The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 10–12 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 10: The Same Subject Continued (The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection)

In this essay Madison is concerned, first and foremost, with the evils and dangers of "faction," by which he means a group motivated by a common desire opposed to the rights of other citizens or to the common good. Perhaps the closest equivalent today would be the phrase interest group, although many political theorists acknowledge such bodies as legitimate and probably inevitable.

According to Madison, factions are a product of human nature, and they are ubiquitous. How, then, can faction can be removed or its effects controlled? To remove its causes is impractical, since such a course would deprive citizens of liberty or ignore human nature. Controlling the effects of faction, however, is a practical expedient if the framework of government is shaped as a republic, rather than as a pure democracy. Republics can "refine and enlarge the public views" by passing them through an intermediate body of chosen representatives. In this respect, republics of a larger size gain an advantage in that "a greater variety of parties and interests" makes it less likely that any one group will be able to trample the rights of others. Madison concludes by observing that the same advantage enjoyed by a republic over a pure democracy appears to be enjoyed by the Union over the states that compose it. All sorts of evils—for example, domination by a religious sect, a rage for paper money, the abolition of debts, or the equal division of property—will be rendered more unlikely by the size and variety of the Union.

Essay 11: The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy

In this paper, Hamilton asserts that the "adventurous spirit" of America in commerce has already caught the attention and attracted the envy of foreign states. In these circumstances America's best course is a steady adherence to the Union and the decision to establish a federal navy. In a state of disunion, Hamilton warns, America would be too weak to resist European powers or to pursue commercial ambitions successfully. Hamilton concludes the essay with a series of exhortations to his fellow citizens.

Essay 12: The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue

According to Hamilton in this paper, the collection of taxes will be far easier and more efficient under a single national government than under an arrangement of separate states. A dependable stream of revenue is indispensable to government. With multiple states, smugglers will thrive, and tax collectors will be evaded. Should revenue from commercial sources be insufficient, Hamilton warns, prohibitive taxes will have to be levied on property. Counsels that result in disunion, Hamilton darkly opines, are tantamount to "infatuation."

Analysis

No essay in The Federalist Papers is more celebrated or more widely cited than Madison's Essay 10, for good reason: clear organization, meticulous argument, weighty subject matter, comparison and contrast, and felicitous expression. Madison combines all these elements to produce a classic essay.

Madison compares and contrasts a pure democracy and a republic, one of the essay's most intriguing aspects. Paradoxically, a pure democracy, such as ancient Athens in the fifth century BCE, has no means at its disposal to avoid the mischief of faction. The majority may succeed in efforts to bully or browbeat a minority. The saving graces of a republic, as compared with a pure democracy, are (a) its delegation of the government to a smaller number of citizens who act as an intermediate filter for the great body of citizens, and (b) the greater "sphere of country" or geographical area (and variety of residents) over which it extends. Thus, although Madison does not explicitly use such language here, a republic contains its own inherent checks and balances—countervailing forces that function to reduce or negate the mischief of factions.

It is noteworthy that Madison, in contrast to Hamilton in Essay 11, for example, closes his essay with a relatively modest peroration, or final remarks.

In Essay 11, Hamilton offers persuasive arguments for the establishment of a federal navy. As an expert in commerce and revenue, Hamilton was eminently qualified to write about this subject, and he is eloquent on the necessity for the United States to evaluate foreign interests and behavior realistically. Hamilton's expertise also furnishes a persuasive background for his comments on revenue in Essay 12.

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