The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, December 18, 1787.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union, is the point at the examination of which we are now arrived.

This inquiry will naturally divide itself into three branches the objects to be provided for by the federal government, the quantity of power necessary to the accomplishment of those objects, the persons upon whom that power ought to operate. Its distribution and organization will more properly claim our attention under the succeeding head.

The principal purposes to be answered by union are these the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.

The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FORESEE OR DEFINE THE EXTENT AND VARIETY OF NATIONAL EXIGENCIES, OR THE CORRESPONDENT EXTENT AND VARIETY OF THE MEANS WHICH MAY BE NECESSARY TO SATISFY THEM. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

This is one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it; and may be obscured, but cannot be made plainer by argument or reasoning. It rests upon axioms as simple as they are universal; the MEANS ought to be proportioned to the END; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any END is expected, ought to possess the MEANS by which it is to be attained.

Whether there ought to be a federal government intrusted with the care of the common defense, is a question in the first instance, open for discussion; but the moment it is decided in the affirmative, it will follow, that that government ought to be clothed with all the powers requisite to complete execution of its trust. And unless it can be shown that the circumstances which may affect the public safety are reducible within certain determinate limits; unless the contrary of this position can be fairly and rationally disputed, it must be admitted, as a necessary consequence, that there can be no limitation of that authority which is to provide for the defense and protection of the community, in any matter essential to its efficacy that is, in any matter essential to the FORMATION, DIRECTION, or SUPPORT of the NATIONAL FORCES.

Defective as the present Confederation has been proved to be, this principle appears to have been fully recognized by the framers of it; though they have not made proper or adequate provision for its exercise. Congress have an unlimited discretion to make requisitions of men and money; to govern the army and navy; to direct their operations. As their requisitions are made constitutionally binding upon the States, who are in fact under the most solemn obligations to furnish the supplies required of them, the intention evidently was that the United States should command whatever resources were by them judged requisite to the “common defense and general welfare.” It was presumed that a sense of their true interests, and a regard to the dictates of good faith, would be found sufficient pledges for the punctual performance of the duty of the members to the federal head.

The experiment has, however, demonstrated that this expectation was ill-founded and illusory; and the observations, made under the last head, will, I imagine, have sufficed to convince the impartial and discerning, that there is an absolute necessity for an entire change in the first principles of the system; that if we are in earnest about giving the Union energy and duration, we must abandon the vain project of legislating upon the States in their collective capacities; we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America; we must discard the fallacious scheme of quotas and requisitions, as equally impracticable and unjust. The result from all this is that the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets; and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an army and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments.

If the circumstances of our country are such as to demand a compound instead of a simple, a confederate instead of a sole, government, the essential point which will remain to be adjusted will be to discriminate the OBJECTS, as far as it can be done, which shall appertain to the different provinces or departments of power; allowing to each the most ample authority for fulfilling the objects committed to its charge. Shall the Union be constituted the guardian of the common safety? Are fleets and armies and revenues necessary to this purpose? The government of the Union must be empowered to pass all laws, and to make all regulations which have relation to them. The same must be the case in respect to commerce, and to every other matter to which its jurisdiction is permitted to extend. Is the administration of justice between the citizens of the same State the proper department of the local governments? These must possess all the authorities which are connected with this object, and with every other that may be allotted to their particular cognizance and direction. Not to confer in each case a degree of power commensurate to the end, would be to violate the most obvious rules of prudence and propriety, and improvidently to trust the great interests of the nation to hands which are disabled from managing them with vigor and success.

Who is likely to make suitable provisions for the public defense, as that body to which the guardianship of the public safety is confided; which, as the centre of information, will best understand the extent and urgency of the dangers that threaten; as the representative of the WHOLE, will feel itself most deeply interested in the preservation of every part; which, from the responsibility implied in the duty assigned to it, will be most sensibly impressed with the necessity of proper exertions; and which, by the extension of its authority throughout the States, can alone establish uniformity and concert in the plans and measures by which the common safety is to be secured? Is there not a manifest inconsistency in devolving upon the federal government the care of the general defense, and leaving in the State governments the EFFECTIVE powers by which it is to be provided for? Is not a want of co-operation the infallible consequence of such a system? And will not weakness, disorder, an undue distribution of the burdens and calamities of war, an unnecessary and intolerable increase of expense, be its natural and inevitable concomitants? Have we not had unequivocal experience of its effects in the course of the revolution which we have just accomplished?

