Washington’s army sets up winter quarters at Valley Forge

December 20, 2014



Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was the site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolution.


A replica of a cabin in which soldiers would have lived at Valley Forge

With winter almost set in, and the prospects for campaigning greatly diminishing, General George Washington sought quarters for his men. Washington and his troops had just fought what was to be the last major engagement of 1777 at the Battle of White Marsh (or Edge Hill). He devised to pull his troops from their present encampment in the White Marsh area (now Fort Washington State Park) and move to a more secure location for the coming winter.

Though several locations were proposed, he selected Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, the area was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks. The high ground of Mount Joy and the adjoining elevated ground of Mount Misery combined with the Schuylkill River to the north, made the area easily defensible.


Letter from George Washington, 1778

On December 19, 1777, when Washington’s poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, staggered into Valley Forge, winds blew as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter’s fury. Only about 1/3 of them had shoes, and many of their feet were leaving bloody footprints from the marching. Grounds for brigade encampments were selected, and defense lines were planned and begun. Though construction of more than a thousand huts provided shelter, it did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.


The Revolutionary War cannon overlooking the site of the Valley Forge encampment

The men were under cover within six weeks. The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. One other hut, which required 80 logs, and whose timber had to be collected from miles away, went up in one week with the use of only one axe. These huts provided sufficient protection from the moderately cold, but mainly wet and damp conditions of the mild, but typical Pennsylvania winter of 1777–1778. Snow was limited, and small in amounts. Alternating freezing and melting of snow and ice made it impossible to keep dry and allowed for disease to fester.

Soldiers received inadequate supplies of meat and bread, some getting their only nourishment from “fire cake,” a tasteless mixture of flour and water. However, due to the talents of Baker General Christopher Ludwig, the men at Valley Forge more often than not received fresh baked bread, about one pound daily. So severe were conditions at times that Washington despaired “that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place … this Army must inevitably … Starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.” Animals fared no better. General Henry Knox, Washington’s Chief of Artillery, wrote that hundreds of horses either starved to death or died of exhaustion. So, Washington appointed Nathanael Greene as Quartermaster General, who is in charge of the supplies. Greene found caches of food and clothing and hauled them here for the troops and horses.


Washington at Valley Forge

Clothing, too, was wholly inadequate. Many wounded soldiers from previous battles died from exposure. Long marches had destroyed shoes. Blankets were scarce. Tattered garments were seldom replaced. At one point these shortages caused nearly 4,000 men to be listed as unfit for duty.

Undernourished and poorly clothed, living in crowded, damp quarters, the army was ravaged by sickness and disease. Typhoid, jaundice, dysentery, and pneumonia were among the many diseases that killed 2,500 men that winter. Although Washington repeatedly petitioned for relief, the Continental Congress was unable to provide it, and the soldiers continued to suffer. Women, relatives of enlisted men, alleviated some of the suffering by providing valuable services such as laundry and nursing that the army desperately needed.

Upgrading military efficiency, morale, and discipline were as vital to the army’s well-being as was its source of supply. The army had been handicapped in battle because unit training was administered from a variety of field manuals, making coordinated battle movements awkward and difficult. The soldiers were trained, but not uniformly. The task of developing and carrying out an effective training program fell to Baron Friedrich von Steuben. This skilled Prussian drill master, recently arrived from Europe, tirelessly drilled the soldiers.[2]


Washington’s Valley Forge Headquarters

A group of people called Regimental Camp Followers also helped increase the morale of the soldiers and provided necessary support to the men. Camp Followers at Valley Forge consisted of the families, wives, children, mothers, and sisters of the soldiers.

These camp followers often served as laundresses, cleaning and mending the uniforms of the soldiers. Washington understood a soldier would die quickly from disease if his uniform was dirty and threadbare. These women and children also provided the emotional support to a soldier, allowing them to remain at camp and continue on training and soldiering during the winter months. These women gained half the rations of soldiers, half the wages of a soldier as well as a half pension after the war—if they had done enough work. Children would receive quarter rations if enough work was done.


View of the National Memorial Arch

The arch’s inscription:

Naked and starving as they are

We cannot enough admire

The incomparable Patience and Fidelity

of the Soldiery

–George Washington

Women were relegated to the back of the column when marching and were forbidden to ride on wagons. Camp followers faced the issues of disease along with the soldiers. While excellent scavengers, some women lost their lives on the battlefield trying to obtain goods from wounded or dead soldiers. At Valley Forge women averaged 1 to every 44 men, adding up to around 500 women.

Soon word of the British departure from Philadelphia brought a frenzied activity to the ranks of the Continental Army. On June 19, 1778, six months after its arrival, the army marched away from Valley Forge in pursuit of the British, who were moving toward New York. The war would last for another five years, but Washington and his men had won a decisive victory.[3]


General Von Steuben, 1930 Issue

Baron (Freiherr) Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a onetime member of the elite General Staff of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. No longer in the Prussian Army, indeed without employment of any kind, von Steuben offered his military skills to the patriot cause.

When he arrived at Valley Forge from France on February 23, 1778, he was armed with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. Washington saw great promise in the Prussian and almost immediately assigned him the duties of Acting Inspector General with the task of developing and carrying out an effective training program. He was a drill instructor, he was full of energy, and he taught the soldiers how to fire their guns faster.

Numerous obstacles threatened success. No standard American training manuals existed, and von Steuben himself spoke little English. Undaunted, he drafted his own manual in French. His aides often worked late into the night, translating his work into English. The translations were, in turn, copied and passed to the individual regiments and companies that carried out the prescribed drill (or military parade) the following day.

Von Steuben shocked many American officers by breaking tradition to work directly with the men. One officer wrote of von Steuben’s “peculiar grace” as he took “under his direction a squad of men in the capacity of drill sergeant.” From dawn to dusk his familiar voice was heard in camp above the sounds of marching men and shouted commands. Soon companies, regiments, and then brigades moved smartly from line to column, column to line; loaded muskets with precision; and drove imaginary redcoats from the field by skillful charges with the bayonet.

When the Continental Army paraded on May 6, 1778, to celebrate the French alliance with America, von Steuben received the honor of organizing the day’s activities. On that day the Grand Parade became a showplace for the united American army. Cannons boomed in salute. Thousands of muskets fired the ceremonial “feu de joie,” a running fire that passed up and down the double ranks of infantrymen. Cheers echoed across the fields. The good drilling order and imposing appearance that the troops presented during the Alliance Day ceremonies demonstrated their remarkable progress in improving their abilities as a unified, fighting force capable of standing up to the British Army.

Washington, with von Steuben’s aid, had made an army of the Continental troops. With their French allies, the Americans could now proceed with the war, which would rage on for many years.[4]

The site of the encampment became a Pennsylvania state park in 1893 and, on the 4th of July, 1976, it became Valley Forge National Historical Park. The modern park features historical and recreated buildings and structures; memorials; and a newly renovated visitor center, which shows a short film and has several exhibits.

A chapel was built in 1903 as a memorial to Washington. An adjoining carillon of 58 bells represents all U.S. states and territories. It resides in a tower built by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Other park amenities include walking and bicycle trails. The park supports around 1,000 deer which can be seen grazing in the wide-open fields.


