Federalist Papers – Essay #21

In Essay #21, Other Defects of the Present Confederation, Alexander Hamilton gets down to specifics. He moves beyond a more general discussion of the weaknesses of confederate government into the specific failings of the Articles of Confederation. In the previous several papers, Hamilton and Madison made clear that confederacies marked by weak central governments have repeatedly descended into ineffectualness and anarchy throughout history. Now, Hamilton is showing in very specific terms how the Articles have already started America down that path. The national government cannot enforce its own laws, guarantee the democratic character of state government, or even raise its own revenue.

He cites three reasons:

  • The inability of the national government to enforce its legislation. The government can pass laws, but it cannot enforce them. States can simply disregard the laws without facing any serious repercussions from the national government.
  • “A mutual guarantee of the state governments.” That is, the national government has no authority to protect state governments from being violently overthrown or torn apart by internal divisions. For example, if a small faction or powerful individual were to forcibly take control of Pennsylvania, the national government under the Articles would have no authority to intervene and restore freedom and justice.
  • The inability of the national government to raise revenue from the states. The national government would routinely demand that states contribute certain sums of money to pay for pressing national expenses. However, the government had no way to actually compel states to pay the amount they owe.

Credit for the summary and analysis of Essay #21 is given to Brittany Nelson and Christopher Higgins (second revision 09/15/2011). Weinbloom, Elizabeth ed. “The Federalist Papers Essay 21 Summary and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 30 December 2011 Web. 22 January 2019.

You can access the summary and analysis by clicking HERE.

You can access the entire text of Essay #21 by clicking HERE.

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