Suppressing Rebellions and Fighting Tyranny- Federalist #28
In Federalist #28 Alexander Hamilton discusses how the Constitution can suppress insurrections from within. Conversely, he also argues that the National Government is better suited to protect the people from tyranny of the State Governments than vise versa.
December 26, 1787
Hamilton starts by acknowledging that insurrections happen from time to time. Further, he clarifies that since a government’s job is to maintain order, they are also tasked with suppressing rebellions.
From Alexander’s perspective, the National Government under the Constitution can halt rebellions better than the individual States, which rely on local Militias. Simultaneously, the Constitution can protect the people from States becoming too tyrannical by using force to stop its Government from restricting rights.
Hamilton’s argument that a National Government can suppress rebellions better than States is fairly obvious. Essentially, a bigger government will have a bigger army and can stop more widespread revolts.
He uses the example of Vermont, showing that if it was decided New York should retain that land, it would be easier for the Federal Government to use force to persuade the people to bend to New York’s demands. Keep in mind, the Federalist Papers were published in New York in an effort to convince New Yorkers to support the Constitution. Truthfully, if Alexander was writing in New Hampshire, he could have used that State as an example (because New Hampshire also claimed that territory).
Interestingly, that same Federal Government would grant Vermont statehood just four years later.
The heart of Federalist #28 seems a bit contradictory.
Hamilton argues that the Federal Government can prevent the State Governments from becoming too tyrannical and suppressing their people. However, the Federal Government will not become too tyrannical because the people can use the weight of their State Government.
This is confusing because if the idea is that the Federal Government can use force to command the State Governments, how can the State Governments prevent the Union from getting too powerful?
We can see the questions asked in Federalist #28 play out in the Civil War 80 years later.
Putting aside the reasons for the Civil War, we see half of the States believing the Federal Government has become too powerful and leaving the Union. Since the number of States were so evenly divided, it is the perfect (and really only) example of Hamilton’s thought.
It turns out that Hamilton was right about the National Government’s ability to command the States with force. He seems to have been wrong about the people using the States to halt what they may have seen as a National Government with too much power.
As mentioned earlier, Federalist #28 is contradictory. Both situations could not have been right.
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