General George Washington at prayer, Valley Forge, Winter 1777–1778.[1]



1. “Washington in Prayer”, undated/unsigned introduction, ushistory.org; incorporating “Prayer of Valley Forge May Be Legend or Tradition or a Fact, Yet It Remains Symbol of Faith” by Gilbert Starling Jones, from The Picket Post, publ. by the Valley Forge Historical Society, April 1945, No. 9

  • Jones noted that “[i]n 1918, the Valley Forge Park Commission refused a request by a patriotic organization for permission to erect a monument or marker on the spot where it was claimed Washington was seen kneeling in prayer. The Commission’s report reviewed … thousands of pages of correspondence and diaries of the Commander-in-Chief and his staff; generals of divisions and brigades; officers and privates of regiments; the Congressional Committee who were at the camp; manuscripts in the Library of Congress and other institutions where Revolutionary matter is preserved. It concluded by observing ‘in none of these were found a single paragraph that will substantiate the tradition of the “Prayer at Valley Forge.”‘”
  • However, Jones also reviewed in detail two accounts of Washington-in-prayer witnessed.
  • A 1975 painting of the subject by Arnold Friberg “has been valued at more than $12 million [and] is currently on display at Mount Vernon,” per “Arnold Friberg, Realist Painter, Is Dead at 96″ (registration required) by Douglas Martin, The New York Times, July 2, 2010

2. Bodle, Wayne (2002). The Valley Forge Winter. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02526-3

3. Text incorporated from Valley Forge National Historical Park website, which is in the public domain

4. Lockhart, Paul Douglas (2008). The Drillmaster of Valley Forge — The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army and moving forward with the revolution”. HarperCollins (New York). ISBN 0 06 145163 0

The Federalist No. 24 – Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

December 19, 2014



The Federalist No. 24 – Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

Written by Alexander Hamilton

Wednesday, December 19, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

TO THE powers proposed to be conferred upon the federal government, in respect to the creation and direction of the national forces, I have met with but one specific objection, which, if I understand it right, is this, that proper provision has not been made against the existence of standing armies in time of peace; an objection which, I shall now endeavor to show, rests on weak and unsubstantial foundations.

It has indeed been brought forward in the most vague and general form, supported only by bold assertions, without the appearance of argument; without even the sanction of theoretical opinions; in contradiction to the practice of other free nations, and to the general sense of America, as expressed in most of the existing constitutions. The proprietory of this remark will appear, the moment it is recollected that the objection under consideration turns upon a supposed necessity of restraining the LEGISLATIVE authority of the nation, in the article of military establishments; a principle unheard of, except in one or two of our State constitutions, and rejected in all the rest.

A stranger to our politics, who was to read our newspapers at the present juncture, without having previously inspected the plan reported by the convention, would be naturally led to one of two conclusions: either that it contained a positive injunction, that standing armies should be kept up in time of peace; or that it vested in the EXECUTIVE the whole power of levying troops, without subjecting his discretion, in any shape, to the control of the legislature.

If he came afterwards to peruse the plan itself, he would be surprised to discover, that neither the one nor the other was the case; that the whole power of raising armies was lodged in the legislature, not in the executive; that this legislature was to be a popular body, consisting of the representatives of the people periodically elected; and that instead of the provision he had supposed in favor of standing armies, there was to be found, in respect to this object, an important qualification even of the legislative discretion, in that clause which forbids the appropriation of money for the support of an army for any longer period than two years a precaution which, upon a nearer view of it, will appear to be a great and real security against the keeping up of troops without evident necessity.

Disappointed in his first surmise, the person I have supposed would be apt to pursue his conjectures a little further. He would naturally say to himself, it is impossible that all this vehement and pathetic declamation can be without some colorable pretext. It must needs be that this people, so jealous of their liberties, have, in all the preceding models of the constitutions which they have established, inserted the most precise and rigid precautions on this point, the omission of which, in the new plan, has given birth to all this apprehension and clamor.

If, under this impression, he proceeded to pass in review the several State constitutions, how great would be his disappointment to find that two only of them1 contained an interdiction of standing armies in time of peace; that the other eleven had either observed a profound silence on the subject, or had in express terms admitted the right of the Legislature to authorize their existence.

Still, however he would be persuaded that there must be some plausible foundation for the cry raised on this head. He would never be able to imagine, while any source of information remained unexplored, that it was nothing more than an experiment upon the public credulity, dictated either by a deliberate intention to deceive, or by the overflowings of a zeal too intemperate to be ingenuous. It would probably occur to him, that he would be likely to find the precautions he was in search of in the primitive compact between the States. Here, at length, he would expect to meet with a solution of the enigma. No doubt, he would observe to himself, the existing Confederation must contain the most explicit provisions against military establishments in time of peace; and a departure from this model, in a favorite point, has occasioned the discontent which appears to influence these political champions.

If he should now apply himself to a careful and critical survey of the articles of Confederation, his astonishment would not only be increased, but would acquire a mixture of indignation, at the unexpected discovery, that these articles, instead of containing the prohibition he looked for, and though they had, with jealous circumspection, restricted the authority of the State legislatures in this particular, had not imposed a single restraint on that of the United States. If he happened to be a man of quick sensibility, or ardent temper, he could now no longer refrain from regarding these clamors as the dishonest artifices of a sinister and unprincipled opposition to a plan which ought at least to receive a fair and candid examination from all sincere lovers of their country! How else, he would say, could the authors of them have been tempted to vent such loud censures upon that plan, about a point in which it seems to have conformed itself to the general sense of America as declared in its different forms of government, and in which it has even superadded a new and powerful guard unknown to any of them? If, on the contrary, he happened to be a man of calm and dispassionate feelings, he would indulge a sigh for the frailty of human nature, and would lament, that in a matter so interesting to the happiness of millions, the true merits of the question should be perplexed and entangled by expedients so unfriendly to an impartial and right determination. Even such a man could hardly forbear remarking, that a conduct of this kind has too much the appearance of an intention to mislead the people by alarming their passions, rather than to convince them by arguments addressed to their understandings.

But however little this objection may be countenanced, even by precedents among ourselves, it may be satisfactory to take a nearer view of its intrinsic merits. From a close examination it will appear that restraints upon the discretion of the legislature in respect to military establishments in time of peace, would be improper to be imposed, and if imposed, from the necessities of society, would be unlikely to be observed.

Though a wide ocean separates the United States from Europe, yet there are various considerations that warn us against an excess of confidence or security. On one side of us, and stretching far into our rear, are growing settlements subject to the dominion of Britain. On the other side, and extending to meet the British settlements, are colonies and establishments subject to the dominion of Spain. This situation and the vicinity of the West India Islands, belonging to these two powers create between them, in respect to their American possessions and in relation to us, a common interest. The savage tribes on our Western frontier ought to be regarded as our natural enemies, their natural allies, because they have most to fear from us, and most to hope from them. The improvements in the art of navigation have, as to the facility of communication, rendered distant nations, in a great measure, neighbors. Britain and Spain are among the principal maritime powers of Europe. A future concert of views between these nations ought not to be regarded as improbable. The increasing remoteness of consanguinity is every day diminishing the force of the family compact between France and Spain. And politicians have ever with great reason considered the ties of blood as feeble and precarious links of political connection. These circumstances combined, admonish us not to be too sanguine in considering ourselves as entirely out of the reach of danger.

