Lesson 2: The Federalist Defense of Diversity and "Extending the Sphere"

headshot of alexander hamilton, facing slightly to his left
Photo caption

Alexander Hamilton was pro-Federalist, and authored a number of the papers.

Image courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

As Americans considered whether to adopt the Constitution proposed by the Convention in 1787, one of the central issues had to do with the large nation or republic that would be created. Many Anti-federalists, such as Brutus and Centinel, believed that in such a vast nation, the central government must rule by strength and force to ensure that the laws are enforced everywhere. Such a government, they argued, would likely be beyond the control of the people, abuse its powers, and become a tyranny that would deprive the citizens of their rights and liberty. Furthermore, Anti-federalists argued, such a large republic would necessarily involve a multitude of diverse interests and occupations, which would prevent the kind of unity among citizens from north, south, east, and west that ought to exist in every nation. The task of refuting these powerful arguments and defending the proposed Constitution fell mainly to Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, writing as Publius in The Federalist papers. Madison—especially in his famous Federalist No. 10—argued that the great danger in republics is not simply that those in government will abuse their powers; rather, the will of the majority must ultimately prevail, and in a popular government the majority may use the power of the vote to elect representatives willing to pass laws depriving the minority of their rights. Contrary to the arguments of Anti-federalists, Madison argued that multiplying the diversity of interests in a large republic is the key to breaking these dangerous majority factions. How the extended republic would control factions—with the aid of separation of powers and checks and balances in government—is the focus of this lesson.

Guiding Questions

Was James Madison correct when he claimed that a republican government over an extended territory was necessary to both preserve the Union and secure the rights of citizens?

Learning Objectives

Articulate the arguments of Federalists Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in favor of a large or “extended” republic.

Understand why the Federalists believed that faction—especially majority faction—is so dangerous in popular forms of government.

Understand the Federalist argument about the beneficial effects of a large republic by multiplying the number of diverse interests within the United States, and how this especially helps to control the effects of faction.

Articulate the difference between a “pure democracy” and a representative republic, and which of these James Madison considered best for the American people.

Have a working knowledge of the Federalist belief that multiplying interests over a large republic, combined with the constitutional separation of powers, makes it difficult for government to pass factious laws that deprive the minority of their rights.