The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection
For the Independent Journal.
Wednesday, November 21, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of
the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It
is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and
Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the
distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid
succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of
perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. If they
exhibit occasional calms, these only serve as short-lived contrast to
the furious storms that are to succeed. If now and then intervals of
felicity open to view, we behold them with a mixture of regret, arising
from the reflection that the pleasing scenes before us are soon to be
overwhelmed by the tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage. If
momentary rays of glory break forth from the gloom, while they dazzle us
with a transient and fleeting brilliancy, they at the same time admonish
us to lament that the vices of government should pervert the direction
and tarnish the lustre of those bright talents and exalted endowments
for which the favored soils that produced them have been so justly

From the disorders that disfigure the annals of those republics the
advocates of despotism have drawn arguments, not only against the forms
of republican government, but against the very principles of civil
liberty. They have decried all free government as inconsistent with the
order of society, and have indulged themselves in malicious exultation
over its friends and partisans. Happily for mankind, stupendous fabrics
reared on the basis of liberty, which have flourished for ages, have, in
a few glorious instances, refuted their gloomy sophisms. And, I trust,
America will be the broad and solid foundation of other edifices, not
less magnificent, which will be equally permanent monuments of their

But it is not to be denied that the portraits they have sketched of
republican government were too just copies of the originals from which
they were taken. If it had been found impracticable to have devised
models of a more perfect structure, the enlightened friends to liberty
would have been obliged to abandon the cause of that species of
government as indefensible. The science of politics, however, like most
other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various
principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all,
or imperfectly known to the ancients. The regular distribution of power
into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and
checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their
offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the
legislature by deputies of their own election: these are wholly new
discoveries, or have made their principal progress towards perfection in
modern times. They are means, and powerful means, by which the
excellences of republican government may be retained and its
imperfections lessened or avoided. To this catalogue of circumstances
that tend to the amelioration of popular systems of civil government, I
shall venture, however novel it may appear to some, to add one more, on
a principle which has been made the foundation of an objection to the
new Constitution; I mean the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT within which such systems are to revolve, either in respect to the dimensions of a single
State or to the consolidation of several smaller States into one great
Confederacy. The latter is that which immediately concerns the object
under consideration. It will, however, be of use to examine the
principle in its application to a single State, which shall be attended
to in another place.

The utility of a Confederacy, as well to suppress faction and to guard
the internal tranquillity of States, as to increase their external force
and security, is in reality not a new idea. It has been practiced upon
in different countries and ages, and has received the sanction of the
most approved writers on the subject of politics. The opponents of the
plan proposed have, with great assiduity, cited and circulated the
observations of Montesquieu on the necessity of a contracted territory
for a republican government. But they seem not to have been apprised of
the sentiments of that great man expressed in another part of his work,
nor to have adverted to the consequences of the principle to which they
subscribe with such ready acquiescence.

When Montesquieu recommends a small extent for republics, the standards
he had in view were of dimensions far short of the limits of almost
every one of these States. Neither Virginia, Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, nor Georgia can by any means be
compared with the models from which he reasoned and to which the terms
of his description apply. If we therefore take his ideas on this point
as the criterion of truth, we shall be driven to the alternative either
of taking refuge at once in the arms of monarchy, or of splitting
ourselves into an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous
commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord, and the
miserable objects of universal pity or contempt. Some of the writers who
have come forward on the other side of the question seem to have been
aware of the dilemma; and have even been bold enough to hint at the
division of the larger States as a desirable thing. Such an infatuated
policy, such a desperate expedient, might, by the multiplication of
petty offices, answer the views of men who possess not qualifications to
extend their influence beyond the narrow circles of personal intrigue,
but it could never promote the greatness or happiness of the people of

Referring the examination of the principle itself to another place, as
has been already mentioned, it will be sufficient to remark here that,
in the sense of the author who has been most emphatically quoted upon
the occasion, it would only dictate a reduction of the SIZE of the more
considerable MEMBERS of the Union, but would not militate against their
being all comprehended in one confederate government. And this is the
true question, in the discussion of which we are at present interested.

