Federalist No. 46

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James Madison, author of Federalist No. 46

Federalist No. 46 is an essay by James Madison, the forty-sixth of The Federalist Papers. It was published on January 29, 1788 under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published. This essay examines the relative strength of the state and federal governments under the proposed United States Constitution. It is titled "The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared."

Madison stresses that the General and state governments are two totally different agencies. He articulates that they are separate yet are able to collaborate, and that the power lies in the people. The natural attachment of the people will always be to the governments of their respective states, so the federal government must be, in a sense, extraordinarily congenial to the people.

In an effort to further dissuade fears over a national military force, Madison indicates that, at any point, the maximum force that can be brought to bear by the government to enforce its mandates is but a small fraction (~1/5) the might of a militia:

... Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.


The functions of the state government are similar but on different scales to pertain to the correct groups of people. State government is obviously more closely connected with the people so the issues that they deal with are on a more personal level. Some problems that the state deals with for citizens are criminals who break state regulations; divorce and family matters; real estate; and medical issues from work, car accidents, or medical malpractice. The state has to govern a much smaller group of individuals compared to the federal government so they are able to dig deeper into the more personal lives of the people in their state. As for the federal government, they have a large spectrum of citizens so they control larger affairs such as federal taxes, immigration, bankruptcy, social security, and patent/copyright laws. There is a separation between the two governments when it comes to responsibilities because of how far their influences spread. This separation was the original design for our government but over time as their responsibilities remained virtually the same, their interactions increased.

Although, federal government does have more power, it relies on state government. As Madison stated in Federalist Paper No.46, “...I propose to compare the federal and state governments, are the disposition and the faculty they may respectively possess, to resist and frustrate the measures of each other. It has been already proved that the members of the federal will be more dependent on the members of the State governments, than the latter will be on the former”. Further explaining, the dependency federal and state government have on each other.

The general population of the 1780s, as mentioned prior, favored the State government. As explained, “It is also assumed that the lives and interests of the people will be provided for by the States and therefore the people will be more friendly and conversant with those in the State Government”. Even though the Federal Government was supposed to be a mold for the foundation of the State, the people would still be bias to the liking of the State and its roles. Once it became time to begin creating new republics, the people feared going back to the monarchy they once lived under by Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence describes that "“free and Independent States they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all the other things which independent States may of right do”. It is understood why monarchy was such a large concern considering the freedoms gained from being set apart from it.

The military and militia were also discussed greatly in Federalist Paper 46. Because of the people leaning away from the federal government and towards the state government, the military and militia were used as a security for civilians. The restriction of the military and the excessive buffer of militia gave an upper hand towards the state government to defend themselves from the potentially more powerful federal government if they ever chose to step over their boundaries, into the states territory of power.

Madison's influence on the paper[edit]

Madison highly expressed a care for the people’s interests, he believed in patriotism and unity, and was against the concept of self-interests in political power. He did not want according to, The Federalist Papers and the New Institutionalism, a self-inflicted environment. In which, the people’s opinions were significant in building a government. Although, Madison took an interests in the people’s notions he did only look for what was relevant to governmental policies, roles, and powers. This can be described in the following, “Madison acknowledged that emotional bonds often exacerbated politics, but he also believed that passions could be constructive forces if ruled by any reason”. Additionally, the Founders discussed that the people’s opinions can go in different directions and are able to lose track of what is important and relevant when it comes to a forming a regime.

Military and militia[edit]

During the ratification debate, many Americans feared that the federal government would become too powerful and too similar to the monarchy in Great Britain. Madison calculated while writing Federalist Paper 46 that the standing military, controlled by the federal government, should be kept under a maximum of 30,000 troops, enough to defend America against other nations but not enough to oppress the states. The states themselves, to protect themselves from the federal government from overpowering them with the threat of a standing army like Great Britain did when King George III sent his battalion to America, were allowed a total militia of 500,000 people. The purpose of the militia changed with the passing years as well. Instead of being there to protect the states from being too controlled by the federal government, the militia’s purpose now is to respond to natural disasters and protect individuals stuck in those situations.

Anti-Federalist views[edit]

The Anti-Federalists believed that The Federalist Papers would only ruin America and their view of what it could be. Their fears manifested off of the belief that the Federalist Papers would give the federal government too much power, take away their rights as American born citizens as well as giving the federal government complete control over the judicial system, making it less personal.

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