Previous to the Revolution, and ever since the peace, there has been a constant necessity for keeping small garrisons on our Western frontier. No person can doubt that these will continue to be indispensable, if it should only be against the ravages and depredations of the Indians. These garrisons must either be furnished by occasional detachments from the militia, or by permanent corps in the pay of the government. The first is impracticable; and if practicable, would be pernicious. The militia would not long, if at all, submit to be dragged from their occupations and families to perform that most disagreeable duty in times of profound peace. And if they could be prevailed upon or compelled to do it, the increased expense of a frequent rotation of service, and the loss of labor and disconcertion of the industrious pursuits of individuals, would form conclusive objections to the scheme. It would be as burdensome and injurious to the public as ruinous to private citizens. The latter resource of permanent corps in the pay of the government amounts to a standing army in time of peace; a small one, indeed, but not the less real for being small. Here is a simple view of the subject, that shows us at once the impropriety of a constitutional interdiction of such establishments, and the necessity of leaving the matter to the discretion and prudence of the legislature.

In proportion to our increase in strength, it is probable, nay, it may be said certain, that Britain and Spain would augment their military establishments in our neighborhood. If we should not be willing to be exposed, in a naked and defenseless condition, to their insults and encroachments, we should find it expedient to increase our frontier garrisons in some ratio to the force by which our Western settlements might be annoyed. There are, and will be, particular posts, the possession of which will include the command of large districts of territory, and facilitate future invasions of the remainder. It may be added that some of those posts will be keys to the trade with the Indian nations. Can any man think it would be wise to leave such posts in a situation to be at any instant seized by one or the other of two neighboring and formidable powers? To act this part would be to desert all the usual maxims of prudence and policy.

If we mean to be a commercial people, or even to be secure on our Atlantic side, we must endeavor, as soon as possible, to have a navy. To this purpose there must be dock-yards and arsenals; and for the defense of these, fortifications, and probably garrisons. When a nation has become so powerful by sea that it can protect its dock-yards by its fleets, this supersedes the necessity of garrisons for that purpose; but where naval establishments are in their infancy, moderate garrisons will, in all likelihood, be found an indispensable security against descents for the destruction of the arsenals and dock-yards, and sometimes of the fleet itself.




In this paper, Hamilton responds to the criticism that the proposed constitution does not have sufficient provisions against the existence of standing armies in times of peace. He does not deny that the constitution allows for the existence of standing armies in peacetime; however, he argues that the critics have left out the fact that the power to raise armies lies in the legislature, not the executive, and that there is little precedent in the state constitutions for prohibiting such forces. Since the power to raise armies lies with the legislature, the people do not need to fear that the government will use the army to violate their rights. Hamilton notes that the army’s budget must be approved at least every two years, which he says will help protect against the rise of an excessively powerful military establishment.

Finally, Hamilton argues that the discretion of the legislature to raise armies must not be restrained. He outlines the military threat posed by Spain, Britain, and the Native Americans, and contends that militias will be insufficient to counter them. Even in peacetime, it is necessary to guard the frontiers of the republic and protect seaports. Militias would not be ideal for this function since the volunteer, citizen-soldier militiamen would likely be unwilling to form “that most disagreeable duty” for extended periods of time, and taking militiamen away from their regular jobs would significantly increase expenses.


This is the first in a series of papers that seek to address one of the most compelling criticisms of the proposed constitution: that it allowed for the creation of powerful standing armies which would constitute a fundamental threat to American liberty. There is a long tradition of anti-militarism in Anglo-American political thought. British and American political philosophers typically understood standing armies, i.e., professional fighting forces maintained even during peacetime, as instruments of tyranny. In monarchical systems with a strong executive, the sovereign could employ soldiers to impose his will on the people and deprive citizens of their basic rights.

Militias were seen as far safer sources of security since they were populated by the people themselves. Militiamen had regular jobs as farmers, laborers, craftsmen, merchants, etc. They simply trained periodically and fought during crises. In peacetime, they went back to their regular jobs. Militias were seen as inherently republican. Rather than entrusting the nation’s security to a band of professional fighters separated from the daily life and economy of the public, individual citizens were responsible for protecting their and their neighbors’ property and liberty.

Hamilton seeks to allay these concerns by assuring his readers that standing armies in America will be controlled by the people themselves through their elected representatives in the legislature. Furthermore, he contends that having a standing army is simply unavoidable given the security environment in which America found itself in the late 18th century. He adopts a somewhat mocking tone in addressing his critics and implies that they are exaggerating the risks posed by a standing army in order to stoke the traditional Anglo-American fear of military establishments.


Meme by Tara Ross, http://www.taraross.com

Source: The Federalist Papers, http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/federalist-papers

The Federalist No. 23 – Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union

December 18, 2014



The Federalist No. 23 – Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union

Written by Alexander Hamilton

Published Tuesday, December 18, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

THE necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union, is the point at the examination of which we are now arrived.

This inquiry will naturally divide itself into three branches — the objects to be provided for by the federal government, the quantity of power necessary to the accomplishment of those objects, the persons upon whom that power ought to operate. Its distribution and organization will more properly claim our attention under the succeeding head.

The principal purposes to be answered by union are these — the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.

The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

This is one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it; and may be obscured, but cannot be made plainer by argument or reasoning. It rests upon axioms as simple as they are universal; the means ought to be proportioned to the end; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any end is expected, ought to possess the means by which it is to be attained.

Whether there ought to be a federal government intrusted with the care of the common defense, is a question in the first instance, open for discussion; but the moment it is decided in the affirmative, it will follow, that that government ought to be clothed with all the powers requisite to complete execution of its trust. And unless it can be shown that the circumstances which may affect the public safety are reducible within certain determinate limits; unless the contrary of this position can be fairly and rationally disputed, it must be admitted, as a necessary consequence, that there can be no limitation of that authority which is to provide for the defense and protection of the community, in any matter essential to its efficacy that is, in any matter essential to the formation, direction, or support of the NATIONAL FORCES.

Defective as the present Confederation has been proved to be, this principle appears to have been fully recognized by the framers of it; though they have not made proper or adequate provision for its exercise. Congress have an unlimited discretion to make requisitions of men and money; to govern the army and navy; to direct their operations. As their requisitions are made constitutionally binding upon the States, who are in fact under the most solemn obligations to furnish the supplies required of them, the intention evidently was that the United States should command whatever resources were by them judged requisite to the “common defense and general welfare.” It was presumed that a sense of their true interests, and a regard to the dictates of good faith, would be found sufficient pledges for the punctual performance of the duty of the members to the federal head.

The experiment has, however, demonstrated that this expectation was ill-founded and illusory; and the observations, made under the last head, will, I imagine, have sufficed to convince the impartial and discerning, that there is an absolute necessity for an entire change in the first principles of the system; that if we are in earnest about giving the Union energy and duration, we must abandon the vain project of legislating upon the States in their collective capacities; we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America; we must discard the fallacious scheme of quotas and requisitions, as equally impracticable and unjust. The result from all this is that the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets; and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an army and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments.

If the circumstances of our country are such as to demand a compound instead of a simple, a confederate instead of a sole, government, the essential point which will remain to be adjusted will be to discriminate the OBJECTS, as far as it can be done, which shall appertain to the different provinces or departments of power; allowing to each the most ample authority for fulfilling the objects committed to its charge. Shall the Union be constituted the guardian of the common safety? Are fleets and armies and revenues necessary to this purpose? The government of the Union must be empowered to pass all laws, and to make all regulations which have relation to them. The same must be the case in respect to commerce, and to every other matter to which its jurisdiction is permitted to extend. Is the administration of justice between the citizens of the same State the proper department of the local governments? These must possess all the authorities which are connected with this object, and with every other that may be allotted to their particular cognizance and direction. Not to confer in each case a degree of power commensurate to the end, would be to violate the most obvious rules of prudence and propriety, and improvidently to trust the great interests of the nation to hands which are disabled from managing them with vigor and success.

