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Federalist No. 18

Hamilton and Madison team up on this Federalist essay to provide a historical example of why confederacies are incapable of longevity and of providing security.  This essay demonstrates that the framers of the Constitution did not make it up out of whole cloth, but that the Constitution was the product of considerable study of previous attempts in history at self-governance.

The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union (continued)

To the People of the State of New York:

AMONG the confederacies of antiquity, the most considerable was that of the Grecian republics, associated under the Amphictyonic council. From the best accounts transmitted of this celebrated institution, it bore a very instructive analogy to the present Confederation of the American States.

The largest confederacy of ancient times was that of the Grecian republics under the Amphictyonic council.  From what we know, the history of this confederacy provides a very instructive analogy to the present Confederation of American States.

The members retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council. This council had a general authority to propose and resolve whatever it judged necessary for the common welfare of Greece; to declare and carry on war; to decide, in the last resort, all controversies between the members; to fine the aggressing party; to employ the whole force of the confederacy against the disobedient; to admit new members. The Amphictyons were the guardians of religion, and of the immense riches belonging to the temple of Delphos, where they had the right of jurisdiction in controversies between the inhabitants and those who came to consult the oracle. As a further provision for the efficacy of the federal powers, they took an oath mutually to defend and protect the united cities, to punish the violators of this oath, and to inflict vengeance on sacrilegious despoilers of the temple.

Grecian TempleThe members retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council. This council had a general authority to propose and resolve whatever it judged necessary for the common welfare of Greece.  It could declare and carry on war; it could decide, in the last resort, all controversies between the members and fine the aggressing party, and, if necessary, employ the whole force of the confederacy against the disobedient.  It could also admit new members.   The Amphictyons were the guardians of religion, and of the immense riches belonging to the temple of Delphos, where they had the right of jurisdiction in controversies between the inhabitants and those who came to consult the oracle.  In order to ensure the effectiveness of federal power, they took an oath to mutually defend and protect the united cities, to punish the violators of this oath, and to inflict vengeance on sacrilegious despoilers of the temple.

In theory, and upon paper, this apparatus of powers seems amply sufficient for all general purposes. In several material instances, they exceed the powers enumerated in the articles of confederation. The Amphictyons had in their hands the superstition of the times, one of the principal engines by which government was then maintained; they had a declared authority to use coercion against refractory cities, and were bound by oath to exert this authority on the necessary occasions.

In theory and on paper, this system seems like it should have been sufficient for all general purposes.  In several ways, the power they had at their disposal exceeded the powers enumerated in or own articles of confederation.  After all, the Amphictyons controlled the superstition of the times.  That superstition was one of the main methods by which the government was then maintained.  They also had the stipulated authority to use coercion against refractory cities, and were bound by oath to exert this authority when necessary.

Very different, nevertheless, was the experiment from the theory. The powers, like those of the present Congress, were administered by deputies appointed wholly by the cities in their political capacities; and exercised over them in the same capacities. Hence the weakness, the disorders, and finally the destruction of the confederacy. The more powerful members, instead of being kept in awe and subordination, tyrannized successively over all the rest. Athens, as we learn from Demosthenes, was the arbiter of Greece seventy-three years. The Lacedaemonians next governed it twenty-nine years; at a subsequent period, after the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had their turn of domination.

In practice, however, the theory didn’t work so well.  The powers of that confederacy, like those of the present Congress, were administered by deputies appointed wholly by the cities in their political capacities, and the cities continued to hold power.  This was the fatal flaw in the design which led ultimately to the destruction of the confederacy.  The more powerful members were not subordinate to the confederation, instead they exercized tyrannical power over the rest.  Athens, as we learn from Demosthenes, was the arbiter of Greece for seventy-three years. The Lacedaemonians next governed it twenty-nine years; at a subsequent period, after the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had their turn of domination.

It happened but too often, according to Plutarch, that the deputies of the strongest cities awed and corrupted those of the weaker; and that judgment went in favor of the most powerful party.

Even in the midst of defensive and dangerous wars with Persia and Macedon, the members never acted in concert, and were, more or fewer of them, eternally the dupes or the hirelings of the common enemy. The intervals of foreign war were filled up by domestic vicissitudes convulsions, and carnage.

PlutarchAccording to Plutarch, all too frequently the stronger parties held sway over the weaker.

They couldn’t work in concert even in the midst of wars with Persia and Macedonia.  The members were never able to coordinate their actions, and worse, some were frequently the dupes or hirelings of the common enemy.  Between the foreign wars, the cities constantly squabbled and fought amongst themselves.

