The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 13–15 | Summary



Essay 13: Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government

In this essay, Hamilton makes a brief but persuasive case that a single national government will be substantially less expensive than a government for separate states or for groups of states. He envisions three confederacies: the four northeastern states, the four mid-Atlantic states, and the five southern states. Each grouping would have to employ a bureaucracy, or "civil list." Officials will also have to be employed to guard inland communication between the confederacies and to watch for illicit trade, and military establishments will have to be instituted. Such an arrangement would be detrimental to the economy.

Essay 14: Objections to the Proposed Constitution from Extent of Territory Answered

In this essay Madison addresses one of the Anti-Federalists' most prominent counterarguments to the Constitution: that a republic cannot be successful if it contains too great a geographic area. Madison has already touched on the distinction between a pure democracy and a republic in this regard in Essay 10. Here he repeats his argument that a republic, which depends on representatives chosen by the people, can extend over a far larger area than a pure democracy, in which the people themselves meet to carry out the functions of government directly.

To support his argument Madison persuasively references recent American history, in which, from 1774 to 1787, representatives from the states stretching hundreds of miles along the Atlantic coast—"the longest side of the Union"—managed to meet regularly, even if they came from the most distant states. Madison then embarks on a geographical analysis, showing that America is not too large for republican government, especially if one compares it with European countries and with Great Britain.

Next, Madison takes up the topic of the probable future addition of new states to the Union. He argues that the future will also bring substantial improvements in communications; namely, new roads and canals. Madison also emphasizes that almost every state will, on at least one side, contain a frontier, with the result that the more vulnerable states will be, for the sake of their security, highly motivated to ensure their representatives journey safely to Congress.

Madison concludes his essay by exhorting readers not to pay attention to the objectors who call the large size of the United States into question. He lauds the United States and its successful revolution as unique and unparalleled in human society.

Essay 15: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

Hamilton here undertakes the first of many extensive critiques in The Federalist Papers of the Articles of Confederation (see also Essays 21, 22, and 23). The Articles, he contends, have placed the United States in a condition of "impending anarchy." This crisis is due to many reasons. The Articles, for instance, lack the authority to raise either men or money. The government's authority does not extend over individuals within the Union but only over states in their collective capacity. Laws under the Articles are not attended by sanctions, a gap that renders the laws ineffectual. Furthermore, the Articles are stymied by the requirement that "the concurrence of thirteen distinct sovereign wills" is required for every important measure. The result has been that the United States has reached "almost the last stage of national humiliation."


Hamilton's argument emphasizing the proliferation of bureaucracy in Essay 13 seems difficult to refute. It is interesting that he envisions three possible "confederacies" of states on a north-south axis. Each "confederacy" would be dominated by a large state: Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, respectively. The prominence of large states, of course, had been very much in evidence at the Constitutional Convention, and it required much effort to achieve a balance or compromise with the smaller states on a variety of issues.

Madison's treatment of the "size issue" for republics in Essay 14 should be considered in conjunction with his comments about the benefits of greater size in Essay 10, as should his remarks on the distinction between pure democracies and republics. In Essay 10, his emphasis lay on the menace of faction; in Essay 14, by contrast, he is concerned with the realities posed by geography to a nation in the position of the United States in the late 1780s. Even at this early date, as Madison's paper makes clear, many people anticipated the addition of new states, while technological progress promised to knit America more closely together by means of an extended network of roads and canals.

In the lengthy final paragraph of Essay 14, Madison indulges in an unusually emotional conclusion, employing such rhetorical techniques as anaphora ("Hearken not to ... Hearken not to") and parallelism ("can no longer live together ... can no longer continue ... can no longer be fellow citizens"). Anaphora is the use of the same words or phrases at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses. Parallelism is the use of the same or similar grammatical structures. Hamilton even allows himself an indulgence or two in exceptionalism when describing the leaders of the revolution: "Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course."

In Essay 15, Hamilton launches what amounts to an extended polemic against the Articles of Confederation. The essay displays its author's fondness for metaphor, charged words, and hyperbole, and for good measure he adds a number of other rhetorical techniques besides. In the long third paragraph of the essay, for example, Hamilton embarks on a question-and-answer format that is highly effective in illustrating his contention that Americans have been brought practically to a stage of "national humiliation." In the middle of the essay and again at the end, the author employs an architectural metaphor to crystallize the likelihood of American collapse and ruin. This metaphor, which indirectly compares a governmental framework to a physical structure or edifice, is designed to make Hamilton's critique of the Articles of Confederation more tangible and persuasive to his readers. Throughout, Hamilton exhibits a pessimistic view of human nature, as well as a jaundiced eye on "the delinquencies of the States," which have made government under the Articles virtually impossible.

In a proverbial phrase in Essay 15, Hamilton dubs experience the "best oracle of wisdom." Compare the statement that "experience is the oracle of truth" in the final paragraph of Essay 20. The authors of The Federalist Papers frequently appeal to experience as a guide for wise policy and action. In this they were substantially influenced by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76), who, along with John Locke and George Berkeley, adopted strongly empirical views that upheld experience, especially that of the senses, as the groundwork of human knowledge. The views of Hume, Locke, and Berkeley developed because of their opposition to overly abstract, theoretical philosophizing—an approach which, from their perspective, was all too often colored and distorted by superstition or by the mandates of organized religion.
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