The Federalist Project 3

“The Madisonian Moment” and The Federalist 11 – 14

Rakove’s presentation of James Madison, “The Madisonian Moment,” challenges a superficial misconception of the Convention’s scribe as a sort of dry academic, an essential notetaker and punctilious proceduralist, but not the imposing intellectual presence of a Hamilton, Jefferson, or Franklin. On the contrary, he emerges from Rakove’s descriptions as an infinitely more colorful and restless figure, possessed of a vigorous, almost aggressive intellect that sparked forceful debate and demanded the highest standards of public service from his peers. Madison was no doubt a consummate advocate for establishing a strong central authority, as necessary “to compel” delinquent states “to fulfill their federal engagements.” His strong stance was in many ways born of his personal frustration and disappointment in the quality of his experience as an assembly delegate in Virginia. One critical contribution was his robust argument that property in the putative union of states was to be seen “as an interest deserving protection against the envious and unjust designs of the less fortunate” (41). On this note, Madison strikes the modern reader as a rabid conservative, but at the time, the view was decidedly progressive, Rakove notes, in meaningful contradistinction to legal conventions then prevailing on the Continent, which were rooted in an aristocratic tradition. Further to that notion was his unwavering (Rakove calls it “unmoderated”) view that the new confederation would need to provide for a central, secured national currency, anything less than which would be not only “unjust” but even “unconstitutional” – a bold statement indeed since there wasn’t yet a Constitution. Here again we observe a thematic link with contemporary fiscal conservatism.

    In Federalist 11–14, Hamilton continues his multipronged argument for the advisability of a stronger central authority to achieve efficiencies and security of scale. In particular, Federalist 11 raises the issue of a national navy, the commercial importance of which was an indisputable fact in the 18th century. Hamilton introduces here a new tonal element, an almost chauvinistic one, in which his desire to prove wrong British and other European skeptics who doubted the success of the new American state. He says: “Men admired as profound philosophers have in direct terms attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America – that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the European. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother moderation” (91). In short, he views America’s pressing need to develop a navy commensurate with her potential as a way to stand up to the old world and put the lie to its condescension.

    Hamilton continues this thread in Federalist 14 on a slight variation. Here his aim is to confront the traditional notion in political science that suggests democratic government is suited best to small, homogeneous communities, not expansive, diversely populated nation-states. He summarily dismisses these criticisms as the “confounding of a republic with a democracy” and goes on to redefine the two for the dimwitted. Hamilton all but dares Europe to underestimate the power of American unity, noting that: “the kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their sacred rights, consecrate their Union and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies” (104). Hamilton shows himself a true believer in the centrality of American identity and its promise to forge a prosperous and secure future for all those blessed to share in it.

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