University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Debate over the Nature of Union and Republican Government

Many of the same issues that had occupied the attention of Americans since 1763 continued to be discussed during the ratification debate. Americans again considered what constituted a good republic and what could be considered suitable representation within it.

Antifederalists argued that the new Constitution would destroy the states and create a large consolidated system that would eventually result in monarchy or despotism. They espoused a traditional position based on the views of Baron de Montesquieu. According to this view, good republican government was based on consent and featured officials who were chosen directly by the people in elections held on a regular basis. According to Montesquieu, this was only possible in a relatively small territory to ensure that the populations shared similar values and interests. Representatives could know the minds of their constituents since there was an intimacy between the people and their representatives. In a large country this would be lost and the result would be constant clashing and disorder.

After 17 September 1787, when the public debates over the proposed Constitution began, Antifederalists acknowledged the need for a stronger central government. However, they suggested that the central government possess a minimum of delegated powers to maintain the Union and no implied powers. They desired a central government that could not act directly on the people, but one acting through the states.

Federalists believed that a confederacy was not an adequate form of government for the United States. Since many of the requisite conditions for a successful confederation were not extant in the United States. Federalists argued that it was necessary to rethink the nature of republican government. In doing so they needed to address the ideas of Montesquieu. He had insisted that “In an extensive republic the public good is sacrificed to a thousand private views. In a small one, the interest of the public is more obvious, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen.” James Wilson suggested that Montesquieu’s theories were valid to a point. Wilson equated the states with Montesquieu’s republics. In the American context, these states were joined as “federated republics.” Seemingly there was no limit to the number of federal republics that could be in combination. Federalists “unofficially” accepted Wilson’s theory. Antifederalists attacked it, suggesting that the states were too large to fit Montesquieu’s model. Federalists denied that the Constitution would destroy the states by creating one large, consolidated republic. Instead the Constitution would form a system that was partly national and partly federal (local). James Madison devised a new theory that valued a large and diverse polity. This clashing of diverse interests in the large American republic would solve the problems of instability that had afflicted all prior attempts at republican government. These factions under the new Constitution, through the refining process of deliberation, would serve the overall public interest.

Although Madison’s Federalist 10 has been accepted as the most significant explanation of the idea of the extended republic, at the time, it did not generate criticism among Antifederalists or support among Federalists. James Wilson would be the official spokesman for the idea of the extended republic.

(F) Federalist Essays/Speeches

(AF) Antifederalist Essays/Speeches

Confederation Must be Strengthened

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

Confederation is Weak

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

Constitution Consolidates the Union

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

Constitution Preserves Union

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

Danger of Disunion

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

Factions and Union

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

State Sovereignty and Union

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

Union Under Constitution is Republican

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

Union Strong Under Constitution

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

Union is Perpetual Under the Articles

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

Union Weak Under the Articles

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