Resurrecting the Lost American Republic

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On September 17, 1787 Benjamin Franklin exited the Pennsylvania State House and stepped into the afternoon sun. A passerby, Ms. Powell, asked the eighty-one year old quintessential colonial American, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” The normally optimistic Franklin is said to have replied cautiously “ a republic, if you can keep it”.[1]

The Constitution, at least the one exiting the Pennsylvania statehouse in the summer of 1787, created a republic rather than a monarchy or democracy. We pledge allegiance to the Republic. We sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Participants in contemporary political discourse refer to our form of government as the “American republic” or as our “Constitutional republic.” Yet, twenty-first century Americans, save for a precious few, have no idea of the history or meaning of the republic in which they live. Recent surveys show that half of all Americans believe that the phrase “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” is from the United States Constitution and that it is one of the founding principles of the American republic.[2]   Forty-four percent of Americans are unable to define the Bill of Rights.[3] I suggest that this ignorance is not mere educational oversight. Rather it is the result of more than a hundred-year deliberate assault on the founding republic by progressive academics, politicians, and public school administrators. American civic education has been re-made in the progressive grand vision.[4] The republic has been re-defined, then rendered more obscure by educational slight-of-hand.

In the twentieth century, traditional civic learning was steadily pushed aside by progressive school boards and Wilsonian academicians.  During the so called cultural revolution of the sixties and seventies, the long smoldering progressive vision reached kindling temperature and burst into full flame reducing traditional civic education to ashes. Until the 1960s, three courses in civics and government were common in American high schools, and two of them (“civics” and “problems of democracy”) explored the role of citizens and encouraged students to discuss current issues.[5] Today those courses are very rare.  What remains is a course on “American government” that usually spends little time on how people can – and why they should – participate as citizens.[6] Contemporary Progressives discourage true citizen participation in governance because their own expertise is viewed as far a superior means of governance than can be gotten by interfering citizen’s with mere opinions. Reawakening the original meaning of our republic and agreeing upon its design and nature is, therefore, perhaps more important today than at any point since the Founding.

Progressives have now installed themselves as seemingly permanent rulers over the “new” republic, which is not a republic at all but an authoritarian administrative state. They have unwound the spring of the original constitutional government largely by obfuscating the terms of the original agreement ratified by the sovereign people of the United States. In short they have with stealth, clever rhetoric, and electoral success put themselves in a position to transmogrify the republic into a new semi-statist society.

With the advent of the Progressive movement in the early 1900’s, scholars and politicians began to redefine the constitutional underpinning of the Republic.[7] Scholars such as Woodrow Wilson, J. Franklin Jameson, and Henry Jones Ford dissented from the reverential approval usually accorded the American Constitution.[8] Dr. Larry Sabato, founder and Director of the University of Virginia, Center for Politics writes, “The failure of the nation to update the Constitution and the structure of government it originally bequeathed to us is at the root of our current political dysfunction.” [9] If at least some of the people, in their collective wisdom, decide to weather the current assault on our original republic, they must begin to challenge assertions such as ‘the Constitution is based on a conspiracy of commerce’[10] or ‘came from Indian tribal culture’[11] or was ‘driven by colonial feminist tensions’[12] or that the republic was meant to be, or in any event should be, a fanatically egalitarian authoritarian administrative state.[13] Adherents to the new administrative state virtually never mention the nature of the republic bequeathed by the Founders. On the rare occasion mention is made, it is to dismiss the Founding principles as “old” and “outdated”. The term American republic has lost its meaning and its place in the body politic.

My thesis is that the term republic is a discrete, distinguishable and identifiable form of society that allows all citizens who would read the founding documents to determine for themselves what the republic “is” and, just as important, what it “is not” and that this Republic is there for the taking in the founding debates. The position taken by this paper is that Founding political principles would better serve contemporary American society than the Progressive principles of elite bureaucratic rule. The paper also takes the position that contemporary Progressive administrative rule is dangerous and a threat to continued common understanding of the original republic.[14] These are, admittedly, subjective conclusions based on personal evaluation of the best evidence available. Others may, of course, come to different conclusions regarding our system of governance.

This paper seeks to find the meaning of the term “republic” wherein it refers to the  American Republic. The objective is to bind the definition to such an extent that its referential power in the political debate is restored or at least begins to provide linguistic and political utility. The American political conversation is worthy of language that informs and clarifies rather than obscures and misleads.

