The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles
For the Independent Journal.
Wednesday, January 16, 1788


To the People of the State of New York:

THE last paper having concluded the observations which were meant to
introduce a candid survey of the plan of government reported by the
convention, we now proceed to the execution of that part of our

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 would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of
America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that
honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest
all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for
self-government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to
depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as
no longer defensible.

What, then, are the distinctive characters of the republican form? Were
an answer to this question to be sought, not by recurring to principles,
but in the application of the term by political writers, to the
constitution of different States, no satisfactory one would ever be
found. Holland, in which no particle of the supreme authority is derived
from the people, has passed almost universally under the denomination of
a republic. 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. Poland, which is
a mixture of aristocracy and of monarchy in their worst forms, has been
dignified with the same appellation. The government of England, which
has one republican branch only, combined with an hereditary aristocracy
and monarchy, has, with equal impropriety, been frequently placed on the
list of republics. These examples, which are nearly as dissimilar to
each other as to a genuine republic, show the extreme inaccuracy with
which the term has been used in political disquisitions.

If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which
different forms of government are established, we may define a republic
to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives
all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people,
and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure,
for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a
government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not
from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a
handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a
delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and
claim for their government the honorable title of republic. It is
SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be
appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people; and that they
hold their appointments by either of the tenures just specified;
otherwise every government in the United States, as well as every other
popular government that has been or can be well organized or well
executed, would be degraded from the republican character. According to
the constitution of every State in the Union, some or other of the
officers of government are appointed indirectly only by the people.
According to most of them, the chief magistrate himself is so appointed.
And according to one, this mode of appointment is extended to one of the
co-ordinate branches of the legislature. According to all the
constitutions, also, the tenure of the highest offices is extended to a
definite period, and in many instances, both within the legislative and
executive departments, to a period of years. According to the provisions
of most of the constitutions, again, as well as according to the most
respectable and received opinions on the subject, the members of the
judiciary department are to retain their offices by the firm tenure of
good behavior.

On comparing the Constitution planned by the convention with the
standard here fixed, we perceive at once that it is, in the most rigid
sense, conformable to it. The House of Representatives, like that of one
branch at least of all the State legislatures, is elected immediately by
the great body of the people. The Senate, like the present Congress, and
the Senate of Maryland, derives its appointment indirectly from the
people. The President is indirectly derived from the choice of the
people, according to the example in most of the States. Even the judges,
with all other officers of the Union, will, as in the several States, be
the choice, though a remote choice, of the people themselves, the
duration of the appointments is equally conformable to the republican
standard, and to the model of State constitutions The House of
Representatives is periodically elective, as in all the States; and for
the period of two years, as in the State of South Carolina. The Senate
is elective, for the period of six years; which is but one year more
than the period of the Senate of Maryland, and but two more than that of
the Senates of New York and Virginia. The President is to continue in
office for the period of four years; as in New York and Delaware, the
chief magistrate is elected for three years, and in South Carolina for
two years. In the other States the election is annual. In several of the
States, however, no constitutional provision is made for the impeachment
of the chief magistrate. And in Delaware and Virginia he is not
impeachable till out of office. The President of the United States is
impeachable at any time during his continuance in office. The tenure by
which the judges are to hold their places, is, as it unquestionably
ought to be, that of good behavior. The tenure of the ministerial
offices generally, will be a subject of legal regulation, conformably to
the reason of the case and the example of the State constitutions.

Could any further proof be required of the republican complexion of this
system, the most decisive one might be found in its absolute prohibition
of titles of nobility, both under the federal and the State governments;
and in its express guaranty of the republican form to each of the

"But it was not sufficient," say the adversaries of the proposed
Constitution, "for the convention to adhere to the republican form. They
ought, with equal care, to have preserved the FEDERAL form, which
regards the Union as a CONFEDERACY of sovereign states; instead of
which, they have framed a NATIONAL government, which regards the Union as a CONSOLIDATION of the States." And it is asked by what authority this bold and radical innovation was undertaken? The handle which has been made of this objection requires that it should be examined with
some precision.

