Federalist No.9

The Union As A Safeguard Against Domestic Faction And Insurrection

Wednesday, November, 1787

Alexander Hamilton


The ninth Federalist paper focuses upon discrediting the anti-Federalist’s use of Montesquieu’s writings to support their position. Montesquieu was an Enlightenment thinker whose theories influenced the writers of the American Constitution to include checks and balances in their system for greater stability. Thus, the division of government into the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches was influenced by Montesquieu. It’s not surprising, I guess, that the anti-Federalists then tried to discredit the push towards a confederate republic using Montesquieu’s own writings.


To counter this, Hamilton portrays the American constitution as the latest incarnation of republican government; a form of government that has not remained static over the centuries, but evolved with new political theories and innovations. Therefore, Hamilton distinguishes the American model against those of Greece and Italy, beset for centuries by internal divisions, kept in a state of perpetual fluctuation between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. The three branches of government is an innovation that potentially made republican states more stable. Hamilton argues that the new American constitution is merely the latest refinement in republican government with its 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.


Montesquieu, Hamilton argues, has been read selectively by the anti-Federalists. He has been cited as having supported the necessity of a contracted territory for a republican government. Yet Hamilton points out that the proposed models used by Montesquieu are actually smaller than some of the existing American states, suggesting that to follow Montesquieu’s logic to the final degree, America would either have to adopt a monarchy to rule a larger realm, or split further into small states, risking an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord… In fact, Hamilton argues, Montesquieu’s writings support a reduction in the size of state territories, but do not speak to the size of a confederate union.


To drive a further stake into the anti-Federalist position, Hamilton next quotes Montesquieu at length (6 paragraphs) to demonstrate that not only have the anti-Federalist read Montesquieu selectively, but his writing actually is supportive of the model being proposed by the Constitutional Convention. The extract quoted by Hamilton suggests a confederate government would:


Hamilton finishes by discrediting one further argument of the anti-Federalists, that the current model proposed for America goes against Montesquieu’s ideal that each State should have equality of suffrage within the federal government. Hamilton argues that Montesquieu’s writing does not provide a reliable position on this, since Montesquieu supported disproportionate representation with his advocacy of the Lycian confederacy, which determined a degree of representation according to class. Hamilton argues that Montesquieu was therefore not in a position to judge the American model. Hamilton believes it a necessity that States should be in perfect subordination to the general authority of the union, yet he says that they share in that authority through their representation in the legislative branch, as members of the Senate, as well as through exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power exclusive to each State.


By these means, Hamilton discredits the anti-Federalists’ argument, not by discrediting Montesquieu, but by showing that the anti-Federalists’ use of Montesquieu’s writing was either too selective or not relevant to America, and by showing that Montesquieu was, in principle, supportive of the ideals upon which the American Constitution was written.

17 February 2018