Why Big Government

March 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

The federalist theory behind an increase in the size and power of the federal government is backed by three main ideas: the power to actually enforce the laws equally. the protection and safety of the states from physical conflict as well as ideological faction, and the economic advantages of a cohesive, unified government. A small government would not be able to maintain order, would create conflict between the states, and have little power internationally and economically. One of the principal challenges to government, faction, Madison believes to be inevitable because there will always be people with differing opinions, so the cause of faction can’t be stopped. The result of faction also can’t be stopped either because this would violate people’s freedoms and liberty. Madison believes a large federal government will help control faction when it does arise. This coincides with his theory about representation, as he proposes a large enough number of representatives to ensure that the legislature is not swayed so easily by popular opinion (faction) as it would be in a small government, adding that the more people involved in electing representatives of the country, the more likely it is that good men will be elected. However, Madison did not want so many representatives as to be a democracy. This opposed the anti-federalist theory that the “small” number of representatives he proposed could not truly represent the interests of the people, especially those living so far from the center of the republic. Madison had faith that representatives could accurately represent the people on a federal level, whereas the anti-federalists thought that the interests of the people could only be properly represented in state governments. Thus, these are the general claims by the federalists for a large, federal government.

One of the biggest issues with the Articles of Confederation was that they did not give the federal government much power. As a result, the federal government struggled to collect taxes and impose laws on the states, who were granted much more independence. Hamilton acknowledges this issue in Federalist #15 saying that he will speak on the “insufficiency of the present Confederation to the preservation of the Union,” and criticizing it saying that “we have neither troops, nor treasury, nor government.” (Hamilton, Fed #15). He attributes this problem to the fact that whenever anything needs to get done it needs the concurrence of all thirteen states. On top of that, no state wants to bear more weight than any of the others. This became a huge problem in terms of taxes and debts owed to the federal government. The result was that “the delinquencies of the States have, step by step, matured themselves to an extreme, which has, at length, arrested all the wheels of the national government,” (Hamilton, Fed #15). This problem of government incapacity is one of the main arguments for a stronger federal government. A federal government that can actually pass laws to the entire union, rather than just suggest them to thirteen states that each make their own individual decisions, is a much more efficient one. The constitutional result of this idea proposed by the framers can be seen in what is known as the ‘supremacy clause’ which reads that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” (Art. VI, Clause 2). In writing the Constitution, the Federalists wanted to make sure the government was large and strong enough to have power over the states so that it could function adequately.

The Federalists also argued that a true union would be much safer from both physical conflicts as well as ideological threats than it would be as a consolidation of individual states. In terms of actual warfare, Hamilton focuses in Federalist #7 and #8 on conflict between the states. He acknowledges that some states will be stronger than others in terms of population, proximity to the federal government, and wealth (commerce). This will result in the formation of alliances and disagreements between the states as no attribution of the national debt will seem completely fair, nor will representation on the federal scale if the states remain as divided as they do under the Articles of Confederation. When addressing the debt Hamilton comments that “the peace of the States would be exposed to the double contingency of external invasion and internal contention.” (Hamilton, Fed #7). He finishes the paper worrying that “America, if not connected at all, or only by the feeble tie of a simple league…would…be gradually entangled in the pernicious labyrinths of European politics and wars,” (Hamilton, Fed #7). These are the dangers of not unifying; Hamilton then uses Federalist #9 to talk about his solution, or “the tendency of the Union to repress domestic faction and insurrection.” (Hamilton, Fed #9). Having a confederate republic would not allow for the states to form alliances or go to war on their own accord, so it would render a standing army unnecessary (so personal freedoms wouldn’t be infringed upon), unlike in a consolidation of states competing in their own self-interest. Therefore, a large national commercial union would make states safer.

On the ideological front, Madison was very worried about faction. Madison recognized that faction could not be avoided in political life because neither the cause or the effects of it could ever be abolished without infringing on people’s freedoms. Avoiding the causes is impossible because “as long as the reason of man continues fallible…different opinions will be formed,” and trying to stop the effects of it is just as useless because “liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires,” (Madison, Fed #10) and liberty cannot be compromised. A republic, or a government in which a few are elected by the many (rather than a true democracy in which all people have a say), is the solution to faction according to Madison. The problem of faction can be solved “by passing [the public views] through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” (Madison, Fed #10). This is as opposed to a true democracy, which is much closer to the anti-federalists ideas, in which a whim of the people could affect negative change. An example of this could be “when a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” In response to the anti-federalist idea of civic virtue governing, Madison scoffs saying that “we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as adequate control [of a faction].” (Madison, Fed #10). Therefore one of the top priorities of the Constitution is to limit faction, and it will do so through a true republic, where the legislators are large enough so as not to be affected by the public’s passions and are smart enough to resist them in favor of the public good.

