The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, January 29, 1788.


To the People of the State of New York:

RESUMING the subject of the last paper, I proceed to inquire whether the
federal government or the State governments will have the advantage with
regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding
the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both
of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of
the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first,
reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and State
governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people,
constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.
The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the
people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and to have
viewed these different establishments, not only as mutual rivals and
enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to
usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be
reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority,
wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and
that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of
the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be
able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other.
Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case
should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their
common constituents.

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem
to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of
the people will be to the governments of their respective States. Into
the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect
to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and
emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more
domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and
provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more
familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will
a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal
acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the
side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most
strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal
administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what
may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and
particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in
credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any
future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of
measures which had for their object the protection of everything that
was dear, and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to
the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the
transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the
attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own
particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol
of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its
powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished
to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their

If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in
future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments,
the change can only result from such manifest and irresistible proofs of
a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedent
propensities. And in that case, the people ought not surely to be
precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover
it to be most due; but even in that case the State governments could
have little to apprehend, because it is only within a certain sphere
that the federal power can, in the nature of things, be advantageously

The remaining points on which I propose to compare the federal and State
governments, are the disposition and the faculty they may respectively
possess, to resist and frustrate the measures of each other.

It has been already proved that the members of the federal will be more
dependent on the members of the State governments, than the latter will
be on the former. It has appeared also, that the prepossessions of the
people, on whom both will depend, will be more on the side of the State
governments, than of the federal government. So far as the disposition
of each towards the other may be influenced by these causes, the State
governments must clearly have the advantage. But in a distinct and very
important point of view, the advantage will lie on the same side. The
prepossessions, which the members themselves will carry into the federal
government, will generally be favorable to the States; whilst it will
rarely happen, that the members of the State governments will carry into
the public councils a bias in favor of the general government. A local
spirit will infallibly prevail much more in the members of Congress,
than a national spirit will prevail in the legislatures of the
particular States. Every one knows that a great proportion of the errors
committed by the State legislatures proceeds from the disposition of the
members to sacrifice the comprehensive and permanent interest of the
State, to the particular and separate views of the counties or districts
in which they reside. And if they do not sufficiently enlarge their
policy to embrace the collective welfare of their particular State, how
can it be imagined that they will make the aggregate prosperity of the
Union, and the dignity and respectability of its government, the objects
of their affections and consultations? For the same reason that the
members of the State legislatures will be unlikely to attach themselves
sufficiently to national objects, the members of the federal legislature
will be likely to attach themselves too much to local objects. The
States will be to the latter what counties and towns are to the former.
Measures will too often be decided according to their probable effect,
not on the national prosperity and happiness, but on the prejudices,
interests, and pursuits of the governments and people of the individual
States. What is the spirit that has in general characterized the
proceedings of Congress? A perusal of their journals, as well as the
candid acknowledgments of such as have had a seat in that assembly, will
inform us, that the members have but too frequently displayed the
character, rather of partisans of their respective States, than of
impartial guardians of a common interest; that where on one occasion
improper sacrifices have been made of local considerations, to the
aggrandizement of the federal government, the great interests of the
nation have suffered on a hundred, from an undue attention to the local
prejudices, interests, and views of the particular States. I mean not by
these reflections to insinuate, that the new federal government will not
embrace a more enlarged plan of policy than the existing government may
have pursued; much less, that its views will be as confined as those of
the State legislatures; but only that it will partake sufficiently of
the spirit of both, to be disinclined to invade the rights of the
individual States, or the preorgatives of their governments. The motives
on the part of the State governments, to augment their prerogatives by
defalcations from the federal government, will be overruled by no
reciprocal predispositions in the members.

Were it admitted, however, that the Federal government may feel an equal
disposition with the State governments to extend its power beyond the
due limits, the latter would still have the advantage in the means of
defeating such encroachments. If an act of a particular State, though
unfriendly to the national government, be generally popular in that
State and should not too grossly violate the oaths of the State
officers, it is executed immediately and, of course, by means on the
spot and depending on the State alone. The opposition of the federal
government, or the interposition of federal officers, would but inflame
the zeal of all parties on the side of the State, and the evil could not
be prevented or repaired, if at all, without the employment of means
which must always be resorted to with reluctance and difficulty. On the
other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be
unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case,
or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case,
the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude
of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with
the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the
State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would
often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State,
difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very
serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining
States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the
federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority
of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single
State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm.
Every government would espouse the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would
animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in short, would
result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread
of a foreign, yoke; and unless the projected innovations should be
voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made
in the one case as was made in the other. But what degree of madness
could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity. In the
contest with Great Britain, one part of the empire was employed against
the other. The more numerous part invaded the rights of the less
numerous part. The attempt was unjust and unwise; but it was not in
speculation absolutely chimerical. But what would be the contest in the
case we are supposing? Who would be the parties? A few representatives
of the people would be opposed to the people themselves; or rather one
set of representatives would be contending against thirteen sets of
representatives, with the whole body of their common constituents on the
side of the latter.

The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State
governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may
previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The
reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little
purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of
this danger. That the people and the States should, for a sufficient
period of time, elect an uninterupted succession of men ready to betray
both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and
systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military
establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should
silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to
supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own
heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a
delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit
zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism.
Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular
army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it
be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would
not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people
on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to
which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried
in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number
of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This
proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than
twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia
amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands,
officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common
liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their
affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia
thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of
regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful
resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most
inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being
armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other
nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people
are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a
barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than
any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding
the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are
carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are
afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with
this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were
the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments
chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the
national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these
governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be
affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny
in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which
surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America
with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of
which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of
arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their
oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition
that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the
experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of
insidious measures which must precede and produce it.

The argument under the present head may be put into a very concise form,
which appears altogether conclusive. Either the mode in which the
federal government is to be constructed will render it sufficiently
dependent on the people, or it will not. On the first supposition, it
will be restrained by that dependence from forming schemes obnoxious to
their constituents. On the other supposition, it will not possess the
confidence of the people, and its schemes of usurpation will be easily
defeated by the State governments, who will be supported by the people.

On summing up the considerations stated in this and the last paper, they
seem to amount to the most convincing evidence, that the powers proposed
to be lodged in the federal government are as little formidable to those
reserved to the individual States, as they are indispensably necessary
to accomplish the purposes of the Union; and that all those alarms which
have been sounded, of a meditated and consequential annihilation of the
State governments, must, on the most favorable interpretation, be
ascribed to the chimerical fears of the authors of them.