Every view we may take of the subject, as candid inquirers after truth, will serve to convince us, that it is both unwise and dangerous to deny the federal government an unconfined authority, as to all those objects which are intrusted to its management. It will indeed deserve the most vigilant and careful attention of the people, to see that it be modeled in such a manner as to admit of its being safely vested with the requisite powers. If any plan which has been, or may be, offered to our consideration, should not, upon a dispassionate inspection, be found to answer this description, it ought to be rejected. A government, the constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers which a free people OUGHT TO DELEGATE TO ANY GOVERNMENT, would be an unsafe and improper depositary of the NATIONAL INTERESTS. Wherever THESE can with propriety be confided, the coincident powers may safely accompany them. This is the true result of all just reasoning upon the subject. And the adversaries of the plan promulgated by the convention ought to have confined themselves to showing, that the internal structure of the proposed government was such as to render it unworthy of the confidence of the people. They ought not to have wandered into inflammatory declamations and unmeaning cavils about the extent of the powers. The POWERS are not too extensive for the OBJECTS of federal administration, or, in other words, for the management of our NATIONAL INTERESTS; nor can any satisfactory argument be framed to show that they are chargeable with such an excess. If it be true, as has been insinuated by some of the writers on the other side, that the difficulty arises from the nature of the thing, and that the extent of the country will not permit us to form a government in which such ample powers can safely be reposed, it would prove that we ought to contract our views, and resort to the expedient of separate confederacies, which will move within more practicable spheres. For the absurdity must continually stare us in the face of confiding to a government the direction of the most essential national interests, without daring to trust it to the authorities which are indispensible to their proper and efficient management. Let us not attempt to reconcile contradictions, but firmly embrace a rational alternative.

I trust, however, that the impracticability of one general system cannot be shown. I am greatly mistaken, if any thing of weight has yet been advanced of this tendency; and I flatter myself, that the observations which have been made in the course of these papers have served to place the reverse of that position in as clear a light as any matter still in the womb of time and experience can be susceptible of. This, at all events, must be evident, that the very difficulty itself, drawn from the extent of the country, is the strongest argument in favor of an energetic government; for any other can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire. If we embrace the tenets of those who oppose the adoption of the proposed Constitution, as the standard of our political creed, we cannot fail to verify the gloomy doctrines which predict the impracticability of a national system pervading entire limits of the present Confederacy.


Saturday, May 29th, 2010

As I read Federalist 23, I thought about attacks the United States has endured in the last century: especially the air attack on Pearl Harbor, and September 11, when hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed before it could reach its target.  These types of attacks have been unimaginable to the people of the United States, even our leaders at the highest levels of government, until they occur.  And the only certainty is that our country will eventually be attacked again, in a new creative way, that we once again cannot imagine.

Alexander Hamilton knew this. His words, “The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite….” and, “it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them,” ring true as we remember the wars our country has fought through the years since 1787, and the many times the President has had to send troops into hostile situations.

The founders wisely built checks and balances into our national defense.  While the Congress is given the power in Article I, Section 8 to declare war and to raise and support troops, the President is designated as the Commander in Chief in Article II, Section II, a power used broadly by Presidents to send troops where the President has deemed necessary. The War Powers Act of 1973 attempted to clarify and formalize consultation with Congress by the President when sending troops into hostile situations, and put a time limit on troops sent by the President without Congressional approval.  The Constitutionality of this law has been questioned, some have advocated for its repeal, and most recently in July, 2008 a bi-partisan Commission led by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher, recommended improvements.

While there is tension between the executive and congressional branches over the parameters of their war powers, it is imperative that our government provide for our defense, and be given the power to do so. Whether it be stopping Hitler and Japan in World War II, halting the spread of communism, as was attempted in Vietnam, or fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, our American Troops, directed by our Commander in Chief, have bravely kept our country safe and preserved our liberty.

It is fitting we read Federalist No. 23 on this Memorial Day Weekend.  Let us honor those men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that our freedom lives on, and let us be thankful for the wisdom of our founders who knew that providing for the common defense was best left in the hands of our federal government.

Cathy Gillespie


Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Today, our guest Constitutional Scholar of the day, Mr. Troy Kickler’s, insightful essay states, “Hamilton and other Federalists believed, write constitutional scholars Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell, that interest, reputation, and duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.”

I find this quote intriguing, especially the section ”..duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.” This singular line encapsulates wisdom and inspires reflection.

The first reflection is upon the word, “duty.” Duty seems to be a word that is lost in our American culture today. As the decades descend from World War II, the sense of duty to ones country appears to be diminishing. I looked up the word, “duty,” and found the following definition: ”a social force that binds you to a course of action demanded by that force. ” The definition was followed by a quote by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., ”every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation, every position, a duty.”  Today the focus of America’s representatives as well as many Americans and the American culture seem to be one of self-interest. With the blessing of the Providential rights that are secured for us in our Constitution lay a responsibility. One of those responsibilities is to know, respect and understand the United States Constitution, as well as to encourage others to do so. The same should apply to the American Culture. How far we have drifted from the days when patriotism and love of country were, as President Ronald Reagan said, “in the air.” Is our country perfect? No. But as the Former Senator Patrick Moynihan said, “show me a better one.” We, as patriots who love our country and appreciate the founding principles upon which she was founded, need to rise to counter the palpable negativity that permeates our air today.  One has to question whether our Congressional representatives are bound to their duty of their country and constituents, or to themselves.