The term republic as a political concept has marched through history under several conceptual banners. Currently, 135 of the world’s 206 sovereign states use the word “republic” as part of their official names[15]. Greek philosophers, Roman historians, and enlightenment European thinkers have covered so much ground in their various theories, disquisitions, and tomes of text that the word “republic” can justifiably take on different meanings despite a certain centrality to the centuries-long discussion. To find the definition of American republic, this paper looks to the Founding conversations, debates and documents of 1787 and 1788 and the rhetorical arguments emerging therefrom. More specifically, this paper mines and explores the term republic residing within the four walls of The Federalist.

The Federalist stands as the rhetorical masterpiece that explains the American Republic and the foundation on which it rests. The work forms the American political anchor to which our Constitutional ship is tied. The American republic was born in the arguments, theories and allusions in these eighty-five essays written two hundred and twenty-six years ago. There are many republics to be found scattered about in the political story of the world. However, the American Republic is centrally located in The Federalist.



References to Republic in Federalist Nos. 1 – 36

As a first step, I performed a content analysis of The Federalist Papers revealing that the terms republic, republican, and republicanism are referenced some 156 times[16]. The sheer number of these references and the fact that they are spread over thirty-two of the Federalist Papers from No.1 to No. 84 is significant evidence that a prime objective of the Federalist is creation of a particular kind of American republic. These repeated references and their strategic placement demonstrate that building a specific identifiable republic is the central purpose of The Federalist.

Federalist No. 1 appeared on October 27, 1787 about five weeks after the new Constitution was delivered to the nation. The United States, then comprised of thirteen sovereign states loosely bound by the Articles of Confederation, was in heated debate over ratification of the Constitution and more generally over the precise kind of government these thirteen states would adopt[17]. Federalist No. 1 enters the debate with the intent of defining the arguments at hand and in so doing early on makes reference to republicanism. The first use in No. 1 is an allusion to a republican government that possesses the attribute of liberty. Quickly thereafter follows the assertion that republics are in danger of having this liberty overturned by demagoguery[18]. “History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”[19] Liberty is unambiguously placed front and center in Federalist No. 1 as an irreducible foundational design element of the American republic. The discourse of Founding America amply reveals that this particular form of republican liberty[20] flows from the theory of natural law wherein citizens are free to engage in agreements with one another on their own accord without government inserting itself as a veto-empowered intermediary and senior party to the agreement. The essence of civil society is that free citizens through their volitional associations direct its affairs and activities. Therefore, liberty as a design element in the American Republic embodies the bedrock republican principle that sovereignty lies with the people and not the government. This construction of the American Republic is reinforced and illuminated throughout The Federalist.

Federalist No. 1 declares that this republican government is to be established as dual form of shared government and that the analogy for republican government already exists in the text and spirit of the state constitutions. Therefore, a reading of state constitutions will reveal, at least in part, the design and nature of republican government as argued for by the Founders, Publius and advocates of the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton published the following in The Independent Journal on October 27, 1787 “The utility of the Union to your political prosperity, the insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve that union… a government at least energetic as the one proposed,… attainment of…the conformity of …the true principles of republican government, its analogy to your own state constitution…will afford preservation of that species of government to liberty and to property.” This reference also lets us know that in the eyes of the authors there are “true” republics and others no so true. There is afoot in the land, suggests Hamilton, mistaken and distorted notions of republics. The character of the American republican regime is posed as a matter of great importance. This character continually emerges from the Federalist page by persuasive page.

The second reference, in No. 1 establishes a direct equality between the text of the Constitution and republican government, “…the attainment of this object the conformity of the constitution to true principles of republican government.” [21] To secure a government of and for the Untied States Publius immediately brings to the construction site three building blocks: 1) Natural Law; 2) Liberty and; 3) The Philadelphia Constitution. These then, like political concrete and theoretical rebar, form the foundation of the American republic.

