The Same Subject Continued
(The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union)
For the Independent Journal.
Saturday, December 8, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

THE examples of ancient confederacies, cited in my last paper, have not
exhausted the source of experimental instruction on this subject. There
are existing institutions, founded on a similar principle, which merit
particular consideration. The first which presents itself is the
Germanic body.

In the early ages of Christianity, Germany was occupied by seven
distinct nations, who had no common chief. The Franks, one of the
number, having conquered the Gauls, established the kingdom which has
taken its name from them. In the ninth century Charlemagne, its warlike
monarch, carried his victorious arms in every direction; and Germany
became a part of his vast dominions. On the dismemberment, which took
place under his sons, this part was erected into a separate and
independent empire. Charlemagne and his immediate descendants possessed
the reality, as well as the ensigns and dignity of imperial power. But
the principal vassals, whose fiefs had become hereditary, and who
composed the national diets which Charlemagne had not abolished,
gradually threw off the yoke and advanced to sovereign jurisdiction and
independence. The force of imperial sovereignty was insufficient to
restrain such powerful dependants; or to preserve the unity and
tranquillity of the empire. The most furious private wars, accompanied
with every species of calamity, were carried on between the different
princes and states. The imperial authority, unable to maintain the
public order, declined by degrees till it was almost extinct in the
anarchy, which agitated the long interval between the death of the last
emperor of the Suabian, and the accession of the first emperor of the
Austrian lines. In the eleventh century the emperors enjoyed full
sovereignty: In the fifteenth they had little more than the symbols and
decorations of power.

Out of this feudal system, which has itself many of the important
features of a confederacy, has grown the federal system which
constitutes the Germanic empire. Its powers are vested in a diet
representing the component members of the confederacy; in the emperor,
who is the executive magistrate, with a negative on the decrees of the
diet; and in the imperial chamber and the aulic council, two judiciary
tribunals having supreme jurisdiction in controversies which concern the
empire, or which happen among its members.

The diet possesses the general power of legislating for the empire; of
making war and peace; contracting alliances; assessing quotas of troops
and money; constructing fortresses; regulating coin; admitting new
members; and subjecting disobedient members to the ban of the empire, by
which the party is degraded from his sovereign rights and his
possessions forfeited. The members of the confederacy are expressly
restricted from entering into compacts prejudicial to the empire; from
imposing tolls and duties on their mutual intercourse, without the
consent of the emperor and diet; from altering the value of money; from
doing injustice to one another; or from affording assistance or retreat
to disturbers of the public peace. And the ban is denounced against such
as shall violate any of these restrictions. The members of the diet, as
such, are subject in all cases to be judged by the emperor and diet, and
in their private capacities by the aulic council and imperial chamber.

The prerogatives of the emperor are numerous. The most important of them
are: his exclusive right to make propositions to the diet; to negative
its resolutions; to name ambassadors; to confer dignities and titles; to
fill vacant electorates; to found universities; to grant privileges not
injurious to the states of the empire; to receive and apply the public
revenues; and generally to watch over the public safety. In certain
cases, the electors form a council to him. In quality of emperor, he
possesses no territory within the empire, nor receives any revenue for
his support. But his revenue and dominions, in other qualities,
constitute him one of the most powerful princes in Europe.

From such a parade of constitutional powers, in the representatives and
head of this confederacy, the natural supposition would be, that it must
form an exception to the general character which belongs to its kindred
systems. Nothing would be further from the reality. The fundamental
principle on which it rests, that the empire is a community of
sovereigns, that the diet is a representation of sovereigns and that the
laws are addressed to sovereigns, renders the empire a nerveless body,
incapable of regulating its own members, insecure against external
dangers, and agitated with unceasing fermentations in its own bowels.

The history of Germany is a history of wars between the emperor and the
princes and states; of wars among the princes and states themselves; of
the licentiousness of the strong, and the oppression of the weak; of
foreign intrusions, and foreign intrigues; of requisitions of men and
money disregarded, or partially complied with; of attempts to enforce
them, altogether abortive, or attended with slaughter and desolation,
involving the innocent with the guilty; of general inbecility,
confusion, and misery.

In the sixteenth century, the emperor, with one part of the empire on
his side, was seen engaged against the other princes and states. In one
of the conflicts, the emperor himself was put to flight, and very near
being made prisoner by the elector of Saxony. The late king of Prussia
was more than once pitted against his imperial sovereign; and commonly
proved an overmatch for him. Controversies and wars among the members
themselves have been so common, that the German annals are crowded with
the bloody pages which describe them. Previous to the peace of
Westphalia, Germany was desolated by a war of thirty years, in which the
emperor, with one half of the empire, was on one side, and Sweden, with
the other half, on the opposite side. Peace was at length negotiated,
and dictated by foreign powers; and the articles of it, to which foreign
powers are parties, made a fundamental part of the Germanic

If the nation happens, on any emergency, to be more united by the
necessity of self-defense, its situation is still deplorable. Military
preparations must be preceded by so many tedious discussions, arising
from the jealousies, pride, separate views, and clashing pretensions of
sovereign bodies, that before the diet can settle the arrangements, the
enemy are in the field; and before the federal troops are ready to take
it, are retiring into winter quarters.

