Federalist No. 19

“After reading Federalist No. 19, it is slowly dawning on me that we have a behemoth central government that can only be described as Augustan.”

Hamilton and Madison continue the subject they began in the Federalist No. 18. This time, to illustrate the ineffectiveness of the confederation under the Articles, Madison and Hamilton draw upon more modern history than the last essay. They point out that while Charlemagne took over many of the Germanic kingdoms and his posterity ruled over the territory in theory, the traditional diets were left in place and in time became rival factions with independent power to check the ambitions of the central royal power. After the death of Charlemagne and his descendants the kingdom splintered into  German states that became a source of perpetual contentions, as they jockeyed for position of supremacy. F0r the authors of Federalist No. 19, the medieval history of Germany and for that matter of early modern Europe before the Peace of Westphalia (1648) , is a warning for the early American republic: strong, independent states need a central power to minimize war and maximize prosperity, strength and liberty.

Some today might read this essay and conclude that its authors were in favor of the unitary system that the United States has been forming since the turn of the 19th century. They might be tempted to read of the lack of a true central power to control the German diets and conclude, falsely, that Hamilton and Madison recommend a type of central power that we have today. After all, “The history of Germany is a history of wars between the emperor and the princes and states; of wars among the princes and states themselves.” But a closer reading of the essay reveals just exactly what the powers of the diets were “power of legislating for the empire; of making war and peace; contracting alliances; assessing quotas of troops and money; constructing fortresses; regulating coin; admitting new members; and subjecting disobedient members to the ban of the empire,” all powers that are in the US Constitution but are hardly the limited functions of the federal government today. Even the powers of the German emperor seem limited to what our federal executive can do at present.

Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor

After reading Federalist No. 19, it is slowly dawning on me that we have a behemoth central government that can only be described as Augustan. I also wonder if those on the left side of the political aisle realize that the same active central government they have championed for decades is also capable of getting America embroiled in more deadly wars than any Germanic emperor or diet. Those on the right seem to be waking up to that fact as they search for their mission in the wilderness.


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