State, the opposition, which
was led by Governor George Clinton, was so stiff that the other
two members of the New York delegation, besides Alexander Hamilton
walked out of the Convention because they were opposed to the new
Constitution. The State Legislature and the majority of delegates
elected to the Convention, created to vote on whether New York
State would ratify the Constitution, were strongly opposed to the
new Constitution. To secure the ratification of the Constitution
by New York State, Hamilton Madison and John Jay teamed up to
write "The Federalist," which was published in New York newspapers
between October 27, 1787 and April 4, 1788.

Many Americans today, correctly, look back on this period in
American history as a time when individuals made history. Given
the difficulty that he faced, Alexander Hamilton recognized that
the citizens of New York and the nation would only be capable of
rising above their petty concerns to ratify the Constitution, if
they were made conscious that their actions would have dramatic
consequences for present, future and past civilizations. In the
opening letter, Hamilton argues that the Citizens must take
responsibility for a decision that will affect all of history:
Can a people establish, as their own government, a true Republic?

"It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been
reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and
example, to decide the important question, whether societies of
men are really capable or not of establishing good government
from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined
to depend for their political constitutions on accident and
force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which
we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which
that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we
shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the
general misfortune of mankind."

Throughout "The Federalist," Hamilton and Madison repeatedly
challenge their readers to take rise above petty considerations
and compare their actions to universal history. The reader is
asked to compare the new government with examples from the last
2000 years, going back to ancient Greece. The success or failure
of the American republic will determine whether the goal of
republicans throughout history will be fulfilled. The reader is
challenged to show the same courage as Americans has shown in
previous periods of the countries history. Madison asked, "The
first question that offers itself is, whether the general form
and aspect of the government be strictly republican? It is
evident that no other form of government would be reconcilable
with the genius of the people of America."

The First True Republic

The authors of "The Federalist" demonstrate that America
will be the first true republic, and that previous republics had
been either flawed or not actually republics. This gives their
readers an overview which forces them to recognize that their
decision will have consequences for all of history.

The authors correctly denounce, England, Venice and the Dutch
"republics" as false, because the republican institutions
were merely masks to hide the real control by an oligarchy.
England, Madison states, is dominated by a monarchy and
aristocracy, (a situation which exists still today). Madison
ridiculed identifying Venice as a republic, stating, "The same
title has been bestowed on Venice, where absolute power over the
great body of the people is exercised, in the most absolute
manner, by a small body of hereditary nobles." Madison further
praised the League of Cambray, a concert of European nations and
the Vatican state, formed in 1509 against Venice, "which gave a
deadly blow to the power and pride of this haughty republic."
Madison described how the United Netherlands was a confederacy
of aristocracies, which was dominated by the financial aristocracy
of Holland, and Holland "by her riches and her authority, which
drew the others into a sort of dependence, supplied the place."

` Nowhere is the exceptional nature of America more clearly
stated than Hamilton's challenge that America's role in the world
should be to free the world from colonialism, a conception which
became American policy with the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine
of Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. Hamilton, in Essay 11,
challenged the American people to accept this mission:

"The world may politically, as well as geographically, be
divided into four parts, each having a distinct set of interests.
Unhappily for the other three, Europe, by her arms and by her
negotiations, by force and by fraud, has, in different degrees,
extended her dominion over them all. Africa, Asia, and America,
have successively felt her domination. The superiority she has
long maintained has tempted her to plume herself as the Mistress
of the World, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for
her benefit.... It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the
human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union
will enable us to do it. Disunion will add another victim to his
triumphs. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of
European greatness! Let the thirteen States, bound together in a
strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great
American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic
force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the
connection between the old and the new world!"

"The Federalist" refutes both the supporters of pure
democracy and those who argued that the people are incapable of
republican government. The claim that people are incapable of
governing themselves comes from "subjects either of an absolute
or limited monarch," who try to deride democracies by citing as
specimens of them, the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece
and modern Italy. Madison discusses at length the confederations
formed by the Greek city states, and shows that their failure
resulted from the lack of a stronger confederation, This led
first to anarchy among the members of the confederation and then
to foreign subjugation. Madison suggests that, had they united to
form a nation state, they could have avoided foreign subjugation
and destruction: "Had Greece, says a judicious observer on her
fate, been united by a stricter confederation, and persevered in
her union, she would never have worn the chains of Macedon; and
might have proved a barrier to the vast projects of Rome."

Hamilton develops how the design of the Constitution of a
republican government is crucial for its success. America can
avoid the failures of previous republics by establishing the
American republic on a broad and solid foundation. The authors
develop the necessity of a division of the government into three
branches, the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary and
the separation of powers between these three branches. They
demonstrate that this arrangement results in a government which
best accomplishes the goals of a republican government.