Who is likely to make suitable provisions for the public defense, as that body to which the guardianship of the public safety is confided; which, as the centre of information, will best understand the extent and urgency of the dangers that threaten; as the representative of the WHOLE, will feel itself most deeply interested in the preservation of every part; which, from the responsibility implied in the duty assigned to it, will be most sensibly impressed with the necessity of proper exertions; and which, by the extension of its authority throughout the States, can alone establish uniformity and concert in the plans and measures by which the common safety is to be secured? Is there not a manifest inconsistency in devolving upon the federal government the care of the general defense, and leaving in the State governments the effective powers by which it is to be provided for? Is not a want of co-operation the infallible consequence of such a system? And will not weakness, disorder, an undue distribution of the burdens and calamities of war, an unnecessary and intolerable increase of expense, be its natural and inevitable concomitants? Have we not had unequivocal experience of its effects in the course of the revolution which we have just accomplished?

Every view we may take of the subject, as candid inquirers after truth, will serve to convince us, that it is both unwise and dangerous to deny the federal government an unconfined authority, as to all those objects which are intrusted to its management. It will indeed deserve the most vigilant and careful attention of the people, to see that it be modeled in such a manner as to admit of its being safely vested with the requisite powers. If any plan which has been, or may be, offered to our consideration, should not, upon a dispassionate inspection, be found to answer this description, it ought to be rejected. A government, the constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers which a free people ought to delegate to any government, would be an unsafe and improper depositary of the NATIONAL INTERESTS. Wherever THESE can with propriety be confided, the coincident powers may safely accompany them. This is the true result of all just reasoning upon the subject. And the adversaries of the plan promulgated by the convention ought to have confined themselves to showing, that the internal structure of the proposed government was such as to render it unworthy of the confidence of the people. They ought not to have wandered into inflammatory declamations and unmeaning cavils about the extent of the powers. The POWERS are not too extensive for the OBJECTS of federal administration, or, in other words, for the management of our NATIONAL INTERESTS; nor can any satisfactory argument be framed to show that they are chargeable with such an excess. If it be true, as has been insinuated by some of the writers on the other side, that the difficulty arises from the nature of the thing, and that the extent of the country will not permit us to form a government in which such ample powers can safely be reposed, it would prove that we ought to contract our views, and resort to the expedient of separate confederacies, which will move within more practicable spheres. 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 indispensible to their proper and efficient management. Let us not attempt to reconcile contradictions, but firmly embrace a rational alternative.

I trust, however, that the impracticability of one general system cannot be shown. I am greatly mistaken, if any thing of weight has yet been advanced of this tendency; and I flatter myself, that the observations which have been made in the course of these papers have served to place the reverse of that position in as clear a light as any matter still in the womb of time and experience can be susceptible of. This, at all events, must be evident, that the very difficulty itself, drawn from the extent of the country, is the strongest argument in favor of an energetic government; for any other can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire. If we embrace the tenets of those who oppose the adoption of the proposed Constitution, as the standard of our political creed, we cannot fail to verify the gloomy doctrines which predict the impracticability of a national system pervading entire limits of the present Confederacy.




The “necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union,” is the topic of this Federalist paper authored by Alexander Hamilton. He outlines three main points, first, what the Federal Government should provide, second, the amount of power necessary to carry out their positions, and third, who in the government should do this. The third point, however, will be discussed later. To Hamilton, the answer to the first question is that the principal purpose of the Union is the common defense of the members, the preservation of public peace, the regulation of commerce, and the conducting of foreign affairs. In order to create a common defense, you have to be able to raise armies, to build and equip fleets, and to create rules for the government of both. Hamilton believed that these powers should exist without limitation because it is impossible to foresee future emergencies. To Hamilton, the means justify the ends in this case of a strong military.

Hamilton believes that even the Articles of Confederation believed that this was extremely important, because there were provisions for Congress to make unlimited requisition of men and money to direct their operations. These requests, however, failed because the states did not have any binding interest. This failure shows us that “we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America.” In sum, “the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets, and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an arm and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments.”

Hamilton continues that the government must have the power to “pass all laws and make all regulation” which pertain to the common safety of the union. If people argue that these powers should not be given to the federal government, Hamilton believes they are sorely mistaken. “A government, the Constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers, which a free people ought to delegate to any government, would be an unsafe and improper depository of the national interests,” a situation that the Articles of Confederation have created. Hamilton concludes, It must be fixed.


While many of the Federalist Papers seem repetitive, emphasizing the same points over and over again, it is important to remember that the Federalist Papers, were not designed to belike a book, read cover to cover, expounding the strengths of the Constitution, but rather, a piece of propaganda appearing in a newspaper. Clearly, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison did not assume that their readers were familiar with all of their words and hence the repetitive nature of their work.

The “precious advantage” that the United States had in 1787 that offered hope for a “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government” ­ the circumstance which would delay the necessity of accepting Hamilton’s favored form of mixed monarchy lay in the predominance of small freehold farmers among the American population. Since the time of Aristotle, it had been recognized that yeoman farmers ­ a middle class between the greedy rich and the envious poor provided the most stable foundation upon which to erect a popular government. This factor, commented on by Madison, Pinckney, Adams, and others, helps explain why the Convention did not feel it necessary to sacrifice either majority rule or popular responsibility in their new Constitution.

It is interesting to note that the plan that Hamilton defends in this paper was not theoretically the soundest. The leaders of the Convention realized that a theoretical best ­ and member after member went on record praising the British constitution as the best ever created by man a theoretical best might be the enemy of a possible good. As Pierce Butler insisted, in a different context, “The people will not bear such innovations. Supposing such an establishment to be useful, we must not venture on it. We must follow the example of Solon who gave the Athenians not the best government he could devise, but the best they would receive.”


Meme by Tara Ross, http://www.taraross.com

Source: The Federalist Papers, http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/federalist-papers

Nathaniel Macon, spokesman for the Old Republicans: "Negation was his ward and arm"

December 17, 2014



Nathaniel Macon was a spokesman for the Quids, the Old Republican faction of the Jeffersonian-Republican Party, that wanted to strictly limit the United States federal government. Macon was born on December 17, 1757, near Warrenton, North Carolina, and attended the College of New Jersey and served briefly in the Revolutionary War. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1791 to 1815; from 1801 to 1807 he was Speaker of the House. He served in the Senate from December, 1815, until his resignation in 1828. He was president of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835.


Portrait of Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, circa 1820, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

Macon opposed the Constitution and spent his four decades in Congress making sure the national government would remain weak. He was especially hostile to a navy, fearing the expense would create a financial interest . Macon detested Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist program. He bitterly opposed the Jay Treaty in 1795, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and the movement for war with France in 1798–99. He supported Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana in 1803 and tried to get Jefferson to purchase Florida as well. He supported all of the foreign policies of Jefferson and Madison from 1801 to 1817. During the Jefferson administration, Macon was offered the post of postmaster general at least twice, but he declined. In 1808, Macon was considered a potential candidate for the vice presidency but did not run. In 1809 he chaired the foreign relations committee and reported successively the two bills that bear his name, although he was the author of neither and was definitely opposed to the second.

