Federalist 46


In Federalist 46, James Madison addresses concerns about the relationship between the state and federal governments under the proposed under the Constitution. Explaining the system of federalism, Madison argues that the limited powers of the federal government will not allow it to overwhelm either the state governments or the people. Additionally, he explains that the two levels will not be enemies or in competition with each other because they will both be designed to serve the interests of the American people, the source of both levels of government's sovereignty. Finally, Madison addresses proposed fears about a federal standing army. Ultimately, Federalist 46 attempts to determine where political power would rest under the Constitution. Madison declares that it would rest primarily in the American people.

Original Text


The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared

New York Packet
Tuesday, January 29, 1788
James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

RESUMING the subject of the last paper, I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the State governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilectionpredilection (n.) an established preference for something and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversariesadversary (n.) an enemy or opponent of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and to have viewed these different establishments, not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurpusurp (v.) to seize and hold (as office, place, or powers) in possession by force or without right the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents. I am going to examine which level of government the people will support more: the federal government or state government. Although they are appointed differently, both levels rely on the people. I’m not trying to prove this now, but I will simply assume that it is true. Both levels are representatives of the people. They have different powers and purposes. The opposition to the Constitution have forgotten about the people’s place in this matter and see the two levels as opposing forces. According to the opposition, the state and federal governments will fight to take control over the other. However, ultimate authority belongs solely to the people. The two levels will not be able to take power from the other so easily. The people will hold the government accountable.
Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emolumentsemoluments (n.) the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensations or perquisites or advantage (archaic) will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversantconversant (adj.) having frequent or familiar association (archaic). And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline. It is generally accepted for a variety of reasons that people tend to like their state more than the federal government. The states create order and opportunities for their people more directly than the federal government. Their influence is more closely felt and the people are more familiar with them. This is why increasingly the people are biased toward the states.
Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear, and the acquisitionacquisition (n.) the act of acquiring or gaining something of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transienttransient (adj.) not lasting long enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequenceconsequence (n.) importance with respect to power to produce an effect or social importance on the prepossessionsprepossession (n.) an attitude, belief, or impression formed beforehand of their fellow-citizens. The federal government tries to serve the interests of the people of all states. Although not perfect, the federal government has been entrusted with this task ever since the Revolutionary War. It was obvious that the American people favored the state government over the federal government. Men who are opposed to increasing federal power capitalize on the American people’s inclination towards the state government.
If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result from such manifestmanifest (adj.) able to be seen, clearly shown or visible and irresistible proofs of a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedentantecedent (adj.) earlier in time propensitiespropensity (n.) a strong natural tendency to do something. And in that case, the people ought not surely to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due; but even in that case the State governments could have little to apprehendapprehend (v.) to become aware of, to perceive with anxiety, dread, or fear, because it is only within a certain sphere that the federal power can, in the nature of things, be advantageously administered. If the American people ever begin to favor the federal government more than the state government, it will be because the federal government has improved its ability to govern. Even if the federal government becomes more powerful, the states should not be worried. This is because federal power can only be successfully exercised within a limited scope.
The remaining points on which I propose to compare the federal and State governments, are the disposition and the facultyfaculty (n.) innate or acquired ability to act or do they may respectively possess, to resist and frustrate the measures of each other. I will now discuss the federal and state governments’ power to check each other.
It has been already proved that the members of the federal will be more dependent on the members of the State governments, than the latter will be on the former. It has appeared also, that the prepossessions of the people, on whom both will depend, will be more on the side of the State governments, than of the federal government. So far as the disposition of each towards the other may be influenced by these causes, the State governments must clearly have the advantage. But in a distinct and very important point of view, the advantage will lie on the same side. The prepossessions, which the members themselves will carry into the federal government, will generally be favorable to the States; whilst it will rarely happen, that the members of the State governments will carry into the public councils a bias in favor of the general government. A local spirit will infallibly prevail much more in the members of Congress, than a national spirit will prevail in the legislatures of the particular States. Every one knows that a great proportion of the errors committed by the State legislatures proceeds from the disposition of the members to sacrifice the comprehensive and permanent interest of the State, to the particular and separate views of the counties or districts in which they reside. And if they do not sufficiently enlarge their policy to embrace the collective welfare of their particular State, how can it be imagined that they will make the aggregateaggregate (adj.) formed by adding together two or more amounts or collective prosperity of the Union, and the dignity and respectability of its government, the objects of their affections and consultations? For the same reason that the members of the State legislatures will be unlikely to attach themselves sufficiently to national objects, the members of the federal legislature will be likely to attach themselves too much to local objects. The States will be to the latter what counties and towns are to the former. Measures will too often be decided according to their probable effect, not on the national prosperity and happiness, but on the prejudices, interests, and pursuits of the governments and people of the individual States. What is the spirit that has in general characterized the proceedings of Congress? A perusal of their journals, as well as the candid acknowledgments of such as have had a seat in that assembly, will inform us, that the members have but too frequently displayed the character, rather of partisans of their respective States, than of impartial guardians of a common interest; that where on one occasion improper sacrifices have been made of local considerations, to the aggrandizement of the federal government, the great interests of the nation have suffered on a hundred, from an undue attention to the local prejudices, interests, and views of the particular States. I mean not by these reflections to insinuate, that the new federal government will not embrace a more enlarged plan of policy than the existing government may have pursued; much less, that its views will be as confined as those of the State legislatures; but only that it will partake sufficiently of the spirit of both, to be disinclined to invade the rights of the individual States, or the prerogatives of their governments. The motives on the part of the State governments, to augment their prerogatives by defalcationsdefalcation (n.) a failure to meet a promise or an expectation from the federal government, will be overruled by no reciprocal predispositions in the members. Federal representatives will be more dependent on state representatives than vice versa. Additionally federal representatives will have bias for their particular state’s interests. Rarely will state representatives have bias for the whole country’s interests. Debates in the federal government will often be decided based on state interests rather than federal interests. Federal representatives are partial to the interest of the states they represent. The federal government will serve the interests of both the states and the entire country.