The small body of national troops, which has been judged necessary in
time of peace, is defectively kept up, badly paid, infected with local
prejudices, and supported by irregular and disproportionate
contributions to the treasury.

The impossibility of maintaining order and dispensing justice among
these sovereign subjects, produced the experiment of dividing the empire
into nine or ten circles or districts; of giving them an interior
organization, and of charging them with the military execution of the
laws against delinquent and contumacious members. This experiment has
only served to demonstrate more fully the radical vice of the
constitution. Each circle is the miniature picture of the deformities of
this political monster. They either fail to execute their commissions,
or they do it with all the devastation and carnage of civil war.
Sometimes whole circles are defaulters; and then they increase the
mischief which they were instituted to remedy.

We may form some judgment of this scheme of military coercion from a
sample given by Thuanus. In Donawerth, a free and imperial city of the
circle of Suabia, the Abbe de St. Croix enjoyed certain immunities which
had been reserved to him. In the exercise of these, on some public
occasions, outrages were committed on him by the people of the city. The
consequence was that the city was put under the ban of the empire, and
the Duke of Bavaria, though director of another circle, obtained an
appointment to enforce it. He soon appeared before the city with a corps
of ten thousand troops, and finding it a fit occasion, as he had
secretly intended from the beginning, to revive an antiquated claim, on
the pretext that his ancestors had suffered the place to be dismembered
from his territory,[1] he took possession of it in his own name,
disarmed, and punished the inhabitants, and reannexed the city to his

It may be asked, perhaps, what has so long kept this disjointed machine
from falling entirely to pieces? The answer is obvious: The weakness of
most of the members, who are unwilling to expose themselves to the mercy
of foreign powers; the weakness of most of the principal members,
compared with the formidable powers all around them; the vast weight and
influence which the emperor derives from his separate and heriditary
dominions; and the interest he feels in preserving a system with which
his family pride is connected, and which constitutes him the first
prince in Europe; -- these causes support a feeble and precarious Union;
whilst the repellant quality, incident to the nature of sovereignty, and
which time continually strengthens, prevents any reform whatever,
founded on a proper consolidation. Nor is it to be imagined, if this
obstacle could be surmounted, that the neighboring powers would suffer a
revolution to take place which would give to the empire the force and
preeminence to which it is entitled. Foreign nations have long
considered themselves as interested in the changes made by events in
this constitution; and have, on various occasions, betrayed their policy
of perpetuating its anarchy and weakness.

If more direct examples were wanting, Poland, as a government over local
sovereigns, might not improperly be taken notice of. Nor could any proof
more striking be given of the calamities flowing from such institutions.
Equally unfit for self-government and self-defense, it has long been at
the mercy of its powerful neighbors; who have lately had the mercy to
disburden it of one third of its people and territories.

The connection among the Swiss cantons scarcely amounts to a
confederacy; though it is sometimes cited as an instance of the
stability of such institutions.

They have no common treasury; no common troops even in war; no common
coin; no common judicatory; nor any other common mark of sovereignty.

They are kept together by the peculiarity of their topographical
position; by their individual weakness and insignificancy; by the fear
of powerful neighbors, to one of which they were formerly subject; by
the few sources of contention among a people of such simple and
homogeneous manners; by their joint interest in their dependent
possessions; by the mutual aid they stand in need of, for suppressing
insurrections and rebellions, an aid expressly stipulated and often
required and afforded; and by the necessity of some regular and
permanent provision for accomodating disputes among the cantons. The
provision is, that the parties at variance shall each choose four judges
out of the neutral cantons, who, in case of disagreement, choose an
umpire. This tribunal, under an oath of impartiality, pronounces
definitive sentence, which all the cantons are bound to enforce. The
competency of this regulation may be estimated by a clause in their
treaty of 1683, with Victor Amadeus of Savoy; in which he obliges
himself to interpose as mediator in disputes between the cantons, and to
employ force, if necessary, against the contumacious party.

So far as the peculiarity of their case will admit of comparison with
that of the United States, it serves to confirm the principle intended
to be established. Whatever efficacy the union may have had in ordinary
cases, it appears that the moment a cause of difference sprang up,
capable of trying its strength, it failed. The controversies on the
subject of religion, which in three instances have kindled violent and
bloody contests, may be said, in fact, to have severed the league. The
Protestant and Catholic cantons have since had their separate diets,
where all the most important concerns are adjusted, and which have left
the general diet little other business than to take care of the common

That separation had another consequence, which merits attention. It
produced opposite alliances with foreign powers: of Berne, at the head
of the Protestant association, with the United Provinces; and of
Luzerne, at the head of the Catholic association, with France.


1. Pfeffel, "Nouvel Abr�. Chronol. de l'Hist., etc., d'Allemagne," says
the pretext was to indemnify himself for the expense of the expedition.