Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered
From the New York Packet.
Friday, November 30, 1787.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

WE HAVE seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the Old World, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming symptoms have been betrayed by our own. All that remains, within this branch of our inquiries, is to take notice of an objection that may be drawn from the great extent of country which the Union embraces. A few observations on this subject will be the more proper, as it is perceived that the adversaries of the new Constitution are availing themselves of the prevailing prejudice with regard to the practicable sphere of republican administration, in order to supply, by imaginary difficulties, the want of those solid objections which they endeavor in vain to find.

The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was also adverted to on a former occasion. It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.

To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of some celebrated authors, whose writings have had a great share in forming the modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the advantages, or palliate the evils of those forms, by placing in comparison the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as specimens of the latter the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only; and among others, the observation that it can never be established but among a small number of people, living within a small compass of territory.

Such a fallacy may have been the less perceived, as most of the popular governments of antiquity were of the democratic species; and even in modern Europe, to which we owe the great principle of representation, no example is seen of a government wholly popular, and founded, at the same time, wholly on that principle. If Europe has the merit of discovering this great mechanical power in government, by the simple agency of which the will of the largest political body may be concentred, and its force directed to any object which the public good requires, America can claim the merit of making the discovery the basis of unmixed and extensive republics. It is only to be lamented that any of her citizens should wish to deprive her of the additional merit of displaying its full efficacy in the establishment of the comprehensive system now under her consideration.

As the natural limit of a democracy is that distance from the central point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand, and will include no greater number than can join in those functions; so the natural limit of a republic is that distance from the centre which will barely allow the representatives to meet as often as may be necessary for the administration of public affairs. Can it be said that the limits of the United States exceed this distance? It will not be said by those who recollect that the Atlantic coast is the longest side of the Union, that during the term of thirteen years, the representatives of the States have been almost continually assembled, and that the members from the most distant States are not chargeable with greater intermissions of attendance than those from the States in the neighborhood of Congress.

That we may form a juster estimate with regard to this interesting subject, let us resort to the actual dimensions of the Union. The limits, as fixed by the treaty of peace, are: on the east the Atlantic, on the south the latitude of thirty-one degrees, on the west the Mississippi, and on the north an irregular line running in some instances beyond the forty-fifth degree, in others falling as low as the forty-second. The southern shore of Lake Erie lies below that latitude. Computing the distance between the thirty-first and forty-fifth degrees, it amounts to nine hundred and seventy-three common miles; computing it from thirty-one to forty-two degrees, to seven hundred and sixty-four miles and a half. Taking the mean for the distance, the amount will be eight hundred and sixty-eight miles and three-fourths. The mean distance from the Atlantic to the Mississippi does not probably exceed seven hundred and fifty miles. On a comparison of this extent with that of several countries in Europe, the practicability of rendering our system commensurate to it appears to be demonstrable. It is not a great deal larger than Germany, where a diet representing the whole empire is continually assembled; or than Poland before the late dismemberment, where another national diet was the depositary of the supreme power. Passing by France and Spain, we find that in Great Britain, inferior as it may be in size, the representatives of the northern extremity of the island have as far to travel to the national council as will be required of those of the most remote parts of the Union.

Favorable as this view of the subject may be, some observations remain which will place it in a light still more satisfactory.

In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other subjects which can be separately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity. Were it proposed by the plan of the convention to abolish the governments of the particular States, its adversaries would have some ground for their objection; though it would not be difficult to show that if they were abolished the general government would be compelled, by the principle of self-preservation, to reinstate them in their proper jurisdiction.

A second observation to be made is that the immediate object of the federal Constitution is to secure the union of the thirteen primitive States, which we know to be practicable; and to add to them such other States as may arise in their own bosoms, or in their neighborhoods, which we cannot doubt to be equally practicable. The arrangements that may be necessary for those angles and fractions of our territory which lie on our northwestern frontier, must be left to those whom further discoveries and experience will render more equal to the task.

Let it be remarked, in the third place, that the intercourse throughout the Union will be facilitated by new improvements. Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of the thirteen States. The communication between the Western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.

A fourth and still more important consideration is, that as almost every State will, on one side or other, be a frontier, and will thus find, in regard to its safety, an inducement to make some sacrifices for the sake of the general protection; so the States which lie at the greatest distance from the heart of the Union, and which, of course, may partake least of the ordinary circulation of its benefits, will be at the same time immediately contiguous to foreign nations, and will consequently stand, on particular occasions, in greatest need of its strength and resources. It may be inconvenient for Georgia, or the States forming our western or northeastern borders, to send their representatives to the seat of government; but they would find it more so to struggle alone against an invading enemy, or even to support alone the whole expense of those precautions which may be dictated by the neighborhood of continual danger. If they should derive less benefit, therefore, from the Union in some respects than the less distant States, they will derive greater benefit from it in other respects, and thus the proper equilibrium will be maintained throughout.

