Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory
From the New York Packet.
Friday, November 30, 1787.


To the People of the State of New York:

WE HAVE seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign
danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of
our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for
those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the
Old World, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which
have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming
symptoms have been betrayed by our own. All that remains, within this
branch of our inquiries, is to take notice of an objection that may be
drawn from the great extent of country which the Union embraces. A few
observations on this subject will be the more proper, as it is perceived
that the adversaries of the new Constitution are availing themselves of
the prevailing prejudice with regard to the practicable sphere of
republican administration, in order to supply, by imaginary
difficulties, the want of those solid objections which they endeavor in
vain to find.

The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has
been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that
it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a
republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from
the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was
also adverted to on a former occasion. It is, that in a democracy, the
people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they
assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A
democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic
may be extended over a large region.

To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of some
celebrated authors, whose writings have had a great share in forming the
modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an
absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the
advantages, or palliate the evils of those forms, by placing in
comparison the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as
specimens of the latter the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and
modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to
transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only; and
among others, the observation that it can never be established but among
a small number of people, living within a small compass of territory.

Such a fallacy may have been the less perceived, as most of the popular
governments of antiquity were of the democratic species; and even in
modern Europe, to which we owe the great principle of representation, no
example is seen of a government wholly popular, and founded, at the same
time, wholly on that principle. If Europe has the merit of discovering
this great mechanical power in government, by the simple agency of which
the will of the largest political body may be concentred, and its force
directed to any object which the public good requires, America can claim
the merit of making the discovery the basis of unmixed and extensive
republics. It is only to be lamented that any of her citizens should
wish to deprive her of the additional merit of displaying its full
efficacy in the establishment of the comprehensive system now under her

As the natural limit of a democracy is that distance from the central
point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as
often as their public functions demand, and will include no greater
number than can join in those functions; so the natural limit of a
republic is that distance from the centre which will barely allow the
representatives to meet as often as may be necessary for the
administration of public affairs. Can it be said that the limits of the
United States exceed this distance? It will not be said by those who
recollect that the Atlantic coast is the longest side of the Union, that
during the term of thirteen years, the representatives of the States
have been almost continually assembled, and that the members from the
most distant States are not chargeable with greater intermissions of
attendance than those from the States in the neighborhood of Congress.

That we may form a juster estimate with regard to this interesting
subject, let us resort to the actual dimensions of the Union. The
limits, as fixed by the treaty of peace, are: on the east the Atlantic,
on the south the latitude of thirty-one degrees, on the west the
Mississippi, and on the north an irregular line running in some
instances beyond the forty-fifth degree, in others falling as low as the
forty-second. The southern shore of Lake Erie lies below that latitude.
Computing the distance between the thirty-first and forty-fifth degrees,
it amounts to nine hundred and seventy-three common miles; computing it
from thirty-one to forty-two degrees, to seven hundred and sixty-four
miles and a half. Taking the mean for the distance, the amount will be
eight hundred and sixty-eight miles and three-fourths. The mean distance
from the Atlantic to the Mississippi does not probably exceed seven
hundred and fifty miles. On a comparison of this extent with that of
several countries in Europe, the practicability of rendering our system
commensurate to it appears to be demonstrable. It is not a great deal
larger than Germany, where a diet representing the whole empire is
continually assembled; or than Poland before the late dismemberment,
where another national diet was the depositary of the supreme power.
Passing by France and Spain, we find that in Great Britain, inferior as
it may be in size, the representatives of the northern extremity of the
island have as far to travel to the national council as will be required
of those of the most remote parts of the Union.

Favorable as this view of the subject may be, some observations remain
which will place it in a light still more satisfactory.

In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is
not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws.
Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern
all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the
separate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can
extend their care to all those other subjects which can be separately
provided for, will retain their due authority and activity. Were it
proposed by the plan of the convention to abolish the governments of the
particular States, its adversaries would have some ground for their
objection; though it would not be difficult to show that if they were
abolished the general government would be compelled, by the principle of
self-preservation, to reinstate them in their proper jurisdiction.

A second observation to be made is that the immediate object of the
federal Constitution is to secure the union of the thirteen primitive
States, which we know to be practicable; and to add to them such other
States as may arise in their own bosoms, or in their neighborhoods,
which we cannot doubt to be equally practicable. The arrangements that
may be necessary for those angles and fractions of our territory which
lie on our northwestern frontier, must be left to those whom further
discoveries and experience will render more equal to the task.

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 travelers
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 so little difficult to connect and complete.

A fourth and still more important consideration is, that as almost every
State will, on one side or other, be a frontier, and will thus find, in
regard to its safety, an inducement to make some sacrifices for the sake
of the general protection; so the States which lie at the greatest
distance from the heart of the Union, and which, of course, may partake
least of the ordinary circulation of its benefits, will be at the same
time immediately contiguous to foreign nations, and will consequently
stand, on particular occasions, in greatest need of its strength and
resources. It may be inconvenient for Georgia, or the States forming our
western or northeastern borders, to send their representatives to the
seat of government; but they would find it more so to struggle alone
against an invading enemy, or even to support alone the whole expense of
those precautions which may be dictated by the neighborhood of continual
danger. If they should derive less benefit, therefore, from the Union in
some respects than the less distant States, they will derive greater
benefit from it in other respects, and thus the proper equilibrium will
be maintained throughout.

I submit to you, my fellow-citizens, these considerations, in full
confidence that the good sense which has so often marked your decisions
will allow them their due weight and effect; and that you will never
suffer difficulties, however formidable in appearance, or however
fashionable the error on which they may be founded, to drive you into
the gloomy and perilous scene into which the advocates for disunion
would conduct you. Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you
that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords
of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family;
can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness;
can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable, and
flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you
that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty
in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the
theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is
impossible to accomplish. No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this
unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it
conveys; the kindred blood which flows in the veins of American
citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their
sacred rights, consecrate their Union, and excite horror at the idea of
their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies. And if novelties are to be
shunned, believe me, the most alarming of all novelties, the most wild
of all projects, the most rash of all attempts, is that of rendering us
in pieces, in order to preserve our liberties and promote our happiness.
But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected, merely
because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people
of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions
of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind
veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the
suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own
situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly
spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for
the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American
theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness. Had no
important step been taken by the leaders of the Revolution for which a
precedent could not be discovered, no government established of which an
exact model did not present itself, the people of the United States
might, at this moment have been numbered among the melancholy victims of
misguided councils, must at best have been laboring under the weight of
some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of
mankind. Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human
race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a
revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They
reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the
globe. They formed the design of a great Confederacy, which it is
incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate. If their works
betray imperfections, we wonder at the fewness of them. If they erred
most in the structure of the Union, this was the work most difficult to
be executed; this is the work which has been new modelled by the act of
your convention, and it is that act on which you are now to deliberate
and to decide.