The third reference appears in Federalist No. 4. It expands the definition of the American Republic by asserting that the republic must, if it is to survive external attack, incorporate the entirety of all states. The American Republic will, in the name of long-term survival, be constructed so as to encompass the entire body politic that emerged from the revolution. The new republic must be comprised of, and contain the geographic, social, and political unity of the whole revolutionary enterprise. The republic in The Federalist is a holistic political singularity gathering within its being all states and citizens. This enfolding of all states does not seek to, and in fact does not, impair the dual political structure of federalism but rather ensures federalism’s functional stability, internal integrity, and reinforces its unified cultural identity by protecting it from outside attack and insurrection. The national reach and cumulative resources of the federal structure act as a sort of immune system for the American Republic and states comprising it. Numerous explanations, direct statements, and proclamations appear throughout The Federalist establishing an intention to create federalism and dual sovereignty. The holistic republic is reflected in the words of John Jay “…split into three or four republics…what a poor, pitiful figure America will be.”[22]

The analogy to state constitutions points toward two ends: 1) Weave the states and union into a complimentary federal structure and; 2) Define the location of sovereignty in the People. The Virginia state constitution of 1776, one of Publius’ analogs to the Philadelphia Constitution, in Section I says “…That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights.”  Section II establishes the element of popular sovereignty…”That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”  Section IV expands, “That the legislative and executive powers of the State should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people”.[23] If the state constitutions are analogous to the new national constitution, it follows by logic that many of the state’s constitutional design elements will be found in the general government and the American Republic. There is, in fact, striking design similarity between the various state constitutions and the Constitution being considered for ratification.

From these very first references, the Federalist is specifying quite discernable design elements of America’s particular form of republican government. We see a republic rooted in natural law, a republic beholden to a sovereign populace, and a republican structure ordered by separation of powers, a republican government subordinate to civil society, and a republic where liberty and civil society flourishes.   A review of other original state constitutions will reveal nearly identical design elements reinforcing the analogy between state and national republican principles. To be sure there are some differences in the nature of state constitutions such as their level of policy detail and their plenary references[24]. But these differences are not about fundamental political design. States and the proposed union shared certainly many if not most of the overarching constitutional elements.

Further along in Federalist No. 4, Publius makes his third key republican reference adding the design elements of size, contiguousness and political cohesiveness. “where as one government, watching over the general and common interests, and combining and directing the powers and resources of the whole, would be free from all these embarrassments, and conduce far more safety of the people.” In Federalist No. 10 written on November 22, 1787 by James Madison, we see the 22nd through the 33rd usages of the root word republic. The argument throughout this particular Federalist Paper is that factions invariably form in all republics. No. 9 made the case that some republics, such as petty ancient republics, are designed so as to meet their demise as the result of virulent and violent factionalism. In No. 10, the multiple references to ‘republic’ build an argument that the American Republic will be constructed so as to successfully mange factions and therefore ensure long term survival. “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote ... When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passions or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Importantly, No. 10 also differentiates the American Republic from a democracy with the words, “The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.”   No. 10 also brings to the construction site of the American Republic the design element of geographic size, diversity of abilities, and varied composition of the citizenry. The republican blueprint presented for ratification claims to ameliorate the dangers of factions by incorporating into the republic the entirety of knowledge, skills, and abilities spread throughout all the land. Such incorporation, it is argued, provides ample talent for solving factional disputes. Small republics of lesser scope do not enjoy this protection. Extended size and reach also limits factional tyranny because the sheer multiplicity of factions act as offsetting forces. Assertions of the protective power of multiple factions return throughout The Federalist and most prominently in No. 51 awaiting us some distance on the horizon. No. 10 also more finely focuses the design of the American Republic by referencing historical evidence in support of the conclusion that the republic under consideration has the advantage over both democracy and small republics. The diversity of ideas, peoples, views, ambitions bring problem solving talent and multiple opportunities for conspiratorial activity counter one another. The closing paragraph defines another element of republican construction…”In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases (i.e., factions) most incident to republican government.” By the close of No. 10, the American Republic is taking on a very specific character and identity.