Macon Bill No. 1 attacked British shipping, but was defeated. In May 1810, Macon’s Bill No. 2 was passed, giving the president power to suspend trade with either Great Britain or France if the other should cease to interfere with United States commerce. Macon supported Madison in declaring the War of 1812; he opposed conscription to build the army and opposed higher taxes. He opposed the second charter of the United States Bank in 1811 and in 1816, uniformly voted against any form of protective tariff; he did favor some road construction by the federal government but generally opposed the policy of internal improvements promoted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. In the Missouri debate of 1820 he voted against the compromise brokered by Clay. He was always an earnest defender of slavery. Macon was also considered a potential candidate for the presidency in 1824 but declined. Macon won 24 electoral votes for vice president as the stand-in running-mate for William Harris Crawford. Macon was asked to run for the vice presidency again in 1828 but declined.

Macon was for 37 years the most prominent nay-sayer in Congress—a “negative radical”.[2] It was said of him that during the entire term of his service no ten other members cast so many negative votes. “Negation was his ward and arm.” He was rural and local-minded, and economy was the passion of his public career. “His economy of the public money was the severest, sharpest, most stringent and constant refusal of almost any grant that could be proposed.” With him, “not only was … parsimony the best subsidy—but … the only one”.[3]

Macon collaborated with John Randolph and John Taylor as part of the Quids or Old Republicans, a faction of the Jeffersonian-Republican Party that rejected the Tariff Bill, growth in power of the United States Supreme Court, and other aspects of Neo-Federalism.

Nathaniel Macon was the son of Maj. Gideon Hunt Macon (1715–1761) and Priscilla Jones (1718 – March 1802). Gideon Hunt Macon was born in Virginia, but moved to North Carolina in the early 1740s. He and Priscilla were married in North Carolina in 1744.

Gideon Hunt Macon built “Macon Manor” and became a prosperous tobacco planter. Nathaniel, born at Macon Manor, was the sixth child of Gideon and Priscilla, and he was only two when his father died in 1761. Upon his death, Gideon possessed 3,000 acres of land and 25–30 slaves. Nathaniel was bequeathed two parcels of land and all of his father’s blacksmithing tools. Gideon also left his son three slaves: George, Robb, and Lucy.

In 1766, Priscilla Macon arranged for the education of two of her sons, Nathaniel and John, along with the two sons of her neighbor Philemon Hawkins. For this purpose, they engaged Mr. Charles Pettigrew who later became the Principal of the Academy of Edenton in 1733. The two brothers and their neighbors, Joseph and Benjamin Hawkins, were instructed by him from 1766–1773. Three of the four boys (Nathaniel counted among them) continued on to further their education at the “College of New Jersey” at Princeton.

Nathaniel met Hannah Plummer in 1782 in Warrenton, North Carolina. Her parents were Virginians, as were Nathaniel’s, and they were “well connected”. Nathaniel was a tall man, over 6 feet, and considered attractive, but he was not the only man who was pursuing Miss Plummer. However, after a number of months of courtship, Hannah and Nathaniel decided to marry.

Their wedding took place on October 9, 1783, and their marriage was an affectionate one. They made their home on Hubquarter Creek on their plantation known as “Buck Spring”. It was about 12 miles north of Warrenton, near Roanoke, on land which Nathaniel had inherited from his father.


Macon’s “Buck Spring” home near Warrenton, North Carolina.

According to Bible records, the Macons had three children:

  • Betsy Kemp Macon (September 12, 1784 – November 10, 1829) married William John Martin (March 6, 1781 – December 11, 1828)
  • Plummer Macon (April 14, 1786 – July 26, 1792)
  • Seignora Macon (November 15, 1787 – ?)

Nathaniel’s wife, Hannah, died on July 11, 1790 when she was just 29 years old. Although Nathaniel was only 32 at the time of her death, he never remarried. It is said that he was devoted to his wife, and his long unmarried life following her early death would suggest that he was faithful to her memory. Her remains were buried not far from their home on the borders of their yard. Their only son died just over a year after Hannah and was buried beside her. When Nathaniel died July 29, 1837 at age 78, he was laid to rest next to his wife and son. As he requested, the site of their graves was covered with a great heap of flint stones so that the land would be left uncultivated because Nathaniel believed that no one would want to go to the trouble of removing all of the flint in order to use the land, thereby preserving the burial site.


Stones heaped on Nathaniel Macon’s grave at Buck Spring Cemetery in Warren County, North Carolina.

Nathaniel Macon is the great-grandfather of Congressman Charles Martin, the uncle of Willis Alston and Micajah Thomas Hawkins, great-uncle of Matt Whitaker Ransom, Robert Ransom and Thomas Jefferson Green, great-great-uncle of Wharton Jackson Green, John Pegram, William Ransom Johnson Pegram, and David Harrison Macon, great-great-great-great-uncle of Claude Kitchin and William Walton Kitchin, and the great-great-great-great-great-uncle of Alvin Paul Kitchin.

Nathaniel’s father’s parents were John Macon (December 17, 1695 – March 31, 1752) and Ann Hunt (1697 – February 15, 1725), both of Virginia. Nathaniel’s paternal great-grandparents were Gideon Macon (c. 1648 – February 1701 or 1702) and Martha Woodward (1665–1723). Gideon and Martha Woodward Macon were also the great-grandparents of Martha Dandridge who married George Washington and became First Lady of the United States of America. Therefore, Nathaniel Macon was the second cousin of Martha Dandridge Washington.


  1. Wellman 2002, pp. 58-59
  2. Hamilton 1933
  3. C. J. Ingersoll, quoted Hamilton 1933


  • Dodd, William Edward (1903). The Life of Nathaniel Macon. Edwards & Broughton. OCLC 10971454., pp. 1–4; 41-44
  • William E. Dodd, “The Place of Nathaniel Macon in Southern History,” American Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (July, 1902), pp. 663-675 online at JSTOR
  • Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac. “Macon, Nathaniel” in Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 6 (1933)
  • Wellman, Manly Wade (2002). The County of Warren, North Carolina, 1586-1917. University of North Carolina Press ISBN 978-0-8078-5472-3

Thomas Lynch, Sr., South Carolina statesman

December 16, 2014



Thomas Lynch, Sr., was an American planter and statesman from South Carolina. He was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776.

Lynch was born in St. James Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina, in 1727 to Thomas Lynch (1675 – 1752) and Sabina Vanderhorst Lynch (1691 – 1748). Lynch married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Lynch and then he married Hannah Lynch. He was the father of Sabina Cattell; Esther Lynch; Thomas Lynch, Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence; and Elizabeth Hamilton.


Portrait from the New York Public Library Digital Image Collection

He served in the Colonial Legislature of South Carolina and represented the Colony in the Stamp Act Congress, heading the committee which drafted the petition to the House of Commons.

Elected to both the First and Second Continental Congresses, Lynch joined Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Harrison on a committee sent to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to confer with General George Washington upon “the most effectual method of continuing, supporting, and regulating the Continental Army.”

In the ensuing discussions, Washington told the committee of his plan to arm ships to prey upon British supply lines. The gentlemen from Congress approved of the scheme and recommended it to Congress, thus giving essential political support to the establishment of “George Washington’s Navy,” the first organized naval force of the new Nation.

Thomas Lynch’s second wife was a sister of South Carolina Congressman Isaac Motte; after Lynch’s death following a stroke in December 1776, she married South Carolina Governor William Moultrie. His son, Thomas Lynch, Jr. took his place in the Congress. His daughter Elizabeth was the mother of South Carolina Governor James Hamilton, Jr.

Lynch is buried in Saint Annes Churchyard at Annapolis, Maryland.