I submit to you, my fellow-citizens, these considerations, in full confidence that the good sense which has so often marked your decisions will allow them their due weight and effect; and that you will never suffer difficulties, however formidable in appearance, or however fashionable the error on which they may be founded, to drive you into the gloomy and perilous scene into which the advocates for disunion would conduct you. Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellowcitizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys; 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. And if novelties are to be shunned, believe me, the most alarming of all novelties, the most wild of all projects, the most rash of all attempts, is that of rendering us in pieces, in order to preserve our liberties and promote our happiness. But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected, merely because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness. Had no important step been taken by the leaders of the Revolution for which a precedent could not be discovered, no government established of which an exact model did not present itself, the people of the United States might, at this moment have been numbered among the melancholy victims of misguided councils, must at best have been laboring under the weight of some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind. Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great Confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate. If their works betray imperfections, we wonder at the fewness of them. If they erred most in the structure of the Union, this was the work most difficult to be executed; this is the work which has been new modelled by the act of your convention, and it is that act on which you are now to deliberate and to decide.


Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Howdy from Texas. I hope you had a nice weekend. I started reading a wonderful book this weekend, which I have found to be a great companion piece to our “90 in 90 = 180.” It is entitled, “Miracle at Philadelphia,” by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Check it out!

I thank Professor W.B. Allen for his thought-provoking essay today. I really appreciate his time and talents. I thank you, Professor Allen. And I thank all of you who are joining us! Please spread the word about our important mission here and read it with you children and/or family members or friends. Please also spread the word about our contest for kids. The “We the People 9.17 Contest.” Our children are in desperate need to be educated about our founding principals. It is up to us to teach them. Check out tonight’s behind the scene video. It is my daughter informing other kids about the contest!

Tonight’s reading once again reveals our Constitutional founding fathers’ amazingly brilliant ingenuity. It is obvious from the Constitution that they did not want any resemblance of class warfare or “Nobility.” The art of a Republic was the perfect balance for a democratic state. James Madison makes a striking point regarding the complaints that there was no precedent for a Republic. Was there a precedent for the Declaration of Independence, that courageous and biting document that sparked and validated the Revolutionary War? Was there a precedent for the Revolutionary War?

Regarding relevancy today, how many modern day citizens really know that we are a Republic? Do our children know that we are a Republic? Do they understand and value our freedoms, rights and free enterprise? In one of Cathy’s recent essays, she included a link to a statistic that I found to be alarming. A Rasmussen poll in 2009 stated that 13% of people over 40 years of age believed that socialism was better than capitalism, yet in the group of people under the age of 40, 33% believed socialism was better than capitalism. I find this statistic to be very alarming! Imagine what the statistics would be today?

Thomas Jefferson words send us a timely warning, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

James Madison states in Federalist No. 14, “The kindred blood that 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.”

May our kindred blood unite in preserving our truly magnificent country and may we focus on both the founding principles that shaped our country and the goodness of the people that made it be. May we set the precedent for rekindling the flame of awareness about the brilliant framework of our country and its relevancy today.

God Bless!

Janine Turner


Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Federalist #14

First, a big thank you to Dr. Allen for his insightful comments.  As usual, Dr. Allen does much more than simply explain to us what is in the reading, he takes us several steps further.

And thank you to all of you who commented today.  Especially to Kay for her heartfelt story about the airport encounter, and the glimpse into the soul of our Union.

Wow! I loved Federalist #14!  There are so many beautiful passages about unity in our country –  “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.” While the American people “have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience…”  But the item that most caught my attention was the discussion of the difference between a republic and a democracy. I was struck by the fact that many of the communication and travel constraints our founding fathers operated under have been removed in present day by technology, and by the fact that technology is facilitating our country’s move toward democracy, something our founding fathers would not see as an improvement.

The difference between a republic and a democracy is so important, and so little understood.  In Federalist 14 and elsewhere, Publius devotes a good amount of time explaining the difference between these two forms of government, and detailing the weaknesses of a democracy as opposed to a republic.  In our founding fathers’ time, a democracy within a large geographic area was impossible, limited by the “distance from the central point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand, and will include no greater number than can join in those functions.”  In Federalist 14 Madison points out that the geographic size makes the United States much more suited to a republic than a democracy.

Today, technology has erased the constraint imposed by geographic size, and our culture is drawing us towards democracy. Television shows such as American Idol where millions of people cast ballots; online polls where instant readouts of the public’s tastes, preferences and opinions are measured; Twitter, Facebook: all put more power than ever in the collective public’s hands to instantly express opinions on any matter.

But the weakness of pure democracy is the same, whether it is a small geographic area where the people are physically coming together to vote on every issue affecting them, or whether it is millions sitting at computers, in front of their televisions, or texting on their cellphones “voting.”  As Hamilton states in Federalist 71, “The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.”