The second reflection is upon the statement that duty would bind representatives to the “Constitution.” “..bind one to the Constitution.” The more I read the United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers, the more I realize how much we have strayed from the Constitution in cultural thought, personal awareness, legislative acts and supreme court rulings. This slow usurpation is due to a lack of knowledge and by a lack of pressure applied on our representatives to uphold the Constitution’s principles.  As a Republic we rule through our representatives, thus, our vote is our voice. The checks and balances of our government begin with us. Thus, I suppose, there is a responsibility that we, as patriots, must own – if our representatives have grown callous and irreverent regarding the Constitution, it is because we have allowed it by our lack of diligence and duty to hold them accountable. How well do they know the United States Constitution?  How do they intend to abide by its stipulations? These should be the questions of paramount importance.

The third reflection is upon the two words, “public opinion.” “Duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.” Public opinion seems to be virtually ignored by our representatives today.  As mentioned in Federalist Paper No. 22 and in previous papers, Publius had a respect for the “genius of the people.” The American people have a genetic disposition and inherent ability to seek the truth and know the truth and American patriots rise to the challenge of duty. ”The experience of history” has proven this to be a tried and true trait of  Americans. All of the attempts by the current branches of government to “reason” their way around the Constitution and govern a Republic without respecting the Constitution, and the history of the American spirit, will do so in vain. Duty to preserve our great country, founding principles, bill of rights and free enterprise will be the Paul Revere ”call to action” of our day.

God Bless,

Janine Turner


Guest Bloggers: Troy Kickler, Ph.D., Director of the North Carolina History Project and Daren Bakst, J.D., L.L.M., Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Federalist #23

When Alexander Hamilton attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he was thirty-six years old.  Despite his young age he was a leading statesman, who was knowledgeable not only regarding current events at home and abroad but also the classics and the historical lessons that they contain. The future, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton incorporated his political observations and knowledge into The Federalist.

Hamilton penned more than half of The Federalist essays.  In them, he pointed out the defects of the Articles of Confederation and argued that the Constitution and the powers that it enumerated to the national government were necessary for the Union’s survival.  To remain under the Articles, Hamilton contended, meant certain death for the Union, for the states would continually act in their self-interest and ignore the Union’s interest.  Laying the foundation for his reasoning in subsequent commentaries (24-29), the New York lawyer put forth this particular argument in Federalist 23: “The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union.”

When debating Anti-Federalists–those who questioned or opposed the Constitution’s ratification–Hamilton and other Federalists used the word “energetic” to describe a government that had power to fulfill its given responsibilities such as providing for a national defense.  An “energetic” government was not one that encroached on individual rights.  It meant simply giving life to a dormant national government and allowing it to exercise and fulfill its responsibilities.

In Federalist 23, Hamilton asks what are the proper duties of a national government.  He contends they are providing for the common defense, preserving public peace, regulating interstate commerce and foreign trade, and conducting foreign affairs.  For the remainder of the essay, Hamilton emphasizes why it is essential for the national government to provide for the common defense and what means are necessary for it to ensure the Union’s longevity.

To charge someone with a responsibility yet not empower them to perform their duty is imprudent.  That is what Hamilton believed.  In Federalist 23, he writes that if the national government is given the task of providing for the common defense then it should have the necessary authority to do so.  Even the framers of the Articles, Hamilton points out, understood this necessity: they allowed Congress to ask the states for unlimited requests for men and money to wage war; however, they erroneously trusted states to provide adequate goods and munitions and men for the national government to use at its discretion.  States many times ignored requests.

The assumptions of the framers of the Articles, Hamilton declares, were “ill-founded and illusory,” and he claims that states worked strictly for their self-interests. To make the Union last, a change in governmental structure, Hamilton contends, was imperative: power and the means necessary must be given to the national government to provide for a common defense.  To meet this particular end, Hamilton argues that the federal government should, in effect, bypass the states and “extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America.”

In regards to national defense, Hamilton believes it is “unwise and dangerous” to not give the national government power to provide for a common defense: the powers “ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them.” He reminds his political opponents that to withhold such means and power from the national government is counterproductive and welcomes national instability.  (Hamilton was aware of the lingering Anti-Federal skepticism and considered many of their objections to be merely nitpicking).

The change in government was needed to preserve national interests, and the proposed federal government was worthy of the people’s trust.  Hamilton and other Federalists believed, write constitutional scholars Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell, that “interest, reputation, and duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.”  That belief is expressed and implied in Federalist 23.

Although Anti-Federalists and Federalists waged a genuine and intense intellectual battle, both were concerned with protecting American liberties.  In many ways, they were champions of freedom and had much in common.  Both considered constitutions essential to the existence of a free society, and both believed that restraints should be placed on government.  Both would be horrified how far many modern-day lawmakers and constitutional theorists have strayed from original intent.

–Troy Kickler, Ph.D., is Director of the North Carolina History Project and Daren Bakst, J.D., L.L.M., is Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation.