Federalist No.23

The Necessity Of A Government As Energetic As The One Proposed To The Preservation Of The Union

Tuesday, December 18, 1787

Alexander Hamilton


This Federalist Paper addresses the issue of the extent to which the Federal Government under the new proposed constitution should have the power to raise money, levy troops and create a naval force in the defence of the States united by that constitution, and the protection of its commercial interests. In his previous paper, Hamilton pointed out the problem that States inconsistently met their quotas during the War of Independence, and that a quota system was blatantly unfair, given that States had different populations and wealth.


This paper addresses that issue with a simple reasoning: If a government is made responsible for an outcome (or object to use Hamilton’s terminology) – in this case defence of the nation and trade – then it must have all the power it needs in order to meet those obligations, both now and in any unforeseen circumstances in the future. In other words, These powers should exist without limitation.


Hamilton points out that States expect that State justice systems expect to operate without limit in matters which are the proper department of local governments. He likens this to the need of the Federal Government to operate similarly in its responsibilities.


Hamilton insists that the anti-Federalist stance is arguing the wrong point. He believes that if the way these powers are framed by the Constitution should not, upon a dispassionate inspection, be found to answer this description, it ought to be rejected. He further argues, The powers are not too extensive for the objects of Federal administration, or, in other words, for the management of the national interest. Hamilton suggests that if the proposed powers were, in reality, too extensive, then the States should form separate confederacies suitable to each of their practical spheres and end the idea of a wide confederation of all the States. Hamilton’s suggestion reads a little like brinkmanship, since he is making this a fundamental and unwavering precondition of a new confederacy:

For the absurdity must continually stare us in the face of confiding to a government the direction of the most essential national interests, without daring to trust it to the authorities which are indispensable to their proper and efficient management. Let us not attempt to reconcile contradictions, but firmly embrace a rational alternative.

Hamilton concludes by saying that the very difficulty of framing a new constitution to unite the thirteen States is an argument for the need for an energetic government. A federal government without broad powers as he has described can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire.

7 May 2018