So far are the suggestions of Montesquieu from standing in opposition to
a general Union of the States, that he explicitly treats of a
confederate republic as the expedient for extending the sphere of
popular government, and reconciling the advantages of monarchy with
those of republicanism.

"It is very probable," (says he[1]) "that mankind would have been
obliged at length to live constantly under the government of a single
person, had they not contrived a kind of constitution that has all the
internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of
a monarchical government. I mean a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC."

"This form of government is a convention by which several smaller STATES
agree to become members of a larger ONE, which they intend to form. It
is a kind of assemblage of societies that constitute a new one, capable
of increasing, by means of new associations, till they arrive to such a
degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of the united

"A republic of this kind, able to withstand an external force, may
support itself without any internal corruptions. The form of this
society prevents all manner of inconveniences."

"If a single member should attempt to usurp the supreme authority, he
could not be supposed to have an equal authority and credit in all the
confederate states. Were he to have too great influence over one, this
would alarm the rest. Were he to subdue a part, that which would still
remain free might oppose him with forces independent of those which he
had usurped and overpower him before he could be settled in his

"Should a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states
the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they
are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on
one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and
the confederates preserve their sovereignty."

"As this government is composed of small republics, it enjoys the
internal happiness of each; and with respect to its external situation,
it is possessed, by means of the association, of all the advantages of
large monarchies."

I have thought it proper to quote at length these interesting passages,
because they contain a luminous abridgment of the principal arguments in
favor of the Union, and must effectually remove the false impressions
which a misapplication of other parts of the work was calculated to
make. They have, at the same time, an intimate connection with the more
immediate design of this paper; which is, to illustrate the tendency of
the Union to repress domestic faction and insurrection.

A distinction, more subtle than accurate, has been raised between a
CONFEDERACY and a CONSOLIDATION of the States. The essential
characteristic of the first is said to be, the restriction of its
authority to the members in their collective capacities, without
reaching to the individuals of whom they are composed. It is contended
that the national council ought to have no concern with any object of
internal administration. An exact equality of suffrage between the
members has also been insisted upon as a leading feature of a
confederate government. These positions are, in the main, arbitrary;
they are supported neither by principle nor precedent. It has indeed
happened, that governments of this kind have generally operated in the
manner which the distinction taken notice of, supposes to be inherent in
their nature; but there have been in most of them extensive exceptions
to the practice, which serve to prove, as far as example will go, that
there is no absolute rule on the subject. And it will be clearly shown
in the course of this investigation that as far as the principle
contended for has prevailed, it has been the cause of incurable disorder
and imbecility in the government.

The definition of a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC seems simply to be "an
assemblage of societies," or an association of two or more states into
one state. The extent, modifications, and objects of the federal
authority are mere matters of discretion. So long as the separate
organization of the members be not abolished; so long as it exists, by a
constitutional necessity, for local purposes; though it should be in
perfect subordination to the general authority of the union, it would
still be, in fact and in theory, an association of states, or a
confederacy. The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an
abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the
national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the
Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very
important portions of sovereign power. This fully corresponds, in every
rational import of the terms, with the idea of a federal government.

In the Lycian confederacy, which consisted of twenty-three CITIES or
republics, the largest were entitled to THREE votes in the COMMON
COUNCIL, those of the middle class to TWO, and the smallest to ONE. The COMMON COUNCIL had the appointment of all the judges and magistrates of the respective CITIES. This was certainly the most, delicate species of interference in their internal administration; for if there be any thing
that seems exclusively appropriated to the local jurisdictions, it is
the appointment of their own officers. Yet Montesquieu, speaking of this
association, says: "Were I to give a model of an excellent Confederate
Republic, it would be that of Lycia." Thus we perceive that the
distinctions insisted upon were not within the contemplation of this
enlightened civilian; and we shall be led to conclude, that they are the
novel refinements of an erroneous theory.


1. "Spirit of Laws," vol. i., book ix., chap. i.