Michael Cunningham James Madison Project
How and why the Founders created the American system of Federalism
How- The articles of Confederation was a complete
and utter failure. Note in Federalist #1
Alexander Hamilton wrote, “To the People of the State
of New York:
AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the union, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.”
What was their proposal?
The first and most obvious approach The Federalist Papers used was a new definition of federalism. Having just won a revolution against an oppressive monarchy, the former American colonists were in no mood to replace it with another centralized, unrestrained regime. On the other hand, their experience with instability and disorganization under the Articles of Confederation, due to jealousy and competition between the individual states, made them receptive to a substantial increase in national powers. A number of Federalist Papers argued that a new kind of balance, never achieved elsewhere, was possible. Indeed, the Papers were themselves a balance or compromise between the nationalist propensities of Hamilton, who reflected the commercial interests of a port city, New York, and the wariness of Madison, who shared the suspicion of distant authority widely held by Virginia farmers.
Second, Madison proposed that, instead of the absolute sovereignty of each state under the Articles of Confederation, the states would retain a "residual sovereignty" in all those areas which did not require national concern. The very process of ratification of the Constitution, he argued, symbolized the concept of federalism rather than nationalism. He said:
This assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and individual States to which they respectively belong.... The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national but a federal act.
Third, Hamilton suggested what he called a "concurrency" of powers between the national and state governments. But his analogy of planets revolving around the sun, yet retaining their separate status, placed greater emphasis on a central authority. Hamilton and Jay (also from New York) cited examples of alliances in ancient Greece and contemporary Europe that invariably fell apart in times of crisis. To the authors of The Federalist Papers, whatever their differences, the lesson was clear: Survival as a respected nation required the transfer of important, though limited, powers to the central government. They believed that this could be done without destroying the identity or autonomy of the separate states.
The Federalist Papers also provide the first specific mention we have in political literature of the idea of checks and balances as a way of restricting governmental power and preventing its abuse. The words are used mainly in reference to we bicameral legislature, which both Hamilton and Madison regarded as the most powerful branch of government. As originally conceived, the presumably impetuous, popularly elected House of Representatives would be checked and balanced by a more conservative Senate chosen by state legislatures. (The 17th Amendment, added in 1913, changed this provision to mandate the popular election of senators.) On one occasion, however, Madison argued more generally that "office should check office," and Hamilton observed that "A democratic assembly is to be checked by a democratic senate and both these by a democratic chief magistrate."
In his most brilliant essay Number 78, Hamilton defended the Supreme Court's right to rule upon the constitutionality of laws passed by national or state legislatures. This historically crucial power of "judicial review," he argued, was an appropriate check on the legislature, where it was most likely that "the pestilential breath of faction may poison the fountains of justice." Hamilton explicitly rejected the British system of allowing the Parliament to override by majority vote any court decision it finds displeasing. Rather, "the courts of justice are to be considered the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments." Only the painstaking and difficult process of amending the Constitution, or the gradual transformation of its members to another viewpoint, could reverse the Supreme Court's interpretation of that document.
Therefore, even though Madison and Hamilton disagreed on concept of how the Government should be run, they agreed that we should have a different government. The Articles were unworkable. We came up with the idea of compromise and idea that a government that governs best is a government that includes more people or involves more people in the process of being governed. This sets the tone for the rest of our presentation