Federalist No.18

The Same Subject Continued

(The Insufficiency Of The Present Confederation to Preserve the Union)

Friday, December 7, 1787

James Madison with Alexander Hamilton


As the title suggests, this paper is a continuation of the arguments made in the previous papers; that independent States have the potential for discord and conflict, and that a strong central government is not to be feared.


Madison/Hamilton demonstrate this by two examples from Ancient Greece, the Amphictyonic Council and the Achaean League. The first is meant to demonstrate all the problems with a council of states which remain too independent. The second, the advantages of a strong central government.


The remit of the Amphictyonic Council was wide ranging, giving it power to wage war on behalf of its States, to adjudicate on conflict between members and to deal with matters of religion. Madison/Hamilton identify the weakness of this council as being the level of control individual cities maintained not only in appointing deputies to the Council, but the control they maintained over their deputies once appointed. Madison/Hamilton do not explicitly explain the weakness at the heart of all this – merely its outcomes – but it is implied that these deputies would work on behalf of their cities for political outcomes, thereby putting parochial interests above the interests of the collective cities. The obvious situation ensues: The more powerful members, instead of being kept in awe and subordination, tyrannized successfully over the rest … judgment went in favour of the most powerful party.


This situation, Madison/Hamilton relate, led to outcomes already forewarned by Hamilton: dissension, the subjugation of weaker states, and eventually to the Peloponnesian War.


Against this, Madison/Hamilton place the example of the Achaean League. Madison/Hamilton demonstrate how this league eventually failed with the later subjugation of Greece to Rome, but the failure resulted, in Madison/Hamilton’s analysis, from members abandoning the league or being seduced from it. Up until that time, Madison/Hamilton describe the league as one in which its members subordinated themselves to the central authority, and that all cities adopted similar laws, customs, money, as well as weights and measures. The result, Madison/Hamilton explain, was that there was infinitely more of moderation and justice in the administration of its government, and less of violence and sedition in the people, than were to be found in any of the cities exercising singly all the prerogatives of sovereignty … because it was there tempered by the general authority and laws of the confederacy.

I have thought it not superfluous to give the outlines of this important portion of history; both because it teaches more than one lesson, and because, as a supplement to the outlines of the Achaean constitution, it emphatically illustrates the tendency of federal bodies rather to anarchy among the members, than tyranny to the head.
- James Madison and Alexander Hamilton


However, Greece first fell victim to the power of Macedon under Philip and his son, Alexander, and later to the Romans. Madison/Hamilton chart a course in which each city was seduced into a separate interest; the union was dissolved. An attempt by cities to reunite under the league set the Greek cities on a terminal course, since they needed one foreign power to expel the next, first seeking the help of Egypt and Syria, and finally, Rome. Madison/Hamilton end the paper on an ominous note. It is obvious that the virtues of the Achaean League are meant to represent the virtues of the new American Constitution. So, too, does the final failure of the league represent the danger America now faces from the anti-Federalist stance: they [the Romans] now seduced the members from the league, by representing to their pride the violation it committed to their sovereignty.


Madison/Hamilton may be using broad brush strokes in his history, but the argument is compelling, giving a sense of inevitable outcomes based upon the choices America is to make.

31 March 2018