No. 14 contains references 34 through 44. About 25% of all references to republic appear in the first 14 essays thus somewhat front-loading the Federalist exploration and arguments on the nature and meaning of republic. One cannot be sure that this placement is not just a coincidence. However, given the rhetorical skill, organized thinking, and precision of the authors, it is at least as likely that the placement is strategic. Given the nature of the debate and sophisticated rhetorical devices deployed, it is reasonable to conclude that blueprints and construction of a specific kind of American Republic was seen as essential to the remainder of the project. Quentin Taylor of Rogers University points out, “Neglecting the rhetorical essence of The Federalist is akin to forgetting that Shakespeare’s plays are dramas to be acted, not merely literature to be read. Accordingly, to recall that Publius writes as an orator, that his papers are a species of rhetoric, and that his political analysis is subordinated to practical ends, is to place The Federalist in its proper light…”[25] One can, with some confidence, conclude that strategic rhetorical structure is woven into the Federalist. No. 14 is a sometimes-sarcastic counter to the anti-Federalist accusation that the proposed national government’s administrative and political powers threaten to end state sovereignty. Anti-Federalist insistence that the proposed national powers be rewritten and reduced is met by abject refusal from the Federalist. Rather than relent and compromise, they put forth arguments for the absolute necessity of national powers as present in the Constitution as proposed. Madison asserts that the opponents are confusing and conflating the proposed republican form of government with ancient democracies. He helpfully explains that they have failed to properly differentiate between the natures and necessities of a republic and those of small simple ancient democracies… “A democracy, consequently, will, be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.[26] Next Madison repeats for emphasis and clarity, that the American Republic is dual in nature, is an exercise in federalism, and founded on shared sovereignty…”In the first place, it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all members of the republic.” [27]

Federalists No. 18, No. 20, and 22 make mention of the ancient republics of Amphictyonic council, Achean league, and a handful of others. The objective is to demonstrate that loose confederacies that are insufficiently bound together by weak overarching law and poor means of unification soon fall victim to factionalism and insurrection. These are fortifying arguments that the new American enterprise must contain, by design and intent, the entirety of the revolution’s participants. The danger of “foreign corruption” to the body politic is again presented as reason enough to encompass the whole of the states and entirety of the people into the republic. The danger of having a foreign entity adjacent and contiguous to the United States was to invite disaster, “…Evils (from foreign influence) of the description ought not to be regarded as imaginary. One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”[28]  Hamilton closes No. 22 with this…”Hence it is that history furnishes us with so many mortifying examples of prevalency for foreign corruption in republican governments.[29]” The American Republic was to include the whole of the revolution’s participants; it was not to be subjected to competing confederacies living next door to one another.

The winter morning of Thursday January 10, 1788 finds many of the citizens of New York warming their feet and reading the Daily Advertiser wherein the ink is just drying on Federalist No. 29. The anti-Federalists are continuing to attempt to defeat the constitution by attacking certain provisions, most specifically Article I, Section 8, calling for the general government of the United States to raise armies, maintain a navy and declare war. Here again as on other provisions, rather than compromise Hamilton digs in to defend the Constitution that exited the doors of the Pennsylvania State House on September 17th 1787. He defends the military provisions using two methods of attack on the objections. First, he dismisses the opponents as acting in a spirit of jealousy….”By a curious refinement upon the spirit of republican jealousy, we are even taught to apprehend danger from the militia itself, in the hands of the federal government.”   Hamilton presents a second argument in favor of keeping the Article I, Section 8 military provisions by pointing out that the opponents confuse the armies and navies of King George with the armies and navies that will be manned by America’s own sons. He implies that this central difference changes the character and allegiances of the military. Changes that, when properly evaluated, accrue to the safety and benefit of both the union and the states. By the end of No. 29, the Federalist has incorporated a nationally controlled standing military as a key design component of the American Republic. Successfully keeping a national military as part of the republic rested on the cumulative arguments that: 1) The republic was in danger of external attack; 2) Each sovereign state was in danger of facing factional insurrection and; 3) That the character of an American military was distinctly different and safer than that of the British army to which the colonies had been accustomed. Accumulation is a key rhetorical device employed by Publius throughout.

References 57, 58, and 59 to ‘republic’ appear in Federalist 34. No. 34 revisits the question of how taxes and revenue will be collected and allocated in the American Republic. References 57 and 58 are incidental looks at past Roman republics claiming that their political structure was somewhat analogous to that of American federalism and therefore a dual taxing scheme for a dual-sovereigns republic will be workable. His logic apparently being ‘it worked for them it ought to work for us’. Another argument justifying dual taxation put forth in No. 34 is that the general government will be frugal thereby leaving behind reasonably achievable revenue for the states. The exact source of this claimed American frugality is, according to Hamilton, the more Spartan-like and simple sensibilities arising from colonial life and the hardships of building a society from the hash wilderness. American self-denial and self-discipline is juxtaposed against the officious and expensive grandeur of various egocentric monarchies. Dual taxation becomes a design element of the republic.