  • Thomas Lynch at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • “Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina”. U. S. National Park Service

Slave George

December 15, 2014



George Lewis, also known as Slave George or Lilburn Lewis’ slave George, was a negro held as a slave by the Lewis family in western Kentucky. He was murdered on the night of December 15-16, 1811, by Lilburn and Isham Lewis, grown sons of Dr. Charles Lilburn Lewis and Lucy Jefferson Lewis, and nephews of Thomas Jefferson.[1]

Because of the murder coinciding with the time and location of the notorious New Madrid Earthquake and the ensuing disgrace of the prominent Lewis family, accounts of it quickly became part of regional and national lore. Soon after being released on bail, Lilburn Lewis committed suicide. Jailed after his brother’s death, Isham escaped and disappeared from the area and is believed to have perished in the January 1814 Battle of New Orleans.

George was born into slavery in 1794 in Virginia and held by the Lewis family. He grew up as a house slave and learned what was needed in the kitchen and other areas. When Randolph and Lilburne Lewis decided to move to Kentucky in 1806 with their families, they took their slaves with them, including George.

In early 1812, Lilburne and Isham Lewis were still in mourning for their mother and older brother Randolph, who had died the year before.[2][3] Lilburne had also lost his first wife in 1811. He had remarried a local woman named Letitia. She was pregnant with their first child by early 1812, and Lilburne was struggling during financial reversals to support his first five children.[4]

George was a 17-year-old slave held by Lilburne Lewis. Some accounts said that George had recently returned from a two-week absence from the farm (a sabbatical which slavery advocates described as “skulking sessions”).[4] Isham had come to Lilburne on an extended visit, and the brothers often used to drink together. That night they had been drinking and argued with George over his accidentally breaking a pitcher that belonged to their mother; angered, they killed him in front of seven other slaves.[4]

“… Lilburn turned on a seventeen year old slave named George and, with the help of his ne’er do well younger brother Isham, tied him on the floor and attacked him with an ax while his horrified slaves were forced to watch… “[5]


Early depiction of the effects of the December 1811 New Madrid Earthquake

The dismemberment of George’s decapitated corpse was interrupted by the most powerful U.S. earthquake ever recorded, the Great New Madrid Earthquake, which struck at 3:15 a.m. Eastern time (2:15 a.m. in the Central Standard Time observed in the western Kentucky locale of the murder). Lilburne intended to destroy the evidence by having the slaves burn George’s dismembered body, but the New Madrid earthquake caused the chimney to collapse around the fire. (They were likely in the kitchen cabin.) In the days afterward, the brothers made other slaves rebuild the chimney and hide the remains within it.[4] Two additional megaquakes jolted the region on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. The second caused a partial collapse of the chimney that had concealed George’s remains.[4]

In early March 1812, a neighborhood dog retrieved the young man’s skull and deposited it in open view in a roadway. Neighbors saw the skull and began to inquire about it. They determined it was that of slave George, who was missing, and learned that he had been murdered. In slaveholding areas of the United States, the torturous murder of a slave was illegal.

Lilburne and Isham Lewis were quickly investigated, arrested and charged. After they were released on bail, on April 9, 1812, Lilburne encouraged his brother to carry out a joint suicide pact with him. In the event, only Lilburne died. Held on investigation as accessory to the suicide, Isham escaped from jail and disappeared.[6][4][Note 1] Their father Charles was bereft, having lost his son Randolph and wife Lucy within the past two years, and suddenly confronted with caring for Lilburne’s orphaned children as well as Randolph’s. Lilburne’s wife Letitia returned to her own family after the murder.

Many books and articles since 1812 have examined the case of slave George and Jefferson’s nephews.[4] The historian Boynton Merrill, Jr. considered the case as arising out of the power abuses inherent in the institution of slavery, frontier stresses, mounting personal and financial losses in the Lewis family, mental instability of Lilburne, and abuse of alcohol by both brothers.[4]


  1. On Pages xxvi & xxvii of his Preface to the 1987 edition of Jefferson’s Nephews, Merrill states that Isham “escaped from jail in Salem, Kentucky and six weeks later enlisted for five years in a U.S. Army Infantry company. The day after Isham enlisted, war was declared against England.” and “Isham was one of seven men killed on the American side” at the Battle of New Orleans.


  1. Hunter, Frances (October 8, 2009). “Murder and Madness in the Lewis Family”. WordPress http://franceshunter.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/murder-and-madness-in-the-lewis-family/.
  2. Gravesite and memorial plaque of Lucy Jefferson Lewis
  3. Lucy Jefferson Lewis at Findagrave.com
  4. Boynton Merrill, Jr., Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, 1976, revised 2004
  5. “A Case Study”, Indiana Magazine of History, 1977
  6. Brunson Lucas, Marion (2003). A History of Blacks in Kentucky: from Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891 (2nd ed.). Kentucky Historical Society. ISBN 978-0916968328. http://books.google.com/books?id=84Qf2qKyZiEC&pg=PA47&dq=isham+lewis+slave&hl=en&ei=0DZNTLrMFsLenAfE_IHYCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=isham%20lewis%20slave&f=false

The Federalist No. 22 – Other Defects of the Present Confederation (continued)

December 14, 2014



The Federalist No. 22 – Other Defects of the Present Confederation (continued)

Written by Alexander Hamilton

Published Friday, December 14, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

IN ADDITION to the defects already enumerated in the existing federal system, there are others of not less importance, which concur in rendering it altogether unfit for the administration of the affairs of the Union.

The want of a power to regulate commerce is by all parties allowed to be of the number. The utility of such a power has been anticipated under the first head of our inquiries; and for this reason, as well as from the universal conviction entertained upon the subject, little need be added in this place. It is indeed evident, on the most superficial view, that there is no object, either as it respects the interests of trade or finance, that more strongly demands a federal superintendence. The want of it has already operated as a bar to the formation of beneficial treaties with foreign powers, and has given occasions of dissatisfaction between the States. No nation acquainted with the nature of our political association would be unwise enough to enter into stipulations with the United States, by which they conceded privileges of any importance to them, while they were apprised that the engagements on the part of the Union might at any moment be violated by its members, and while they found from experience that they might enjoy every advantage they desired in our markets, without granting us any return but such as their momentary convenience might suggest. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that Mr. Jenkinson, in ushering into the House of Commons a bill for regulating the temporary intercourse between the two countries, should preface its introduction by a declaration that similar provisions in former bills had been found to answer every purpose to the commerce of Great Britain, and that it would be prudent to persist in the plan until it should appear whether the American government was likely or not to acquire greater consistency.

Several States have endeavored, by separate prohibitions, restrictions, and exclusions, to influence the conduct of that kingdom in this particular, but the want of concert, arising from the want of a general authority and from clashing and dissimilar views in the State, has hitherto frustrated every experiment of the kind, and will continue to do so as long as the same obstacles to a uniformity of measures continue to exist.

The interfering and unneighborly regulations of some States, contrary to the true spirit of the Union, have, in different instances, given just cause of umbrage and complaint to others, and it is to be feared that examples of this nature, if not restrained by a national control, would be multiplied and extended till they became not less serious sources of animosity and discord than injurious impediments to the intcrcourse between the different parts of the Confederacy. “The commerce of the German empire is in continual trammels from the multiplicity of the duties which the several princes and states exact upon the merchandises passing through their territories, by means of which the fine streams and navigable rivers with which Germany is so happily watered are rendered almost useless.” Though the genius of the people of this country might never permit this description to be strictly applicable to us, yet we may reasonably expect, from the gradual conflicts of State regulations, that the citizens of each would at length come to be considered and treated by the others in no better light than that of foreigners and aliens.

