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Relation of the Federal Government to the State Governments: What Does Publius Say? – Guest Essayist: Will Morrisey

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Madison assures his readers that the form of the “general” or federal government remains “strictly republican.” “No other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” Such a government will derive “all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people” and not “from an inconsiderable proportion or a favored class of it.” Self-governing citizens must never be reduced to spectators, gazing at the actions of ‘statesmen’ far above and beyond their control. In all this, as Madison writes in the forty-ninth Federalist, the Framers have structured the new federal government and the American system of governments overall in such a way as to secure natural rights while minimizing the infirmities and depravities of the human nature all persons share. Not the passions but the reason of the American public should “sit in judgment” of the government: “It is the reason, alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government.” “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” and so does federalism, rightly understood. If such were not the case, “the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

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