References to Republic in The Federalist Nos. 37 – 84

The conclusion of Federalist 36 brings with it a significant point of demarcation in the project to construct the American Republic. The necessity of the Union has been established. In these first thirty-six essays, the Federalist architects laid the American republic’s foundation on natural law, liberty, and a civil society conducting its affairs largely removed from government. On this foundation they built a superstructure comprised of a republic containing the entirety of the revolution’s participants, a federal structure of dual government, a distinct, if not complete, separation between functional parts, a cooperative republic that combines its members to defend the whole against foreign enemies, a republic of widely varied and diverse talents and abilities emerging from a far flung land, a republic based on dual taxing powers, a republic of people whose voice is expressed by representative government, in short a republic that stands on sound theory and very precisely delineated political concepts.

Federalist No. 37 forward begins to construct an argument for the merits of the Constitution. The Federalist architects walk through the doors of the standing superstructure built in Nos. 1 -36 and begin to install functional utilities throughout to accommodate the operations of practical governance. Although Federalist No. 37 through No. 85 will often reference and revisit the preceding foundational theory, history, and political conceptualizations, the primary work going forward is to wire the Republic for full operational use and convince the citizens, through practical re-assurances, that the general government is appropriate for normal politics and administration.

Energy and administrative wherewithal is required to operate a government, particularly one as far reaching as that proposed in The Federalist. Energy, authority, and stability for the national government pose a potential threat to state governments and their political leaders. On the part of the anti-Federalist there seems to be an understanding of the need for an over arching republic that protects and provides economic synchronization. On the other hand there is anxiety that their sovereignty and authority will be significantly weakened. One comes away with the feeling that the anti-Federalist wanted to build it but never throw the switch of actual administrative and political operation. They would eventually resolve these anxieties with the Bill of Rights. Throughout the 1787 – 1788 arguments in favor of the Republic, The Federalist authors had to present their plans in way that would ensure the eventual approval by the states and the people in the form of Constitutional ratification. Addressing his opponents fears of infusing the new government with significant energy Madison writes…”Among the difficulties encountered by the convention, a very important one must have lain in combining the requisite stability and energy in government, with the inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form of government…Energy in government is essentialto…security against external and internal danger.” The American Republic emerging from The Federalist is to be one infused with substantial energy, in the executive in particular. Energy is a much-explored concept throughout The Federalist. That energy can best be described as the personal motivation, institutional authority and administrative wherewithal to execute the responsibilities of operational governance.

Federalist No. 39 contains more references to republic than any other single paper. Here, we see fifteen references (63 through 77) to some form of the root word republic.   Thus, No. 39, helps further define the essence of the American Republic. It unequivocally establishes: 1) The proposal presented for ratification is strictly republican and; 2) The American Republic has a detailed design and a nature that distinguishes it from all other republics ancient and modern. Madison goes on in No. 39 to differentiate between the accidental, elusive and dissimilar republics from the intentional and specific American Republic[30].   He delineates the irreducible elements of the Republic as: 1) Powers derived directly or indirectly but at all times, from the people; 2) Office holders serving strictly at the pleasure of the voters for time-limited terms; 3) Absence of titles of nobility (by which one would reasonably conclude an absence of nobles and elites); 4) Preservation of modified federalism, dual sovereignty, and division of powers and; 5) A general government of constrained and enumerated power. Each of these provisions is explored in some detail bringing front and center the representative design that ensures the operation of natural law and liberty, the essence of which is a society whose members direct their own lives subject to the principle pacto sunt servant, agreements must be kept.

After Federalist 39, the meaning and nature of the American Republic is expanded, enlarged and reinforced. Federalist No. 51 introduces an important republican principle, that of legislative supremacy. “In REPUBLICAN government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.   The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action as little connected with each other…” Here we see very specific elements of operational design. In this republic, power is to be countered and offset by adding checks and balances to the legislative design. Introduced are bicameral bodies, differing terms of office for each body, and divided legislative responsibilities.

