The Debate over the Nature of Union and Republican Government

How the Constitution would affect the relationship of the thirteen states that had been united under the Articles of Confederation was passionately debated. Both Federalists and Antifederalist realized the union needed to be strengthened; the question was to what extent. Antifederalists feared that the Constitution would create a consolidated government that would eventually dissolve the states into one. They further argued that such a government would quickly lose its republican nature, because history and political philosophy—especially Montesquieu—proved that republican governments are only sustainable for small countries, not for those with extensive territory. Federalists argued that state governments and the federal government could co-exist as functional republics because they operated at different levels: the federal government would govern issues of national importance (defense, trade, foreign affairs) while the state governments would govern the internal administration of their people at the local level.

The following documents are taken from The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution and have been grouped into sub-categories to better understand the nuances of this debate over the nature of the union and republican government.

(F) Federalist Essays/Speeches
(AF) Antifederalist Essays/Speeches

CONFEDERATION MUST BE STRENGTHENED

(AF) Centinel IV, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 30 November 1787
(F) Hugh Williamson: Speech at Edenton, N.C., New York Daily Advertiser, 25–27 February 1788
(F) Poughkeepsie Country Journal, 18 March 1788

CONFEDERATION IS WEAK

(F) Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson Speeches in the Connecticut Convention, 4 January 1788
(F) Publius: The Federalist 38, New York Independent Journal, 12 January 1788

CONSTITUTION CONSOLIDATES THE UNION

(AF) Centinel I, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 5 October 1787
(AF) Brutus I, New York Journal, 18 October 1787
(AF) Cato III, New York Journal, 25 October 1787
(AF) An Old Whig IV, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 27 October 1787
(AF) Federal Farmer I, Letters to the Republican, c. 8 November 1787
(AF) An Observer, New York Journal, 19 November 1787
(AF) Helvidius Priscus I, Boston Independent Chronicle, 27 December 1787
(AF) The Republican Federalist IV, Massachusetts Centinel, 12 January 1788
(AF) A Farmer, Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal, 16, 23 April 1788
(AF) Federal Farmer: An Additional Number of Letters to the Republican, New York, 2 May 1788
(AF) Patrick Henry Speech in the Virginia Convention, 5 June 1788

CONSTITUTION PRESERVES UNION

(F) Harrington: To the Freemen of the United States, Pennsylvania Gazette, 30 May 1787
(F) “A,” Newberryport, Mass., Essex Journal, 10 October 1787
(F) Monitor, Northhampton, Mass., Hampshire Gazette, 24 October 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 2, New York Independent Journal, 31 October 1787
(F) Remarker, Boston Independent Chronicle, 27 December 1787
(F) Honorius, Boston Independent Chronicle, 3 January 1788
(F) Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson Speeches in the Connecticut Convention, 4 January 1788
(F) John Hancock Speech to the General Court, Boston Independent Chronicle, 28 February 1788
(F) Fabius VIII, Pennsylvania Mercury, 29 April 1788
(F) Edmund Randolph Speech in the Virginia Convention, 6 June 1788

DANGER OF DISUNION

(F) Numa: Political and Moral Entertainment VII, Northhampton, Mass., Hampshire Gazette, 5 September 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 5, New York Independent Journal, 10 November 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 6, New York Independent Journal, 14 November 1787
(F) Boston Independent Chronicle, 7 February 1788

FACTIONS AND UNION

(F) Americanus I, New York Daily Advertiser, 2 November 1787
(F) Curtius III, New York Daily Advertiser, 3 November 1787
(F) James Wilson Speech in the Pennsylvania Convention, 24 November 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 10, New York Daily Advertiser, 22 November 1787
(F) Americanus III, New York Daily Advertiser, 30 November 1787
(F) A Freeholder, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 9 April 1788 (Extraordinary)
(AF) William Grayson Speech in the Virginia Convention, 19 June 1788

STATE SOVEREIGNTY AND UNION

(F) Atticus IV, Boston Independent Chronicle, 27 December 1787
(F) Remarker, Boston Independent Chronicle, 17 January 1788
(F) A Freeman III, Pennsylvania Gazette, 6 February 1788
(F) Publius: The Federalist 80, New York, 28 May 1788
(F) Edmund Pendleton Speech in the Virginia Convention, 5 June 1788
(F) Alexander Hamilton Speech in the New York Convention, 24 June 1788
(AF) Luther Martin: Genuine Information IV, Baltimore Maryland Gazette, 8 January 1788
(AF) Patrick Henry Speech in the Virginia Convention, 5 June 1788

UNION UNDER CONSTITUTION IS REPUBLICAN

(F) Publius: The Federalist 39, New York Independent Journal, 16 January 1788
(F) Francis Corbin Speech in the Virginia Convention, 7 June 1788
(F) Edmund Randolph Speech in the Virginia Convention, 10 June 1788

UNION STRONG UNDER CONSTITUTION

(F) Publius: The Federalist 4, New York Independent Journal, 7 November 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 25, New York Packet, 21 December 1787
(F) David Ramsay Oration, Charleston Columbian Herald, 5 June 1788

UNION IS PERPETUAL UNDER THE ARTICLES

(AF) Samuel, Boston Independent Chronicle, 10 January 1788
(AF) The Republican Federalist IV, Massachusetts Centinel, 12 January 1788

UNION WEAK UNDER THE ARTICLES

(F) Curtius III, New York Daily Advertiser, 3 November 1787
(F) A Citizen of Philadelphia: The Weaknesses of Brutus Exposed, 8 November 1787
(F) A True Friend, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 14 November 1787
(F) Publius: The Federalist 38, New York Independent Journal, 12 January 1788
(F) Edmund Randolph Speech in the Virginia Convention, 6 June 1788