FEDERALIST NO. 11
Need for the Union and a Navy
to Advance Commerce
To the People of the State of New York:
THERE IS little disagreement on the Union’s ability to build a navy able to challenge the Europeans.
commercial importance to foreign trade. This would be especially valuable to our operations in the
European maritime powers are uneasy about our West Indies. A few American ships, sent to reinforce
adventurous commercial spirit and its possible threat to either the British or the Spaniards could be enough to
their shipping – the basis of their navigation strength. make either a winner or loser.
Those with American colonies foresee dangers from In the West Indies, we can command great respect.
bordering States able to build powerful marines. And if we offer useful American military equipment, we
———————————————————————— can negotiate commercial privileges and set attractive
prices on our friendship and neutrality.
No vessel of war shall be kept up in time of peace by any Indeed, by keeping the Union we can “referee”
State, except such number only, as shall be deemed
necessary by the United States in Congress assembled, Europe’s American conflicts, and turn them to our
for the defense of such State, or its trade … advantage. But by separating, we would allow rivalries
Article VI of the Articles of Confederation
[The Congress shall have the power) To provide and between the States to destroy all of our advantages in
maintain a navy … [and] To make rules for the government international politics and trade. European nations at war
and regulation of the … naval forces … with each other would not fear us, and could raid our
Article I, Section 8 (13) & (14) of the United States Constitution
No State shall, without the consent of Congress … keep resources to fill their needs.
troops and ships of war in time of peace … Neutrality rights are respected only when defended. A
Article I, Section 10 (3) & of the United States Constitution
weak nation gives up even the privilege to be neutral.
Under a vigorous national government, our natural
———————————————————————— strength and resources, directed to a common purpose,
In defense, they will likely try to divide us and keep us would impede European efforts to limit our growth. Active
from carrying our goods in our own ships. This would commerce, extensive navigation and a thriving maritime
prevent us from competing with them, gaining the profits industry are, in short, morally and physically necessary.
from our own goods and realizing our potential greatness.
But disunited, even little schemes by little politicians
By remaining united, we can counter this threat in
could defeat us. Powerful maritime nations, capitalizing
many ways. By enacting regulations, nationwide, we can
on our impotence, could set the conditions for our political
force foreigners to bid against each other for access to
existence. Moreover, as they have a common interest in
our markets. This is a real concern to those who see the
carrying our goods and preventing us from shipping
importance of our rapidly growing, essentially agricultural
theirs, they would likely unite to destroy, or at least
markets to all manufacturing nations. By not acting
neutralize, our shipping. We would then be forced to
against us, they risk huge losses in trade and shipping.
accept any price for our commodities, and hand our trade
Suppose we had a government strong enough to bar
profits to our enemies. The unequaled spirit of enterprise,
Great Britain (with whom we have no commercial treaty).
which signifies the genius of American merchants and
This would enable us to negotiate vast, valuable
navigators, and is an inexhaustible mine of national
commercial privileges in the British colonies.
wealth, would be stifled and lost. Then poverty and
In the past, Britain might have responded by simply
disgrace would spread across a country that, with
shipping her goods to America through the Dutch. But
wisdom, could win the world’s admiration and envy.
the loss of revenue from not using her own ships would
Some rights of importance to American trade are also
be heavy. And the Dutch, not they, would pocket the
rights of the Union. I mean the fisheries, navigation of the
principal profits. This round-about, expensive trade
Western lakes and access to the Mississippi. Dissolving
arrangement would also make British goods higher priced
the Union would bring the nation’s whole waterborne
and less competitive against the rest of Europe – another
mercantile future into question. Our enemies would
serious financial threat.
certainly exploit our disunity.
I believe that these disadvantages would force Britain
Spain stands between us and the Mississippi. France
to grant us market privileges in her island colonies in the
and Britain compete with us for fisheries – and see them
West Indies. To gain these benefits, we would need to
as critical to their navigation. They would not neglect this
grant some exemptions and immunities in our own, and
valuable weapon that prevents us from underselling them
this would affect relations with other nations hoping to
in their own markets. What could be more natural than
share in our trade.
preventing their success?
