FEDERALIST PAPERS – Federalist No. 21

Other Defects of the Present Confederation [For the Independent Journal.]

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING in the three last numbers taken a summary review of the principal

circumstances and events which have depicted the genius and fate of other confederate

governments, I shall now proceed in the enumeration of the most important of those

defects which have hitherto disappointed our hopes from the system established among

ourselves. To form a safe and satisfactory judgment of the proper remedy, it is absolutely

necessary that we should be well acquainted with the extent and malignity of the disease.

The next most palpable defect of the subsisting Confederation, is the total want of a

SANCTION to its laws. The United States, as now composed, have no powers to exact

obedience, or punish disobedience to their resolutions, either by pecuniary mulcts, by a

suspension or divestiture of privileges, or by any other constitutional mode. There is no

express delegation of authority to them to use force against delinquent members; and if

such a right should be ascribed to the federal head, as resulting from the nature of the

social compact between the States, it must be by inference and construction, in the face of

that part of the second article, by which it is declared, “that each State shall retain every

power, jurisdiction, and right, not EXPRESSLY delegated to the United States in

Congress assembled.” There is, doubtless, a striking absurdity in supposing that a right of

this kind does not exist, but we are reduced to the dilemma either of embracing that

supposition, preposterous as it may seem, or of contravening or explaining away a

provision, which has been of late a repeated theme of the eulogies of those who oppose

the new Constitution; and the want of which, in that plan, has been the subject of much

plausible animadversion, and severe criticism. If we are unwilling to impair the force of

this applauded provision, we shall be obliged to conclude, that the United States afford

the extraordinary spectacle of a government destitute even of the shadow of constitutional

power to enforce the execution of its own laws. It will appear, from the specimens which

have been cited, that the American Confederacy, in this particular, stands discriminated

from every other institution of a similar kind, and exhibits a new and unexampled

phenomenon in the political world. (more…)

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