Another major reason for creating a true union between the states was the economic advantages the country could enjoy, advantages that were seriously needed after the Articles had resulted in a weak US economy far behind those of Europe. From commerce, to taxes, to government cost, the federalists believed wealth would be increased with a federal government. At this time there was no federal navy, so the US had no power to negotiate with the European powers. Hamilton suggests that “If we continue united, we may counteract in a variety of ways a policy so unfriendly to our prosperity. By prohibitory regulations, extending, at the same time, throughout the states, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other for the privilege of our markets.” (Hamilton, Fed #11). He goes on to discuss how without this union (under the anti-federalist policy), foreign nations would prey on the US, and the only way to stop this is with an adequate power. “Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources of the country…would baffle all the combinations of European jealousy.” (Hamilton, Fed #11). In short, a national government will allow for a navy to protect the country’s trade rights which will in turn make it more competitive economically. Another factor in the economy is the ability to properly levy taxes. Hamilton argues that income taxes have failed and are impractical, so taxes must come from excises on imports and exports. If the states remain separate, merchants will be tempted to smuggle goods illegally into other states in order to pay lower taxes. If the states tried to police this it would take an immense force such as is the case in France. However, “if, on the contrary, there be but one government pervading all the States, there will be…but ONE side to guard–the ATLANTIC COAST.” (Hamilton, Fed #12). A consolidated government will rid the states of their different laws on taxes, make the taxes easier to collect because the Atlantic will be the only area of needing patrol, and reduce the appeal of smuggling because all the states will have the same taxes. In addition to taxes and commerce, the government itself costs the country money to run. Federalist 13 argues not only for the ability of a federal government to work on a national level as it does in Britain, but for how much more cost effective it would be. If the states remain separate under the anti-federalist plan, each one will have to have a number of “principal departments, coextensive with that which would be necessary for a government of the whole.” (Hamilton, Fed #13). Hamilton is arguing that an independent state government will need just as much energy and administration as that of a federal government, except a divided nation will need up to thirteen of them. This is wildly inefficient, and in the words of Hamilton “a separation would be not less injurious to the economy, than to the tranquility, commerce, revenue, and liberty of every part.” (Hamilton, Fed #13). Papers 11-13 are the federalists’ appeal to people’s wallets. While they believe the government will be more effective on a federal scale, a big part of their argument for the large commercial union are the benefits it will give on the economic front.

Each of these arguments for larger government don’t exactly have a matching one from the anti-federalist perspective. One criticism of the anti-federalists is that they didn’t always offer their own solutions. However, the basis of the anti-federalist argument is that they wanted smaller political communities that involved more direct representation. In short, a more democratic and less republican approach. The way this is realized for the anti-federalists is by keeping control in the state governments. This issue is raised in Federal Farmer #2 which reads that “the representation cannot be equal…if the extreme parts of the society cannot be represented as fully as the central–It is apparently impracticable that this should be the case in this extensive country.” (Federal Farmer #2). The issue with the federal government then is that it would take over the states powers, that “should the constitution be adopted without any alterations…the state governments must be annihilated, or continue to exist for no purpose.” (Federal Farmer #2). The way the anti-federalists see it, “the state governments will exist…they will have a near connection, and their members an immediate intercourse with the people; and the probability is, that the state governments will possess the will of the people,” (Federal Farmer #2). So to put in a federal government with so much power is to try to infringe upon the powers that have the confidence of the people (the state governments). To combat this, the anti-federalists want direct representation and therefore increased participation on a more local scale. This is in direct opposition to the federalists, who want representation on a large scale (across the entire country) by a small number of people (less participation). As stated previously, the main idea behind this was that they believed a large number of representatives was the only way to suppress faction. Madison argued that “the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.” (Madison, Fed #10). Furthermore, “the smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it…and the smaller number of individuals composing a majority…the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.” (Madison, Fed #10). This may be confusing because the federalists here argue against small government, which they do oppose, but they do support a small number of people having power in the government. To be clear, the federalists oppose the anti-federalists on the idea of representation because they have faith in a large government run by a few to function properly and represent the people’s interests (without being controlled by faction), while the anti-federalists think only the state governments coupled with high public engagement can effectively run the country.

The federalists wanted large government so that they could uniformly pass cohesive laws for all states to follow fairly and equally, protect the safety of the union from war and strife as well as the danger of political faction, and increase the country’s wealth and efficiency. The federal government was in desperate need of some power over the states, and having that power, among a small number of elected representatives, would give it the ability to actually organize the country into a functioning one that was safe, fair, and powerful. The anti-federalists did not think this was possible under a large government and preferred to maintain the states’ independence, running the country through local governments which all people participated in. Hamilton and Madison’s federalism was a daunting idea for a young nation and as a result received some fair criticisms, but the change to a large commercial union was a necessary one.

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