The prevailing wisdom of the late 18th century was that republics could not succeed over large territories. The French theorist Montesquieu wrote, “it is natural for a republic to have only a small territory; otherwise it cannot long subsist,” as the interests of its citizens become too diverse and extensive to be represented. The size of the United States raised doubts of its viability as a republic because of the differences in culture, economy, and climate among the thirteen states. To remedy this, sporadic proposals surfaced calling for the division of the United States into three, four, or over thirteen separate confederacies. During the Revolutionary War, this idea had less traction because of the necessity of united action against the British. Once hostilities ended, however, the idea became increasingly part of political discussions.
During the ratification debate, Federalists criticized Antifederalists for supporting separate confederacies. John Jay addressed the issue repeatedly in the Federalist Papers 2–5. Although Antifederalists never supported the creation of separate confederacies, Federalists themselves suggested that separate confederacies might be an alternative if attempts to strengthen the central government failed.
For an extended discussion of this topic, see The Idea of Separate Confederacies in Volume XIII of The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.
Support for Separate Confederacies
- Boston Independent Chronicle, 15 February 1787
- Reason, New York Daily Advertiser, 24 March 1787
- Lycurgus, New York Daily Advertiser, 2 April 1787
- Louis-Guillaume Otto to Comte de Montmorin, New York, 10 June 1787
- David Ramsay to John Eliot, Charleston, S.C., 19 January 1788
- Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson, New York, 24 April 1788
Opposition to Separate Confederacies
- Richard Price: On the American Government, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 16 May 1787
- West-Chester Farmer: To the Citizens of America, New York Daily Advertiser, 8 June 1787
- Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 26 June 1787
- James Wilson’s Speech in the Pennsylvania Convention, Philadelphia, 24 November 1787 (Dallas Version)