Were it admitted, however, that the Federal government may feel an equal disposition with the State governments to extend its power beyond the due limits, the latter would still have the advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments. If an act of a particular State, though unfriendly to the national government, be generally popular in that State and should not too grossly violate the oaths of the State officers, it is executed immediately and, of course, by means on the spot and depending on the State alone. The opposition of the federal government, or the interposition of federal officers, would but inflame the zeal of all parties on the side of the State, and the evil could not be prevented or repaired, if at all, without the employment of means which must always be resorted to with reluctance and difficulty. On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietudedisquietude (n.) anxiety, agitation of the people; their repugnancerepugnance (n.) the quality or fact of being contradictory or inconsistent and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracymagistracy (n.) the office, power, or dignity of an official entrusted with administration of the laws of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter. Even if the federal government does try to overstep its power, the states will still have the advantage in stopping it. If a certain state action is hostile to the federal government but it is popular within that state, the federal government could do very little to prevent it without making the states angry or without using excessive force. On the other hand, if the federal government does something that upsets the states, the state and popular opposition will be strong. A single large state’s refusal to co-operate could seriously hinder the federal government; solidarity between states could deal even more damage to the federal government.
But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every government would espouseespouse (v.) to take up and support a cause the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread of a foreign, yoke; and unless the projected innovations should be voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made in the one case as was made in the other. But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity. In the contest with Great Britain, one part of the empire was employed against the other. The more numerous part invaded the rights of the less numerous part. The attempt was unjust and unwise; but it was not in speculation absolutely chimerical. But what would be the contest in the case we are supposing? Who would be the parties? A few representatives of the people would be opposed to the people themselves; or rather one set of representatives would be contending against thirteen sets of representatives, with the whole body of their common constituents on the side of the latter. When the federal government oversteps its power, all states and its people would zealously protest it. A revolt against the federal government would ensue. This revolt would differ from the revolution against Great Britain, which saw a part of an empire revolt against the rest of the empire. This is because this kind of revolt would be an entire nation revolting against a small number of representatives.
The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary suppositionsupposition(n.) the act of believing something to be true in order to imagine what might happen that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of this danger. That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterupted succession of men ready to betraybetray (v.) to show something without wanting or trying to or to expose (one's country, a group, or a person) to danger by treacherously giving information to an enemy both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism. Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallantgallant (adj.) showing courage, very brave citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it. Opponents to the federal government fear the creation of a powerful federal military. I will now show that this is an irrational expectation. It makes no sense that the people and their state representatives would elect federal representatives for a long enough time that those federal representatives would turn against them. The federal representatives would not be able to extend the army’s power without the states and the people realizing it. As ridiculous as this is, let’s suppose that it does happen. Let’s assume that there is a federal army that has power fully equal to the rest of the country. The states and the people could still defend against this force. The largest standing army of any country is roughly one soldier for every one hundred citizens. This ratio would create an army of around 25,000-30,000 men. The opposing militia would be nearly 500,000 citizens, who would be fighting passionately for their liberties. It is doubtful that the federal army could overcome this sizable militia. People who remember what happened during the Revolution would agree with this idea completely. Aside from the American people being very well armed, the people’s reliance on the state government creates another barrier between reality and this unlikely scenario. In the governments of Europe, most countries do not allow their citizens the right to bear arms. Additionally, the people do not control their local governments, which amounts to a control of the greater national political scene, in a sense. If the citizens of these countries had a right to arms and controlled their local governments, all tyrannical rulers in Europe would be easily overturned. The American people have both of these rights, so let’s not insult them by saying they could not fend off tyranny. Give the American people enough credit to act if such tyranny may even begin to appear.
The argument under the present head may be put into a very concise form, which appears altogether conclusive. Either the mode in which the federal government is to be constructed will render it sufficiently dependent on the people, or it will not. On the first supposition, it will be restrained by that dependence from forming schemes obnoxious to their constituents. On the other supposition, it will not possess the confidence of the people, and its schemes of usurpation will be easily defeated by the State governments, who will be supported by the people. To put it simply, either the federal government will be dependent on the American people or not. If it is dependent, its constituents will restrain it from oppressive actions. If it is not dependent, the American people will not trust it. Resultantly, the state governments and people will easily defeat it.

On summing up the considerations stated in this and the last paper, they seem to amount to the most convincing evidence, that the powers proposed to be lodged in the federal government are as little formidable to those reserved to the individual States, as they are indispensably necessary to accomplish the purposes of the Union; and that all those alarms which have been sounded, of a meditated and consequential annihilation of the State governments, must, on the most favorable interpretation, be ascribed to the chimericalchimerical (adj.) existing only as the product of unchecked imagination, fantastically visionary or improbable fears of the authors of them.


In conclusion, the federal government’s power pale in comparison to the state governments. Any fears otherwise are a product of fearful and overactive imaginations.
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