Another way to influence European nations’ conduct
We should not consider our maritime strength a partial
toward us would be to establish a federal navy. One of an
benefit. All the navigating States could – probably would –
effective Union government would be the strength and
The Federalist Papers … In Other Words • Paraphrased by Marshall Overstedt • Page 15
To the People of the State of New York:
WILL THE NEW government’s shape and direction be Judges should sit during good behavior.
strictly republican? Obviously, only a republic will conform Ministers would serve according to set regulations, a
to the intelligence and creativity of the American people, standard also set by State constitutions.
with the basic principles of the Revolution and with the But the most convincing proof of the proposed system’s
essential goal of freedom: to truly test mankind’s capacity republican nature is its prohibition of titles of nobility and its
for self-government. If the convention plan departs from guarantee to all States of republican administration.
republicanism, it cannot be defended. “It was not enough,” say adversaries, “to adhere to the
What are republican government’s unique features? If republican form. It should have kept the federal definition of
we ask the political writers this question, we would never the Union as a confederacy of sovereign States. Instead, it
get a satisfactory answer. has framed a national government – a coalition of the
Among nations accepted as true republics are Holland, States.”
where the people have no official authority; Venice, where a In answer, I point out that it will be the American people
few f hereditary nobles exercise absolute power people; who will assent to and ratify the Constitution. Their approval
Poland, a mixture of the worst kinds of aristocracy and will be put forward by representatives they elect for that
monarchy; and England, which combines but one purpose. In this, the people will act, not as subjects of one
republican branch with an hereditary aristocracy and entire nation, but as citizens of the independent States that
monarchy. comprise their nation. Yes, it will be expressed in action by
These examples, nearly as different from each other as the States. But it will take place on their sovereign authority
from a genuine republic, show the inaccuracy of the – which is the authority of the people themselves.
political “experts'” use of the term. Therefore, the act establishing the Constitution will be a
If we are honest and objective, we will say: federal, not a national, act.
A republic is a government that receives all its The test of its federal nature, as the objectors
powers directly or indirectly from the great body of understand the term (i.e., action of the people as citizens
the people, and is administered by people holding of, not one aggregate nation, but of independent member
office for a limited period, or during good behavior. States) is that ratification will result from a vote of the
Power must be derived from society at large, not from a States that are parties to it, as determined by their citizens’
minority or favored class; otherwise a handful of tyrannical votes.
“nobles” could use their elective powers to oppress every- Were the people deemed subjects of one monolithic
one else and claim to be republicans ruling a republic. It nation, a majority vote would bind the minority, as happens
suffices that the people, directly or indirectly, appoint in every State. The majority vote would be defined as (a)
administrators, to serve with their consent; otherwise no the total number of individual votes or (b) by allowing a vote
popular government anywhere could be called a “republic.” of the majority of States to signify the will of a majority of
Every State constitution allows some officials to be the American people. Neither rule is proposed: Each State,
appointed indirectly by the people. Most permit the chief in voting on ratification of the Constitution, will act as a
magistrate – and one allows legislators – to be so sovereign, independent body, bound only by its own
appointed. All limit legislative and executive tenures to voluntary act. And that proves the new Constitution will, if
definite periods. And most allow judges to sit during “good established, be a federal, not a national, instrument.
The convention plan rigidly conforms to the above
standards. As in all or most States … The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be
• The people would directly elect the national House of sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between
Representatives. the States so ratifying the same.
• State legislators, representing the people, would Article VII Section 1  of the United States Constitution
• The people would elect the chief executive via their —–———————————————————
votes for State electors.
The States have also set the precedents for judicial From where would the government’s ordinary powers
appointments. come? The House of Representatives would gain its
Tenures, too, are based on the States’ experience: powers from the people of America, represented in the
• Two years for House of Representatives members. same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in
• Six years for Senators. their State legislatures. If we stopped there, the government
• Four years for the President. created would be national, not federal.