To Promote the General Welfare

"The Federalist" develops the central concept of the
republican form of government, the responsibility of the
government to promote the general welfare, as stated in the
preamble of the Constitution. Madison wrote that, "the real
welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to
be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other
value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this

The success of a republican government depends on its
commitment to promote the general welfare, which requires the
development of the nation's industry and infrastructure. Madison,
in answering those critics who argue that the country is too
large to be governed by a republican government, stated that the
country will be bound together by the development of

"Let it be remarked, in the third place, that the
intercourse throughout the Union will be facilitated by new
improvements. Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in
better order; accommodations for travellers will be multiplied
and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will
be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of
the thirteen States. The communication between the Western and
Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be
rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which
the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which
art finds it soon little difficult to connect and complete."

Madison further predicts that manufacturing will grow and
that the government meant for the duration ought to contemplate
these revolutions, and be able to accommodate itself to them.
Hamilton discusses that there is not contradiction between
agriculture and commerce, but rather the growth of each
strengthens each other and the entire country. "The often-
agitated question between agriculture and commerce has, from
indubitable experience, received a decision which has silenced
the rivalship that once subsisted between them, and has proved,
to the satisfaction of their friends, that their interests are
intimately blended and interwoven. It has been found in various
countries that, in proportion as commerce has flourished, land
has risen in value." As all sections of the nation grow, this
symbiotic relationship will break down the tendency for political

The competence of the government in economics was
intimately tied to the question of justice. Hamilton stated,
"the man who best understands the principles of political economy
will "be least likely to resort to oppressive expedients, or to
sacrifice any particular class of citizens to the procurement of
revenue. It might be demonstrated that the most productive system
of finance will always be the least burdensome." Taxes should
coincide with the public interest. "Happy it is when the interest
which the government has in the preservation of its own power,
coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens, and
tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from

Recent remarks by President Clinton that the speculative
flows of $1.5 trillion in hot money traveling around the globe,
represents a threat to economic stability, represent a glimmer of
sanity in government circles that are otherwise dominated by mass
hysteria. Today's leaders would do well to study Madison's
arguments on the necessity for stability in government policy to
insure that producers can prosper. Madison's argument could be
applied today in attacking the disruptive effects of the floating
exchange rate currency system and promoting a return to a system
of fixed exchange rates in a "New Bretton Woods" monetary system:

"In another point of view, great injury results from an
unstable government. The want of confidence in the public
councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit
of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements.
What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch
of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered
unlawful before they can be executed? What farmer or manufacturer
will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any
particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no
assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not
render him a victim to an inconstant government. In a work, no
great improvement or laudable enterprise can go forward which
requires the auspices of a steady system of national policy."

The conceptions in "The Federalist" on economic development
and the role of the central government in this, were fully
developed by Hamilton into the American System of Economics, when
he became the first Secretary of the Treasury under President
George Washington. Anyone who has not studied how the methods
developed by Hamilton and others, were key to the nation's
success, should consider himself completely ignorant on

Hamilton exposes how a central flaw in the feudal system was
the lack of a strong central government. Hamilton, who had warned
of the danger of the America being recolonized, accurately
described the situation of the world before the founding of the
nation state. The sovereign ruled over vassals, who in turn,
ruled over other vassals. "The consequences of this situation
were a continual opposition to authority of the sovereign, and
frequent wars between the great barons or chief feudatories
themselves. The power of the head of the nation was commonly too
weak, either to preserve the public peace, or to protect the
people against the oppressions of their immediate lords. This
period of European affairs is emphatically styled by historians,
the times of feudal anarchy." The defeat of feudalism, then, and
the defeat of those who are promoting a feudalist "One World
Order," today, requires a power which must necessarily be
embodied in a strong executive branch of government.

Energy in the Executive

Hamilton stated that, although some say that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government, "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy."

"Thus far the ends of public happiness will be promoted by supplying the wants of government, and all beyond this is unworthy of our care or anxiety. How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfill the purposes of its institution, can provide for the security, advance the prosperity, or support the reputation of the commonwealth? How can it ever possess either energy or stability, dignity or credit, confidence at home or respectability abroad? How can its administration be anything else than a succession of expedients temporizing, impotent, disgraceful? How will it be able to avoid a frequent sacrifice of its engagements to immediate necessity? How can it undertake or execute any liberal or enlarged plans of public good?"

Alexander Hamilton was heavily influenced by the Swiss legal theorist, Emmerich de Vattel. Recognition of this is crucial to comprehending that the founding of the United States of America was shaped by the outlook of Leibniz and not John Locke, as is almost universally taught today.

For an article on Vattel, and the section on Vattel's influence on Hamilton, go to:

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