Between Federalist No. 40 and Federalist 69, numerous references are made to republic, republican, and republicanism. These references take on the task of coupling certain political, economic, and legal concepts to the Republic. For example, No. 43 explains the positive attributes of creating time-limited property rights for inventor as reward for their creative effort. The Article I, Section 8 clause regarding patents and copyrights is referenced for emphasis, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Here the American Republic, relying on the antecedents in British common law, is directly linking itself to the emerging economic enterprise of industrial capitalism. One can see the pen of Adam Smith behind the scenes, “The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, …capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity.” These comments in No. 43, Article I, Section 8, and publication of the Wealth of Nations in 1776 taken together make it more than plausible, even likely, that Publius means to incorporate into the Republic the means to compete in the dawning industrial world stage. Many of the design elements of the republic are the very definition of the industrial republic. Liberty, free association, property rights, rule of law, contract obligation, patents, copyrights, commercial coordination, regulation of commerce, capital formation and banking, are in play throughout the Founding and in particular in The Federalist. Political design and economic design are two sides of the same human coin. The nexus between the two is direct and virtually always present. This is because the operational principles of both economic and politics are at the heart of the human journey implicit in declarations of natural law.

The last of the Federalist Papers to extensively reference the terms republic, republican, and republicanism is No. 70 where we see some thirteen references. Here, Hamilton is arguing for, and defining the terms of, executive authority in the new republic. Repeatedly deploying the term energy, he unabashedly pursues a powerful executive office in the general government with phrases like “Taking it for granted, therefore, that all men of sense will agree in the necessity of an energetic Executive…” . Once again he turns to the rhetorical device of slyly painting those who would disagree as not having good sense. The anti-Federalist sought to water down the executive by establishing an executive committee. Publius shoots down the proposal for a plural executive by recounting the failures, divisiveness and dissensions created in Roman republics that attempted to govern with consuls and tribunals. Hamilton asserts, “A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of government.”

References to republic and republicanism, in the remainder of The Federalist continue to build the case for a strong executive. Hamilton constructs the energetic executive office for the general government by justifying the various sections of Article II. In particular he argues for duration of four years. Duration was a contentious issues given that lifetime hereditary rule was considered one the more oppressive components of monarchy. Hamilton also argued for the power of veto in the executive as protection against a runaway legislature. He further argues that the veto, in this well-designed republic, is not likely to be abused given that the executive is elected and serves for a temporary period. By the end of No. 73, Hamilton has thoroughly constructed the executive that will serve the American republic.

In No. 77 Hamilton defines and defends the nature and role of the Senate in the republic. The primary role of the Senate is to act as a sort of watchdog over the executive. This is to be accomplished by the power of appointment confirmation, veto override authority, and ultimately the power to conduct impeachment hearings. In No. 79 he introduces the argument that, in this republic, members of the judiciary should be long serving, well past sixty years of age. It was the law in New York and common practice elsewhere for judges to be age limited. No. 84 is the miscellaneous catchall for dispensing with the remaining objections and where we see the last references to republic. Titles of nobility are banished from the republic in 84 thus bringing to an end the 156 references to republic, republican, and republicanism.

Taken in its entirety, The Federalist is a powerful rhetorical onslaught. The sheer offensive thrust of the arguments tends to overwhelm the senses and overload cognitive capacities. The result is that the attributes Publius seeks to build into the design of the American Republic are presented repeatedly and relentlessly. The arguments seem arranged to leave the most intellectually prodigious opponents without a viable rebuttal and simply exhaust all the rest. From the eighty-five chapters of the Federalist, the American Republic emerges complete and whole.



The purpose of this paper is to find the meaning, nature, and design elements of the American republic as expressed in the Federalist Papers. I have attempted to extract the Founding definition of the American Republic as intended by the Founders. At this point, I shall declare the task successfully accomplished. I have identified 156 references to the root word ‘republic’ in The Federalist Papers. They occur in thirty-two of its eighty-five essays. The methodology was to perform a content analysis of the Federalist Papers, specifically to count and isolate the occurrences of the words republic, republican, and republicanism. Having identified the placement and number of usages, each occurrence was explored in its position and context to determine how it was used, why it was used, and to ascertain what role, if any, the usage plays in defining the American Republic. What emerged was a distinct and uniquely identifiable meaning of republic as intended by Founders of the United States. The Federalist Papers began by laying its foundation on the theory of natural law and human liberty and proceeded to build on that foundation a republic possessing a specific character and unique set of attributes. They constructed an operational government structure in keeping with that theory and character.

