Federalism and David Hume's Perfect Commonwealth

Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date



Alexander Hamilton bemoans, in Federalist No. 9, the disappointing record of Republican forms of government. It is impossible, he writes, "to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy." Given this record of factious instability, Hamilton fears that republican government and, more importantly, the principle of civil liberty will be sacrificed to the more reliable principle of political order. Yet Hamilton urges his readers not to lose faith in republican forms. "The science of politics," in his view, "like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients." This new science of politics includes the separation of powers, institutional checks and controls, and the principle of representation -- all of which tend to mollify factious tendencies of popular government. Also among the discoveries of this new science is what is now known as federalism, the "enlargement of the orbit" of republican systems through the "consolidation of several smaller States into on great Confederacy" (Hamilton, Madison, Jay 1999, 39-41).

This document is currently not available here.