The power of raising armies, by the most obvious construction of the articles of the Confederation, is merely a power of making requisitions upon the States for quotas of men. This practice in the course of the late war, was found replete with obstructions to a vigorous and to an economical system of defense. It gave birth to a competition between the States which created a kind of auction for men. In order to furnish the quotas required of them, they outbid each other till bounties grew to an enormous and insupportable size. The hope of a still further increase afforded an inducement to those who were disposed to serve to procrastinate their enlistment, and disinclined them from engaging for any considerable periods. Hence, slow and scanty levies of men, in the most critical emergencies of our affairs; short enlistments at an unparalleled expense; continual fluctuations in the troops, ruinous to their discipline and subjecting the public safety frequently to the perilous crisis of a disbanded army. Hence, also, those oppressive expedients for raising men which were upon several occasions practiced, and which nothing but the enthusiasm of liberty would have induced the people to endure.

This method of raising troops is not more unfriendly to economy and vigor than it is to an equal distribution of the burden. The States near the seat of war, influenced by motives of self-preservation, made efforts to furnish their quotas, which even exceeded their abilities; while those at a distance from danger were, for the most part, as remiss as the others were diligent, in their exertions. The immediate pressure of this inequality was not in this case, as in that of the contributions of money, alleviated by the hope of a final liquidation. The States which did not pay their proportions of money might at least be charged with their deficiencies; but no account could be formed of the deficiencies in the supplies of men. We shall not, however, see much reason to regret the want of this hope, when we consider how little prospect there is, that the most delinquent States will ever be able to make compensation for their pecuniary failures. The system of quotas and requisitions, whether it be applied to men or money, is, in every view, a system of imbecility in the Union, and of inequality and injustice among the members.

The right of equal suffrage among the States is another exceptionable part of the Confederation. Every idea of proportion and every rule of fair representation conspire to condemn a principle, which gives to Rhode Island an equal weight in the scale of power with Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or New York; and to Deleware an equal voice in the national deliberations with Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or North Carolina. Its operation contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail. Sophistry may reply, that sovereigns are equal, and that a majority of the votes of the States will be a majority of confederated America. But this kind of logical legerdemain will never counteract the plain suggestions of justice and common-sense. It may happen that this majority of States is a small minority of the people of America; and two thirds of the people of America could not long be persuaded, upon the credit of artificial distinctions and syllogistic subtleties, to submit their interests to the management and disposal of one third. The larger States would after a while revolt from the idea of receiving the law from the smaller. To acquiesce in such a privation of their due importance in the political scale, would be not merely to be insensible to the love of power, but even to sacrifice the desire of equality. It is neither rational to expect the first, nor just to require the last. The smaller States, considering how peculiarly their safety and welfare depend on union, ought readily to renounce a pretension which, if not relinquished, would prove fatal to its duration.

It may be objected to this, that not seven but nine States, or two thirds of the whole number, must consent to the most important resolutions; and it may be thence inferred that nine States would always comprehend a majority of the Union. But this does not obviate the impropriety of an equal vote between States of the most unequal dimensions and populousness; nor is the inference accurate in point of fact; for we can enumerate nine States which contain less than a majority of the people; and it is constitutionally possible that these nine may give the vote. Besides, there are matters of considerable moment determinable by a bare majority; and there are others, concerning which doubts have been entertained, which, if interpreted in favor of the sufficiency of a vote of seven States, would extend its operation to interests of the first magnitude. In addition to this, it is to be observed that there is a probability of an increase in the number of States, and no provision for a proportional augmentation of the ratio of votes.

But this is not all: what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. Congress, from the nonattendance of a few States, have been frequently in the situation of a Polish diet, where a single veto has been sufficient to put a stop to all their movements. A sixtieth part of the Union, which is about the proportion of Delaware and Rhode Island, has several times been able to oppose an entire bar to its operations. This is one of those refinements which, in practice, has an effect the reverse of what is expected from it in theory. The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.

It is not difficult to discover, that a principle of this kind gives greater scope to foreign corruption, as well as to domestic faction, than that which permits the sense of the majority to decide; though the contrary of this has been presumed. The mistake has proceeded from not attending with due care to the mischiefs that may be occasioned by obstructing the progress of government at certain critical seasons. When the concurrence of a large number is required by the Constitution to the doing of any national act, we are apt to rest satisfied that all is safe, because nothing improper will be likely to be done, but we forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary, and of keeping affairs in the same unfavorable posture in which they may happen to stand at particular periods.

Suppose, for instance, we were engaged in a war, in conjunction with one foreign nation, against another. Suppose the necessity of our situation demanded peace, and the interest or ambition of our ally led him to seek the prosecution of the war, with views that might justify us in making separate terms. In such a state of things, this ally of ours would evidently find it much easier, by his bribes and intrigues, to tie up the hands of government from making peace, where two thirds of all the votes were requisite to that object, than where a simple majority would suffice. In the first case, he would have to corrupt a smaller number; in the last, a greater number. Upon the same principle, it would be much easier for a foreign power with which we were at war to perplex our councils and embarrass our exertions. And, in a commercial view, we may be subjected to similar inconveniences. A nation, with which we might have a treaty of commerce, could with much greater facility prevent our forming a connection with her competitor in trade, though such a connection should be ever so beneficial to ourselves.

Evils of this description ought not to be regarded as imaginary. One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption. An hereditary monarch, though often disposed to sacrifice his subjects to his ambition, has so great a personal interest in the government and in the external glory of the nation, that it is not easy for a foreign power to give him an equivalent for what he would sacrifice by treachery to the state. The world has accordingly been witness to few examples of this species of royal prostitution, though there have been abundant specimens of every other kind.

In republics, persons elevated from the mass of the community, by the suffrages of their fellow-citizens, to stations of great pre-eminence and power, may find compensations for betraying their trust, which, to any but minds animated and guided by superior virtue, may appear to exceed the proportion of interest they have in the common stock, and to overbalance the obligations of duty. Hence it is that history furnishes us with so many mortifying examples of the prevalency of foreign corruption in republican governments. How much this contributed to the ruin of the ancient commonwealths has been already delineated. It is well known that the deputies of the United Provinces have, in various instances, been purchased by the emissaries of the neighboring kingdoms. The Earl of Chesterfield (if my memory serves me right), in a letter to his court, intimates that his success in an important negotiation must depend on his obtaining a major’s commission for one of those deputies. And in Sweden the parties were alternately bought by France and England in so barefaced and notorious a manner that it excited universal disgust in the nation, and was a principal cause that the most limited monarch in Europe, in a single day, without tumult, violence, or opposition, became one of the most absolute and uncontrolled.

A circumstance which crowns the defects of the Confederation remains yet to be mentioned, the want of a judiciary power. Laws are a dead letter without courts to expound and define their true meaning and operation. The treaties of the United States, to have any force at all, must be considered as part of the law of the land. Their true import, as far as respects individuals, must, like all other laws, be ascertained by judicial determinations. To produce uniformity in these determinations, they ought to be submitted, in the last resort, to one SUPREME TRIBUNAL. And this tribunal ought to be instituted under the same authority which forms the treaties themselves. These ingredients are both indispensable. If there is in each State a court of final jurisdiction, there may be as many different final determinations on the same point as there are courts. There are endless diversities in the opinions of men. We often see not only different courts but the judges of the came court differing from each other. To avoid the confusion which would unavoidably result from the contradictory decisions of a number of independent judicatories, all nations have found it necessary to establish one court paramount to the rest, possessing a general superintendence, and authorized to settle and declare in the last resort a uniform rule of civil justice.