This finding is not particularly surprising. History, at least the “old” meaning of history as a recounting and recording the past, has long reported such. The paper was not undertaken to reveal a newly discovered Republic in The Federalist Papers. Rather it was undertaken in response to what I believe to be a hundred-year effort to erase the Founding Republic from the pages of time. This erasing of history has been a long and extensive first step toward replacing the original republic with an authoritarian administrative state. These efforts, whether appearing under the guise of the living Constitution, historicism, or the new social science, are being insufficiently countered by those inclined to retrieve the constitutional republic. We live not in the age of the living Constitution but in the age the dying Constitution. The rising tide of angry response to this brave new world of unelected authority, extra-legislative law making, pseudo-expertise and administrative rule is encouraging. The case for resurrection of civil society, individual liberty and personal responsibility needs to be advanced by a broad range of advocates and defenders. The case also needs to be made with more popular appeal and passionate commitment. Pulse-pounding emotional appeals to revisit Founding principles may not necessarily carry credibility, particularly with the elite and highly learned. However, dry tomes of information and data devoid of all emotional connection and threads of common allegiance do not compel the necessary political action. Politics encompasses both the mind and the heart and the future of the republic rests on finding the right balance.

Implicit in the Federalist Papers is this important truth: Our original American civil society was built on the political principles, economic structures, and social arrangements delineated in a triad of documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The principles, structures, and arrangements in them transcend the American Revolution. These principles and lessons are to be found in thousands of years of hard and painful human experience. John Locke, Montesquieu, Mill, and other great political philosophers, reflecting on this long experience, distilled the lessons of humanity into a new political and economic framework. The Founders build on this framework to produce the world’s first truly free thoughtfully designed civil republic. Over the last hundred years and most especially over the last forty years, this civil republic has been unwound and replaced with something quite different. Many have had, and continue to have, a hand in this replacement including many in the academy, the media, public education, and vast expanses of our body politic. It may be that progressive university scholars, power wielding government bureaucrats, and postmodern media messengers offer a better and braver new world for us all. It is possible that we will eventually drop to our knees in admiration and thanks for the great good society they promise. However, those many among us anxious for this new progressive promise land might well heed the words of Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat :

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.






[4] The early Progressives admitted their assault on the Constitutional republic. Both early and contemporary Progressives likely believe the assault necessary to the greater good and few of them are ill-intended. The Progressives and I just disagree, rather markedly, on the means to and nature of the greater good.

[5] Survey of state and district polices from the Education Commission of the States, National Center for Learning and Citizenship

[6] Survey of state and district policies from Education Commission of the States, National Center for Learning and citizenship –

[7] The Myth of the Modern Presidency, David K. Nichols, Pub. 1994, p. 15

[8] A Living Constitution or Fundamental Law: The Critique of Constitutionalism in the Progressive Era, Herman Belz

[9] “A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country.” Larry Sabado.

[10] Interpreting the Founding, Alan Gibson, Chapter 2, page 10

[11] Ibid, Chapter 7, pages 72 – 76

[12] Ibid, Chapter 7, page 66 “Remembering the Ladies”

[13] An authoritarian administrative state rules primarily through governmental bureaucratic fiat with law making and law enforcement both flowing from the executive branch of the government largely rendering the legislative function an advisory body setting guidelines.

[14] See

[15] See

[16] Method of analysis was to apply the “Find” tool in MS Word 2011 to each individual Federalist Paper using the search term “republic”.

[17] Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, Pauline Maier, “ The Cost of Victory, pages 64 – 69.

[18] Federalist No. 1, par 6

[19] Ibid

[20] A deep and thorough exploration of the definition of liberty and its connection to the theory of natural law is beyond this brief paper. This fact notwithstanding, the meaning of natural law and liberty as the foundation of the American Republic is implicit in the Federalist Papers and the Constitution they incorporate. One need merely take a half step prior to the Federalist papers to the Declaration of Independence and a half step after the Federalist Papers to the Bill of Rights to grasp the essence of liberty in the American Republic.

[21] Federalist No. 1, par 8

[22] Federalist No. 4, par 16

[23] Virginia State Constitution, 1776


[25] Publius and Persuasion: Rhetorical Readings of the Federalist Papers: Anamnesis, A Journal for the Study of Tradition, Place, and Things Devine, originally published Fall 2002, The Political Science Reviewer.

[26] See Federalist 14, paragraphs 1, 2, and 3

[27] Ibid, par 8

[28] See Federalist 22, par 12

[29] Ibid par 14

[30] See Federalist No. 39par. 3

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