The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State
Governments Considered
For the Independent Fournal.
Saturday, January 26, 1788


To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING shown that no one of the powers transferred to the federal
government is unnecessary or improper, the next question to be
considered is, whether the whole mass of them will be dangerous to the
portion of authority left in the several States.

The adversaries to the plan of the convention, instead of considering in
the first place what degree of power was absolutely necessary for the
purposes of the federal government, have exhausted themselves in a
secondary inquiry into the possible consequences of the proposed degree
of power to the governments of the particular States. But if the Union,
as has been shown, be essential to the security of the people of America
against foreign danger; if it be essential to their security against
contentions and wars among the different States; if it be essential to
guard them against those violent and oppressive factions which embitter
the blessings of liberty, and against those military establishments
which must gradually poison its very fountain; if, in a word, the Union
be essential to the happiness of the people of America, is it not
preposterous, to urge as an objection to a government, without which the
objects of the Union cannot be attained, that such a government may
derogate from the importance of the governments of the individual
States? Was, then, the American Revolution effected, was the American
Confederacy formed, was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the
hard-earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of
America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the government
of the individual States, that particular municipal establishments,
might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain
dignities and attributes of sovereignty? We have heard of the impious
doctrine in the Old World, that the people were made for kings, not
kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the New, in
another shape that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed
to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too
early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good,
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 object. Were
the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice
would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the
public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union. In like manner, as far
as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness
of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former
be sacrificed to the latter. How far the sacrifice is necessary, has
been shown. How far the unsacrificed residue will be endangered, is the
question before us.

Several important considerations have been touched in the course of
these papers, which discountenance the supposition that the operation of
the federal government will by degrees prove fatal to the State
governments. The more I revolve the subject, the more fully I am
persuaded that the balance is much more likely to be disturbed by the
preponderancy of the last than of the first scale.

We have seen, in all the examples of ancient and modern confederacies,
the strongest tendency continually betraying itself in the members, to
despoil the general government of its authorities, with a very
ineffectual capacity in the latter to defend itself against the
encroachments. Although, in most of these examples, the system has been
so dissimilar from that under consideration as greatly to weaken any
inference concerning the latter from the fate of the former, yet, as the
States will retain, under the proposed Constitution, a very extensive
portion of active sovereignty, the inference ought not to be wholly
disregarded. In the Achaean league it is probable that the federal head
had a degree and species of power, which gave it a considerable likeness
to the government framed by the convention. The Lycian Confederacy, as
far as its principles and form are transmitted, must have borne a still
greater analogy to it. Yet history does not inform us that either of
them ever degenerated, or tended to degenerate, into one consolidated
government. On the contrary, we know that the ruin of one of them
proceeded from the incapacity of the federal authority to prevent the
dissensions, and finally the disunion, of the subordinate authorities.
These cases are the more worthy of our attention, as the external causes
by which the component parts were pressed together were much more
numerous and powerful than in our case; and consequently less powerful
ligaments within would be sufficient to bind the members to the head,
and to each other.

In the feudal system, we have seen a similar propensity exemplified.
Notwithstanding the want of proper sympathy in every instance between
the local sovereigns and the people, and the sympathy in some instances
between the general sovereign and the latter, it usually happened that
the local sovereigns prevailed in the rivalship for encroachments. Had
no external dangers enforced internal harmony and subordination, and
particularly, had the local sovereigns possessed the affections of the
people, the great kingdoms in Europe would at this time consist of as
many independent princes as there were formerly feudatory barons.

The State governments will have the advantage of the Federal government,
whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the
one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side
will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the
predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and
faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other.

The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts
of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the
operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the
State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected
at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment,
and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate
will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures.
Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the
people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of
men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election
into the State legislatures. Thus, each of the principal branches of the
federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of
the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is
much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too
overbearing towards them. On the other side, the component parts of the
State governments will in no instance be indebted for their appointment
to the direct agency of the federal government, and very little, if at
all, to the local influence of its members.

The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United
States will be much smaller than the number employed under the
particular States. There will consequently be less of personal influence
on the side of the former than of the latter. The members of the
legislative, executive, and judiciary departments of thirteen and more
States, the justices of peace, officers of militia, ministerial officers
of justice, with all the county, corporation, and town officers, for
three millions and more of people, intermixed, and having particular
acquaintance with every class and circle of people, must exceed, beyond
all proportion, both in number and influence, those of every description
who will be employed in the administration of the federal system.
Compare the members of the three great departments of the thirteen
States, excluding from the judiciary department the justices of peace,
with the members of the corresponding departments of the single
government of the Union; compare the militia officers of three millions
of people with the military and marine officers of any establishment
which is within the compass of probability, or, I may add, of
possibility, and in this view alone, we may pronounce the advantage of
the States to be decisive. If the federal government is to have
collectors of revenue, the State governments will have theirs also. And
as those of the former will be principally on the seacoast, and not very
numerous, whilst those of the latter will be spread over the face of the
country, and will be very numerous, the advantage in this view also lies
on the same side. It is true, that the Confederacy is to possess, and
may exercise, the power of collecting internal as well as external taxes
throughout the States; but it is probable that this power will not be
resorted to, except for supplemental purposes of revenue; that an option
will then be given to the States to supply their quotas by previous
collections of their own; and that the eventual collection, under the
immediate authority of the Union, will generally be made by the
officers, and according to the rules, appointed by the several States.
Indeed it is extremely probable, that in other instances, particularly
in the organization of the judicial power, the officers of the States
will be clothed with the correspondent authority of the Union. Should it
happen, however, that separate collectors of internal revenue should be
appointed under the federal government, the influence of the whole
number would not bear a comparison with that of the multitude of State
officers in the opposite scale. Within every district to which a federal
collector would be allotted, there would not be less than thirty or
forty, or even more, officers of different descriptions, and many of
them persons of character and weight, whose influence would lie on the
side of the State.

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal
government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State
governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised
principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign
commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part,
be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to
all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the
lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order,
improvement, and prosperity of the State.

The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and
important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in
times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a
small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy
another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate,
indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the
less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their
ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.

If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy and candor, it will be
found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the
addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its
ORIGINAL POWERS. The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace,
armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more
considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the
articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these
powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them.
The change relating to taxation may be regarded as the most important;
and yet the present Congress have as complete authority to REQUIRE of
the States indefinite supplies of money for the common defense and
general welfare, as the future Congress will have to require them of
individual citizens; and the latter will be no more bound than the
States themselves have been, to pay the quotas respectively taxed on
them. Had the States complied punctually with the articles of
Confederation, or could their compliance have been enforced by as
peaceable means as may be used with success towards single persons, our
past experience is very far from countenancing an opinion, that the
State governments would have lost their constitutional powers, and have
gradually undergone an entire consolidation. To maintain that such an
event would have ensued, would be to say at once, that the existence of
the State governments is incompatible with any system whatever that
accomplishes the essental purposes of the Union.