This is the more necessary where the frame of the government is so compounded that the laws of the whole are in danger of being contravened by the laws of the parts. In this case, if the particular tribunals are invested with a right of ultimate jurisdiction, besides the contradictions to be expected from difference of opinion, there will be much to fear from the bias of local views and prejudices, and from the interference of local regulations. As often as such an interference was to happen, there would be reason to apprehend that the provisions of the particular laws might be preferred to those of the general laws; for nothing is more natural to men in office than to look with peculiar deference towards that authority to which they owe their official existence.

The treaties of the United States, under the present Constitution, are liable to the infractions of thirteen different legislatures, and as many different courts of final jurisdiction, acting under the authority of those legislatures. The faith, the reputation, the peace of the whole Union, are thus continually at the mercy of the prejudices, the passions, and the interests of every member of which it is composed. Is it possible that foreign nations can either respect or confide in such a government? Is it possible that the people of America will longer consent to trust their honor, their happiness, their safety, on so precarious a foundation?

In this review of the Confederation, I have confined myself to the exhibition of its most material defects; passing over those imperfections in its details by which even a great part of the power intended to be conferred upon it has been in a great measure rendered abortive. It must be by this time evident to all men of reflection, who can divest themselves of the prepossessions of preconceived opinions, that it is a system so radically vicious and unsound, as to admit not of amendment but by an entire change in its leading features and characters.

The organization of Congress is itself utterly improper for the exercise of those powers which are necessary to be deposited in the Union. A single assembly may be a proper receptacle of those slender, or rather fettered, authorities, which have been heretofore delegated to the federal head; but it would be inconsistent with all the principles of good government, to intrust it with those additional powers which, even the moderate and more rational adversaries of the proposed Constitution admit, ought to reside in the United States. If that plan should not be adopted, and if the necessity of the Union should be able to withstand the ambitious aims of those men who may indulge magnificent schemes of personal aggrandizement from its dissolution, the probability would be, that we should run into the project of conferring supplementary powers upon Congress, as they are now constituted; and either the machine, from the intrinsic feebleness of its structure, will moulder into pieces, in spite of our ill-judged efforts to prop it; or, by successive augmentations of its force an energy, as necessity might prompt, we shall finally accumulate, in a single body, all the most important prerogatives of sovereignty, and thus entail upon our posterity one of the most execrable forms of government that human infatuation ever contrived. Thus, we should create in reality that very tyranny which the adversaries of the new Constitution either are, or affect to be, solicitous to avert.

It has not a little contributed to the infirmities of the existing federal system, that it never had a ratification by the PEOPLE. Resting on no better foundation than the consent of the several legislatures, it has been exposed to frequent and intricate questions concerning the validity of its powers, and has, in some instances, given birth to the enormous doctrine of a right of legislative repeal. Owing its ratification to the law of a State, it has been contended that the same authority might repeal the law by which it was ratified. However gross a heresy it may be to maintain that a party to a compact has a right to revoke that compact, the doctrine itself has had respectable advocates. The possibility of a question of this nature proves the necessity of laying the foundations of our national government deeper than in the mere sanction of delegated authority. The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.




Hamilton begins this essay by saying that in addition to the problems of the Article of Confederation that have already been discussed, there were others, of equal importance that also need to be addressed.

First, both Federalists and anti-Federalists agree that the lack of power to regulate commerce among the several states and between this government and foreign nations has created an abominable situation. For Hamilton, this is the biggest problem that motivates a stronger form of government. Foreign governments are understandably reluctant to enter into trade agreements or treaties with us knowing that the individual states can (and do) violate, at their whim, the terms of these agreements. Under these circumstances, the United States cannot develop a favorable balance of trade or enjoy diplomatic relationships. In addition, the lack of uniform trade regulation has resulted in considerable animosity among the states. It is of the utmost importance that the national government have the power to regulate commerce.

Next, Hamilton addresses the subject of the military, a power that under the confederation as merely “making requisitions upon the States for quotas of men.” This system, during the Revolution, however, was found wanting because it created competition between the states, “an auction for men.” Several states promised their male citizens more money than other states were paying, and men, in attempt to force their states to increase military pay, delayed enlisting. This competition among the states, a type of blackmail, created dangerous situations, including confusion, expense, inefficiency, and undisciplined troops. Nothing but the “enthusiasm of liberty induced the people to endure.” Besides the difficulties this situation created, it also was unfair because the states closest to the center of the war inevitably made the largest effort to meet their quotas; those farthest away from the fighting made little or no effort to meet them.

Another issue that Hamilton feels necessitates the new constitution is “the right of equal suffrage among the states.” Under the Articles of Confederation, all the states, whether large or small, were represented equally in the Congress. This system, however, means that in reality the people are unequally represented. New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland constitute a majority of the states, but they do not contain one-third of the population. Thus, this situation violates the republican principles of majority rule. The citizens of the small states must realize that, sooner or later, the citizens of the large states will protest such an unfair arrangement. When that happens, the stability and welfare of the country will be threatened. A situation in which a responsible majority is frequently coerced by a small minority could result in anarchy. The other problem that arises from this legislative situation (a national government controlled by a legislative minority) is that the government is vulnerable to foreign influence and corruption. It is difficult for a foreign government to influence a governing majority but relatively easy for them to corrupt or influence a powerful few.

The other defect that Hamilton feels is severe is the lack of a Supreme Court, a body necessary to define and interpret the laws, as “laws are dead letter without courts to expound and define their true meaning and operation.” In addition, a Supreme Court is needed to interpret and enforce the terms of treaties. A court is given more importance in the United States where laws can conflict. A government cannot exist if local biases and narrow interests dominate the national discourse.

Last, Hamilton attacks the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Because the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the state legislatures, Hamilton argues that they lack power and could be dismissed easily. Instead, he believes that “the fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people.”


The entirety of this Federalist paper, like that of papers 1-22, is devoted not to promoting the new constitution, but rather, examining the flaws in the existing Articles of Confederation. When this was originally published, Saturday December 15, 1787, it marked the completion of the second formal section of the work. Hamilton focuses on five basic themes, all falling under the theme of the strength of federalism, in an attempt to convince the general public of the inadequacies of the present type of government. These themes include the problems dealing with commerce, military, courts, representation, and the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.

Differences and similarities between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison can be gleaned from this paper written by Hamilton. Like Madison, Hamilton beloved that democratic excesses in these states threatened the individual’s rights, Hamilton wants free government secured through a federal guarantee of the state constitutions. Unlike Madison, Hamilton fears that factions in one state may cause trouble in other states rather than being absorbed and neutralized. Therefore, as later papers demonstrate, Hamilton believes in the concentration of power in the national government. Above all, this article emphasizes the need for “an entire change” of the “radically vicious and unsound” system of the Articles of Confederation.

Interestingly, there were extreme difficulties of penning the Federalist in the short amount of time necessary before the New York ratifying convention met. Luckily, before he even began penning the papers, Hamilton had worked out a detailed outline a substantial percentage of the essays he had contracted to write for The Federalist. The first two topics to be discussed by Publius were “The utility of the Union” and “The insufficiency of the present Confederation.” Hamilton had covered exactly those subjects in the opening pages of a speech delivered at the Constitution Convention. Hamilton, therefore, had a quantity of material recently used at Philadelphia that was presented again, like this essay. Hamilton used the same ideas, theories, and historical examples that he had already used in the convention, thus facilitating the rapid publication of the first essays.


Meme by Tara Ross, http://www.taraross.com

Source: The Federalist Papers, http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/federalist-papers


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