In Federalist 10 the weakness of pure democracy was summed up this way: “From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

As the culture draws us toward democracy, and with the geographic constraints on democracy removed by technology, it is more important than ever that we understand the systemic flaws of this type of governance.

Our elected officials must be firmly grounded in the meaning of the republic, and their role in balancing competing interests and factions.  We must understand the fundamental reasoning and principles that drew our founding fathers to govern through a republic, and the Federalist Papers are vital for that understanding.

I am so grateful for all who are adding to our knowledge base each day, and journeying with us through these readings.  Thank you!!

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie


Guest Blogger: W. B. Allen, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

In the fourteenth essay Publius argues that America has discovered the merit of making the mechanical principle of representation the basis of unmixed and extensive republics. This is not only an extended republic, but it is a republic in which we do not have to make a special place for the rich and the poor. We will not reserve one legislative house for the rich, another house for the poor. We will not create formal classes in government, and the government will not depend on class distinctions.

It may not have been observed that the tenth essay’s principle of the extended sphere of the republic has a consequence in the operations of politics. There will be commerce, and single district representation also. There will be the “multiplicity of interests.” But we must not neglect that as interests multiply they must affect more people. The consequence of that fact for the ancient distinction between the rich and the poor is a significant diminution in the numbers of the poor. The logic and dynamic of the extended commercial republic is precisely to squeeze rich and poor towards the middle.

The real impact of this constitutional design is to get rid of the struggle between the rich and the poor. The great American middle class is an historical oddity that has come to characterize all the modern world impacted by the industrial revolution and the principles of modern republicanism. This growing middle class is the basis of the unmixed constitution, a constitution founded on the middle class that turned almost into the only “class.” One of the most extraordinary things about the argument in the tenth essay, which is reflected as well in the fourteenth essay, is that it anticipates the nineteenth century debate about class and political life. Publius responded in advance, in effect, to the arguments of Marx and others, insisting that the United States need not have the rich overcome the poor or the poor overcome the rich. It could rather offer a social, economic, and political dynamic through which in fact those distinctions disappear in terms of their political significance.

Grant we must that what are called the super-rich do exist, as do the tabloid sheets that celebrate. But we do not view the rich, or even the super-rich as a class. Which is the reason that they can be just about anyone, from extraordinarily gifted athletes to people of very old money and families. They are isolated; they are individuals. They are not a class. In fact the only thing that distinguishes them today is their money. Otherwise they seem much like everybody else, and sometimes less. What matters is that this happened not by accident; it happened by a constitutional design that aimed to base the Constitution’s support on the strength of a very large middle class.

The claim, therefore, in the fourth paragraph of the fourteenth essay, that we have an umixed and extensive republic, goes to the very heart of the Antifederalist challenges to the Constitution and leads Publius to inquire in the paragraphs following, what are the limits of a democracy? and how are we supposed to calculate this? The question must be asked because we know that general arguments must be tested by practical limits. We cannot assume that there are no limits to representation as an approach, especially if we take seriously the task of “harmonizing and assimilating” differences. Differences must at least be kept to such a level that they are subject to being thus harmonized.

Publius provides a calculation in the fifth paragraph and those following. It is interesting because of what it says about 1787 technology and what it implies about the future. First, he describes the limits of democracy as a dynamic function: “the natural limit of democracy is that distance from the central point, which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand.”

The natural limit is the distance determined by public functions.  The natural limit of a republic is that distance from the center, which will barely allow the representatives of the people to meet as often as may be necessary for the administration of public affairs. Can it be said the limits of the United States exceed this distance? “It will not be said by those who recollect that the Atlantic coast is the longest side of the Union, that during the term of thirteen years, the representatives of the States have been almost continually assembled.”

To say that members of the Confederation Congress were “continually assembled” is a bit disingenuous; for although the Congress was almost constantly in session, one of the chief complaints about it was the notoriously poor attendance of delegates.

Publius then conducts a lesson in public geography, leading him to conclude that the ability to travel from any point, within a certain period of time (two weeks in 1787), to reach capital and conduct business, sets the allowable size of the system. This is a fairly mechanical definition, and it can be misleading. Not only does it not respond to the matter of harmonizing and assimilating, but it deflects attention from the ultimate basis of Publius’s judgment. The twelfth paragraph makes this clear, when Publius appeals to ties of affection to sustain “one great respectable and flourishing empire.”

In other words, Publius reminds us that we started with a Union, not with a theory on the strength of which we generated a Union. A theory may tell us that the Union is not too big for its britches, but that does not imply its indefinite extension. The condition for extending the Union is the continual existence of the Union. But that, in turn, would depend upon people accepting its principles, and first and foremost those principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.

Thus, two things operate simultaneously: first, the notion of the mechanical theory, the distance limit and, second, the moral limits, the moral distance. To the extent that we accomplish Union on the scale of the moral distance, it becomes possible by the mechanical theory to justify extending the reach of the Union, and not one bit farther.

W. B. Allen is Dean and Professor Emeritus of Michigan State University