Debate on Federalism (June 21)

On a comparison of the two plans which had been proposed from Virginia and New Jersey, it appeared that the peculiarity which characterized the latter was its being calculated to preserve the individuality of the States. The plan from Virginia did not profess to destroy this individuality altogether, but was charged with such a tendency. One Gentleman alone, Colonel Hamilton, in his animadversions on the plan of New Jersey, boldly and decisively contended for an abolition of the State Governments. Mr. Wilson and the gentlemen from Virginia who also were adversaries of the plan of New Jersey held a different language. They wished to leave the States in possession of a considerable, though a subordinate jurisdiction. They had not yet however shown how this could consist with, or be secured against the general sovereignty and jurisdiction, which they proposed to give to the national Government. If this could be shown in such a manner as to satisfy the patrons of the New Jersey propositions, that the individuality of the States would not be endangered, many of their objections would no doubt be removed. If this could not be shown their objections would have their full force. He wished it therefore to be well considered whether in case the States as was proposed, should retain some portion of sovereignty at least, this portion could be preserved without allowing them to participate effectually in the General Government, without giving them each a distinct and equal vote for the purpose of defending themselves in the general Councils.

respect for Dr. Johnson, added to the importance of the subject led him to attempt, unprepared as he was, to solve the difficulty which had been started. It was asked how the General Government and individuality of the particular States could be reconciled to each other, and how the latter could be secured against the former. Might it not, on the other side be asked how the former was to be secured against the latter. It was generally admitted that a jealousy and rivalry, would be felt between the General and particular Governments. As the plan now stood, though indeed contrary to his opinion, one branch of the General Government, the Senate or second branch, was to be appointed by the State Legislatures. The State Legislatures, therefore, by this participation in the General Government would have an opportunity of defending their rights. Ought not a reciprocal opportunity to be given to the General Government of defending itself by having an appointment of some on constitutent branch of the State Government. If a security be necessary on one side, it would seem reasonable to demand it on the other. But taking the matter in a more general view, he saw no danger to the States from the General Government. In case a combination should be made by the large ones it would produce a general alarm among the rest, and the project would be frustrated. But there was no temptation to such a project. The States having in general a similar interest, in case of any proposition in the National Legislature to encroach on the State Legislatures, he conceived a general alarm would take place in the National Legislature itself, that it would communicate itself to the State Legislatures, and would finally spread among the people at large. The General Government will be as ready to preserve the rights of the States as the latter are to preserve the rights of individuals, all the members of the former, having a common interest, as representatives of all the people of the latter, to leave the State Governments in possession of what the people wish them to retain. He could not discover, therefore any danger whatever on the side from which it had been apprehended. On the contrary, he conceived that in spite of every precaution the general Government would be in perpetual danger of encroachments from the State Governments.

was of opinion that there was
  1. Less danger of encroachment from the General Government than from the State Government.
  2. That the mischief from encroachments would be less fatal if made by the former, than if made by the latter.

  1. All the examples of other confederacies prove the greater tendency in such systems to anarchy than to tyranny, to a disobedience of the members than to usurpations of the federal head. Our own experience had fully illustrated this tendency. But it will be said that the proposed change in the principles and form of the Union will vary the tendency, that the General Governments will have real and greater powers, and will be derived in one branch at least from the people, not fiom the Government of the States. To give full force to this objection, let it be supposed for a moment that indefinite power should be given to the General Legislature, and the States reduced to corporations dependent on the General Legislature. Why should it follow that the General Government would take from the States any branch of their power as far as its operation was beneficial, and its continuance desirable to the people. In some of the States, particularly in Connecticut, all the Townships are incorporated, and have a certain limited jurisdiction. Have the Representatives of the people of the Townships in the Legislature of the State ever endeavored to despoil the Townships of any part of their local authority. As far as this local authority is convenient to the people they are attached to it, and their representatives chosen by and amenable to them naturally respect their attachment to this, as much as their attachment to any other right or interest. The relation of a General Government to State Governments is paralle.
  2. Guards were more necessary against encroachments of the State Governments on the General Government than of the latter on the former. The great objection made against an abolition of the State Government was that the General Government could not extend its care to all the minute objects which fall under the cognizance of the local jurisdictions. The objection as stated lay not against the probable abuse of the general power, but against the imperfect use that could be made of it throughout so great an extent of country, and over so great a variety of objects. As far as as its operation would be practicable it could not in this view be improper, as far as it would be impracticable, the conveniency of the General Government itself would concur with that of the people in the maintenance of subordinate Governments. Were it practicable for the General Government to extend its care to every requisite object without the coopeMtion of the State Governments the people would not be less free as members of one great Republic than as members of thirteen small ones. A Citizen of Delaware was not more free than a Citizen of Virginia, nor would either be more free than a Citizen of America. Supposing therefore a tendency in the Gen eral Government to absorb the State Governments no fatal consequence could result. Taking the reverse of the supposition, that a tendency should be left in the State Governments towards an independence on the General Government and the gloomy consequences need not be pointed out. The imagination of them, must have suggested to the States the experiment we are now making to prevent the calamity, and must have formed the chief motive with those present to undertake the arduous task.