Reading Project

Federalist Paper No.14

Objections To The Proposed Constitution From Extent Of Territory Answered

Friday, November 30, 1787

James Madison


Madison’s second Federalist paper revisits some ground already covered by Hamilton. The primary purpose of this paper is to answer critics of the Constitution who raise the practicable sphere of republican administration which assumes a republic must operate within a narrow district in order to function. The arguments Madison refers to of course take into account the real problems of administering a wide area, given the problems distance presents in the eighteenth century: communications must be physically carried across distances, or else people must travel in order to represent their own interests.


Madison argues that the anti-Federalist concern over this practicable sphere is ill-informed or disingenuous in its representations. The basis of his refutation is that anti-Federalists are confusing republican government with democracy. He states that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. He cites ancient Greece and modern Italy as examples of democracies.


Madison attempts to trace the extent of the Union at the time of his writing, calculating it by various means to be around 970 by 764 miles; distances which he claims are workable under a republican constitution. Added to this, he points out that prior to the new Federal Constitution, State representatives almost continually assembled, and that the members from the most distant States are not chargeable with greater intermissions of attendance…”


In fact, Madison argues that the States are an integral part of the republican model, and were they not to exist, it would be necessary to create them. Added to this, Madison suggests that American geography will make a republican model possible, along with the continued improvements in roads, accommodation, navigation as well as numerous canals and waterways which will make communication and travel easier.


Distant States, Madison argues, will suffer the same inconveniences as they currently experience, but these disadvantages will be ameliorated by the added protections of being part of the union, especially if their state borders abut foreign territory.


The last section of Madison’s paper is really a rhetorical flourish that argues for the greatness of the American Constitution, and imbues his argument with strident nationalism, through a series of imprecations against division (Hearken not to the voice…, shut your ears against this unhallowed language, Shut your hearts against the poison) and adjectives that praise the unity of American identity (same family, mutual guardians, mutual happiness, flourishing empire). Madison raises his discussion from the minutiae of government administration to offer a grander vision of the American experiment, in which not only Americans but the whole human race are to be the beneficiaries of a stout refusal to give up the lessons of their own experience. I think Madison ending is important because it wasn’t enough to always apply logic to the problem of the Constitution. The Federalist Papers, if they needed to do anything, also needed to create a sense of ownership and pride in the new constitution, as well as the achievements of the nation that had accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society.

12 March 2018

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