The President of the United States would be –————————————————————
impeachable any time during his term. But several States
have no provision for the governor’s impeachment; in The House of Representatives shall be composed of
Delaware and Virginia, he is not impeachable until out of members chosen every second year by the people of the
office. several States, and the electors in each State shall have the
The Federalist Papers … In Other Words • Paraphrased by Marshall Overstedt • Page 54
To the People of the State of New York:
HAVING shown that the powers transferred to the from the federal authority’s incapacity to prevent the
federal government are necessary and proper, we need disunion of the subordinate authorities.
to ask whether, en masse, they will threaten the States’ These cases deserve our attention because the hostile
remaining powers. Adversaries to the convention plan, external forces that forced their member governments to
instead of considering what powers are necessary to the unite were far more powerful than those we face.
federal government’s purposes, have exhausted Consequently, weaker links were required to tie the
themselves investigating their possible effects on States’ members to the head and to each other.
rights. But if the Union, as we have shown, is essential to Under the feudal system, the local sovereigns, whether
the security of the American people against foreign popular or much disliked, were generally able to defeat
danger, against contentions and wars between States, threats to their power. Had no external dangers
against violent, antifreedom factions, and against strengthened internal harmony and control and
poisonous military establishments, it is ridiculous to say particularly, had the local sovereigns won the people’s
that a government that defends the Union may lessen the affections, Europe’s great kingdoms would now consist of
States’ importance? as many independent princes as there were once feudal
Did we fight the American Revolution, form the barons.
American Confederacy, spill the precious blood of The State governments will have important
thousands, and lavish the hard-earned substance of advantages over the Federal government relative to the
millions, not so Americans may enjoy peace, liberty, and dependence of each on the other, the relative weight of
safety, but so that the State governments can enjoy their popular influence, their respective Constitutional
power and certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty? powers, the people’s biases and support, and their
We have heard the impious Old World doctrine that tendencies and abilities to resist and frustrate each
the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. other’s measures. We may see the States as federal
Will we revive it in the New World and sacrifice the constituents and essential federal parts, but the federal
people’s happiness to some new royalty? It is too early for authority is in no way essential to the States’
politicians to presume we have forgotten that (a) the organizations or operations.
supreme reason for the nation to exist is to serve the Without the State legislatures’ participation, the
public good – the real welfare of the great body of the President of the United States cannot be elected. They
people – or that (b) no form of government has any value will always share importantly in his appointment; in fact,
beyond attaining that goal. will probably determine it.
Were the convention plan adverse to public happiness, The State legislatures – exclusively – will elect the
I would say, “Reject it.” Were the Union itself inconsistent Senate. Even elections to the House of Representatives
with public happiness, I would say, “Abolish the Union.” In will be influenced by the same class of men, whose
the same spirit, if the States’ sovereignty will not promote popular influence drives their own elections.
the people’s happiness, every good citizen must say, Thus, each of the federal government’s principal
“Sacrifice States’ rights to the people’s rights.” branches will owe its existence more or less to the State
How far the sacrifice is necessary has been shown. governments’ approval and must, therefore, feel
Now the question is how far the unsacrificed residue will dependent on them – which is more likely to produce a
be endangered. subservient rather than overbearing attitude towards
These papers have belittled the supposition that them.
federal government operations will, little by little, do in the On the other side, the State governments will in no way
State governments. The more I study the subject, the be indebted to the federal government for their role in
more I believe that the balance is more likely to be offset national affairs, or to the local influence of United States
by the dominance of the States than by the national Senators and Representatives.
government. Far fewer people will be employed under the United
In all ancient and modern confederacies, we have States Constitution than by the States, resulting in less
seen a strong disposition in the members (states, federal influence at the State level.
provinces …) to weaken the general governments, which The total number of State, county, corporation and
have failed to defend themselves against the town legislators, administrators, judges, justices of peace,
encroachments. Though most of those systems were very militia and law-enforcement officers who will serve the
unlike the one being considered, as the States will retain millions of Americans and be intermixed and acquainted
much of their existing powers, we should not totally with every class and circle of them, must exceed those
disregard the inference. who will administer the limited powers of the federal
The federal head of the Achaean league probably had system. Thus, we may pronounce the States’ advantage
powers similar to those in the proposed Constitution. The to be decisive.
Lycian Confederacy was, in principle and form, even It is true that the Union will exercise the power to
more like the system we are considering. Yet neither collect internal and external taxes throughout the States.
collapsed into one consolidated government. On the But this power will probably not be applied, except to
contrary, we know that the ruin of one of them resulted supplement federal revenue, and then the States will
The Federalist Papers … In Other Words • Paraphrased by Marshall Overstedt • Page 69
principle has been violated by too much mixing, and even author’s intended meaning or by the sense in which it is
actual consolidation, of powers. understood in America.
