Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Federalism Explained by Alexander Hamilton

One of the toughest fights for the Constitution during the ratification process took place in Alexander Hamilton’s home state of New York.  With a majority of anti-federalists in power, Hamilton worked diligently to convince many of them to consider the new Constitution.  Often noted by people today as a strong proponent of a massive centralized government, Hamilton favored a strong united nation against the European superpowers of the world but he recognized the importance of state(s) rights.  Here is an excerpt from Hamilton’s speech given in New York on June 1788 where he advances a federal (not national) government for the new nation:

“The state governments are essentially necessary to the form and spirit of the general system.  As long, therefore, as Congress has full conviction of this necessity, they must, even upon principles purely national, have as firm an attachment to the one as to the other.  This conviction can never leave them, unless they become madmen.  While the Constitution continues to be read and its principle known, the states must, by every rational man, be considered as essential, component parts of the Union; and therefore the idea of sacrificing the former to the latter is wholly inadmissible….”


Hamilton then notes that the power of the states and the liberties of Americans remain intertwined:


The states can never lose their powers till the whole people of America are robbed of their libertiesThese must go together; they must support each other, or meet one common fate.” 


Note how Hamilton explains the balance of powers between the individual states and the one United States; this according to Hamilton is federalism in its essence:

“The laws of the United States are supreme as to all their proper, constitutional objects; the laws of the states are supreme in the same way.  These supreme laws may act on different objects without clashing; or they may operate on different parts of the same common object with perfect harmony.”


Here Hamilton recognizes and emphasizes again the significance of individual liberty over any form of government:

“I have troubled the committee with these observations, to show that it cannot be the wish of any reasonable man to establish a government unfriendly to the liberties of the people.”




* My emphasis added.

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