Federalist No.19

The Same Subject Continued

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

Saturday, December 8, 1787

James Madison with Alexander Hamilton


Madison/Hamilton continue to illustrate the point that has been made in the last few Federalist Papers, that a weak union with independent States will inevitably lead to internal dissension and the weakening of the member States along with the Union. The example of Germany is mainly focussed upon in this paper, although some mention of Poland and the Swiss are made in the last page, although they receive a less detailed analysis.


Madison/Hamilton trace Germany’s chaotic history to the unification of its seven main nations under Charlemagne. Madison/Hamilton argue that while Charlemagne and his immediate descendants enjoyed a kind of imperial power, he did not abolish national diets – assemblies that had power over legislation, of making peace and war, constructing fortifications and regulating coin. Of course, this produced a situation where different princes and States made war upon each other. Madison/Hamilton trace this situation as a main cause for the decline of German power: In the eleventh century the emperors enjoyed full sovereignty: In the fifteenth they had little more than the symbols and decorations of power.


Madison/Hamilton draw upon the metaphor of the body of the state to describe the problems of the system. In fact, they describe it as a nerveless body, incapable of regulating its own members, insecure against external dangers, and agitated with unceasing fermentations in its own bowels.


In using the German example, Madison/Hamilton are raising the fears they hopes will ignite a desire for a strong central federal government in America. German history, they points out, is a history of civil wars and foreign intrusions, most notable in the peace of Westphalia, wherein foreign powers were not only instrumental in bringing a thirty-year conflict to a close but were also instrumental in the drafting of the new Germanic constitution.


So, to this system, Madison/Hamilton attribute a poor military, the self-serving actions of powerful leaders (they give the example of the Duke of Bavaria who was commissioned to maintain peace in Donawerth on behalf of the emperor, but instead annexed the territory for himself) susceptibility to foreign interference, and a system that is maintained through the weakness of most of the members, or the prestige attained from the system from key players like the emperor. This is Madison/Hamilton’s nightmare scenario for Americans who may think that the new Constitution doesn’t serve their interests.


Madison/Hamilton attribute similar problems to Poland, which they gives little attention to, as well as the Swiss, whose system is maintained, he asserts, due to its geographical position, the weakness of its members, fear of foreigners, and whose judicial system is such that if agreement cannot be achieved, the ultimate arbiter is still force. They use the example of conflict between Catholic and Protestants, who each sought foreign intervention for their causes. It is clear, from Madison/Hamilton’s examples, that they do not believe maintaining the status quo in America will allow for a peaceful country in the future, or allow America to maintain its independence long.

6 April 2018