But what I wish to demonstrate is that the charge Publius
against the proposed Constitution of violating the sacred
maxim of free government is unwarranted either by its
FEDERALIST No. 48
Checks and Balances Between Branches
To the People of the State of New York:
UNLESS the legislative, executive and judicial Meanwhile, the executive’s narrow, relatively simple
branches are connected to give each a constitutional powers, and the judiciary’s even more carefully defined
control over the others, we cannot maintain the limits, immediately betray and defeat their usurpations.
separation essential to free government. All agree that And let us not forget: The legislature alone has access
their proper powers should not be administered by either to the people’s pocketbooks and, in some constitutions,
of the others and none should influence the others’ full discretion and great influence over the other branches’
execution of theirs. budgets: dependency that makes incursions even easier.
Power seeks more power, and must be restrained Our own experience supports this political truth. As
from passing its assigned limits. After defining the classes witnesses, I would call all citizens who have taken part in
of power as legislative, executive and judiciary, we must or been affected by government. But for more concise
protect each from invasion by the others. And the greatest evidence, I refer to the experiences of two States.
difficulty is deciding what this protection should be. Virginia’s constitution requires that the three branches
The State constitution framers seemed to believe it be separate, according to Mr. Jefferson who was himself
was enough to mark the boundaries between branches in its governor. I quote him follows from his Notes on the
the Constitution, and then trust these paper barriers to State of Virginia:
stop encroachment. But experience teaches that some The concentrating of (the legislative, executive
stronger defense is needed between weaker and stronger and judiciary) in the same hands, is precisely the
branches. definition of despotic government. It will be no
Legislatures constantly try to expand their authority alleviation, that these powers will be exercised by
and take over others’ powers. Founders of republics give a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One
themselves such great credit for their wisdom in doing so hundred and seventy-three despots would surely
that pointing out their errors must be very painful. But be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it,
they seem to never turn their eyes from the danger to turn their eyes on the republic of Venice.
liberty presented by overgrown, all-grasping hereditary As little will it avail us, that they are chosen by
magistrates supported by hereditary legislatures, or to ourselves. An elective despotism was not the
see danger from the legislative instinct to amass all power government we fought for; but one which should
in the same hands, which leads to tyranny as surely as not only be founded on free principles, but in which
does executive usurpation. the powers of government should be so divided
In monarchies, the executive branch is – correctly – and balanced among several bodies of magistracy,
regarded as dangerous and watched jealously. In as that no one could transcend their legal limits,
democracies, people legislate in person and are without being effectually checked and restrained
vulnerable by their inexperience to executive intrigue that by the others. For this reason, that convention
can impose tyranny through a convenient “emergency.” which passed the ordinance of government, laid its
But in representative republics, executive authority is foundation on this basis, that the legislative,
carefully limited. Legislation is by elected assemblies, executive, and judiciary departments should be
bolstered by their influence over and the confidence of the separate and distinct, so that no person should
voters. Moreover, legislatures are large enough to feel exercise the powers of more than one of them at
passions that ignite the electorate, yet small enough to the same time.
actually act on them. But no barrier separated these powers. The judiciary
In short, the legislature is the branch we should fear. and the executive depended on the legislative for
Compared to the others, its constitutional powers are subsistence, financial and political. Therefore, the
broader and less precise. It can easily use complicated, legislature could, unopposed, assume executive and
deceptive measures to mask encroachments. It is often a judicial powers. Any resistance would be ineffective
delicate question whether a given measure will, or will not, because the legislators could record proceedings as “acts
exceed its authority. of Assembly,” rendering them obligatory on all. Indeed,
they have often decided rights that should belong to the
The Federalist Papers … In Other Words • Paraphrased by Marshall Overstedt • Page 73
• The President would be subject to personal • The President can prescribe no rules concerning
punishment and disgrace; the king’s person is sacred national commerce or currency; the king is in many
and inviolable. ways the arbiter of commerce, and can establish
• The President would have a qualified veto over Acts of markets and fairs, regulate weights and measures, lay
Congress; the king’s veto is absolute. embargoes, coin money, authorize or prohibit
• The President would command the national army and circulation of foreign coin.
navy; so does the king, who can also declare war and • The President has no religious authority; the king is the
raise and regulate fleets and armies. supreme head and governor of the national church.
• The President would share treaty-making power with How shall we answer those who claim that things so
the Senate; the king alone has that power. unlike resemble each other? The same way as those who
• The President would also share authority to appoint