Without inquiring into the accuracy of the distinction on which the
objection is founded, it will be necessary to a just estimate of its
force, first, to ascertain the real character of the government in
question; secondly, to inquire how far the convention were authorized to
propose such a government; and thirdly, how far the duty they owed to
their country could supply any defect of regular authority.

First. In order to ascertain the real character of the government, it
may be considered in relation to the foundation on which it is to be
established; to the sources from which its ordinary powers are to be
drawn; to the operation of those powers; to the extent of them; and to
the authority by which future changes in the government are to be

On examining the first relation, it appears, on one hand, that the
Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the
people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose;
but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by
the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as
composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively
belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States,
derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the
people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution,
will not be a NATIONAL, but a FEDERAL act.

That it will be a federal and not a national act, as these terms are
understood by the objectors; the act of the people, as forming so many
independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from
this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the
decision of a MAJORITY of the people of the Union, nor from that of a
MAJORITY of the States. It must result from the UNANIMOUS assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their
ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative
authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people
regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the
majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the
minority, in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the
minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a
comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the
majority of the States as evidence of the will of a majority of the
people of the United States. Neither of these rules have been adopted.
Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign
body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own
voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if
established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.

The next relation is, to the sources from which the ordinary powers of
government are to be derived. The House of Representatives will derive
its powers from the people of America; and the people will be
represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they
are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is
NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its
powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these
will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they
now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not
NATIONAL. The executive power will be derived from a very compound
source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the
States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in
a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal
societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual
election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which
consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act
they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so
many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the
government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as
many FEDERAL as NATIONAL features.

The difference between a federal and national government, as it relates
to the OPERATION OF THE GOVERNMENT, is supposed to consist in this, that in the former the powers operate on the political bodies composing the Confederacy, in their political capacities; in the latter, on the
individual citizens composing the nation, in their individual
capacities. On trying the Constitution by this criterion, it falls under
the NATIONAL, not the FEDERAL character; though perhaps not so
completely as has been understood. In several cases, and particularly in
the trial of controversies to which States may be parties, they must be
viewed and proceeded against in their collective and political
capacities only. So far the national countenance of the government on
this side seems to be disfigured by a few federal features. But this
blemish is perhaps unavoidable in any plan; and the operation of the
government on the people, in their individual capacities, in its
ordinary and most essential proceedings, may, on the whole, designate
it, in this relation, a NATIONAL government.

But if the government be national with regard to the OPERATION of its
powers, it changes its aspect again when we contemplate it in relation
to the EXTENT of its powers. The idea of a national government involves
in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an
indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are
objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one
nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature.
Among communities united for particular purposes, it is vested partly in
the general and partly in the municipal legislatures. In the former
case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be
controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the latter, the
local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of
the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the
general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within
its own sphere. In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot
be deemed a NATIONAL one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain
enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary
and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects. It is true that in
controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions,
the tribunal which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under
the general government. But this does not change the principle of the
case. The decision is to be impartially made, according to the rules of
the Constitution; and all the usual and most effectual precautions are
taken to secure this impartiality. Some such tribunal is clearly
essential to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the
compact; and that it ought to be established under the general rather
than under the local governments, or, to speak more properly, that it
could be safely established under the first alone, is a position not
likely to be combated.

If we try the Constitution by its last relation to the authority by
which amendments are to be made, we find it neither wholly NATIONAL nor wholly FEDERAL. Were it wholly national, the supreme and ultimate
authority would reside in the MAJORITY of the people of the Union; and
this authority would be competent at all times, like that of a majority
of every national society, to alter or abolish its established
government. Were it wholly federal, on the other hand, the concurrence
of each State in the Union would be essential to every alteration that
would be binding on all. The mode provided by the plan of the convention
is not founded on either of these principles. In requiring more than a majority, and particularly in computing the proportion by STATES, not by CITIZENS, it departs from the NATIONAL and advances towards the FEDERAL character; in rendering the concurrence of less than the whole number of States sufficient, it loses again the FEDERAL and partakes of the NATIONAL character.

The proposed Constitution, therefore, [even when tested by the rules laid
down by its antagonists,][1] is, in strictness, neither a national nor a
federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is
federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the
government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the
operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of
them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative
mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly



1. This phrase appears in the Rossiter edition, but not in the Cooke