After the conclusion of the war with Xerxes, it appears that the Lacedaemonians required that a number of the cities should be turned out of the confederacy for the unfaithful part they had acted. The Athenians, finding that the Lacedaemonians would lose fewer partisans by such a measure than themselves, and would become masters of the public deliberations, vigorously opposed and defeated the attempt. This piece of history proves at once the inefficiency of the union, the ambition and jealousy of its most powerful members, and the dependent and degraded condition of the rest. The smaller members, though entitled by the theory of their system to revolve in equal pride and majesty around the common center, had become, in fact, satellites of the orbs of primary magnitude.

After the conclusion of the war with Xerxes, the Lacedaemonians were displeased by some the cities’ conduct in the war and sought to expel them from the confederacy.   But the Athenians realized that the Lacedaemonians would lose fewer partisans by such a measure than themselves, and would become masters of the public deliberations.  Consequently they vigorously opposed and defeated the attempt.  This piece of history demonstrates the inefficiency of the union, the ambition and jealousy of its most powerful members, and the dependent and degraded condition of the rest.  The smaller members, while supposedly equal members of the confederation, had become mere satellites of the more powerful cities.

Had the Greeks, says the Abbé Milot, been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union, and would have availed themselves of the peace which followed their success against the Persian arms, to establish such a reformation. Instead of this obvious policy, Athens and Sparta, inflated with the victories and the glory they had acquired, became first rivals and then enemies; and did each other infinitely more mischief than they had suffered from Xerxes. Their mutual jealousies, fears, hatreds, and injuries ended in the celebrated Peloponnesian war; which itself ended in the ruin and slavery of the Athenians who had begun it.

According to the Abbé Milot, if the Greeks had been as wise as they were courageous, they would have figured out that closer union was in their favor.  They would have taken advantage of the peace that followed their success against the Persians and enacted reforms.  Instead of pursuing this obvious course, Athens and Sparta, in their pride, became first rivals and then enemies.  They did themselves more harm than Xerxes had done.  their mutual jealousies, fears, hatreds, and injuries ended in the celebrated Peloponnesian war; which itself ended in the ruin and slavery of the Athenians who had begun it.

As a weak government, when not at war, is ever agitated by internal dissentions, so these never fail to bring on fresh calamities from abroad. The Phocians having ploughed up some consecrated ground belonging to the temple of Apollo, the Amphictyonic council, according to the superstition of the age, imposed a fine on the sacrilegious offenders. The Phocians, being abetted by Athens and Sparta, refused to submit to the decree. The Thebans, with others of the cities, undertook to maintain the authority of the Amphictyons, and to avenge the violated god. The latter, being the weaker party, invited the assistance of Philip of Macedon, who had secretly fostered the contest. Philip gladly seized the opportunity of executing the designs he had long planned against the liberties of Greece. By his intrigues and bribes he won over to his interests the popular leaders of several cities; by their influence and votes, gained admission into the Amphictyonic council; and by his arts and his arms, made himself master of the confederacy.

Philip of MacedonWhen a weak government is constantly distracted by internal dissensions, it never fails to bring unwanted attention from abroad.  So it was when the Phocians ploughed up some sacred ground associated with the temple of Apollo. The Amphictyonic council, according to the superstition of the age, imposed a fine on the sacrilegious offenders.  The Phocians ignored the decree because they were supported by Athens and Sparta.  Then the Thebans and some of the other cities tried to uphold the authority of the Amphyictyons, and to avenge the insulted god.  However, since this group was not strong enough to prevail, they invited the assistance of Philip of Macedon, who had secretly masterminded the whole affair to start with.  Philip gladly seized the opportunity of executing the designs he had long planned against the liberties of Greece. By his intrigues and bribes he won over the popular leaders of several cities.  Through their influence and votes, Philip gained admission into the Amphictyonic council, and ultimately made himself master of the confederacy.

Such were the consequences of the fallacious principle on which this interesting establishment was founded. Had Greece, says a judicious observer on her fate, been united by a stricter confederation, and persevered in her union, she would never have worn the chains of Macedon; and might have proved a barrier to the vast projects of Rome.

This was the consequence of founding their system on a false premise of confederation.  A wise man said that if Greece had been united by a stricter confederation and maintained a strong union, she never would have fallen to Macedon, and perhaps might have proven a more difficult conquest to Rome.

The Achaean league, as it is called, was another society of Grecian republics, which supplies us with valuable instruction.

The Union here was far more intimate, and its organization much wiser, than in the preceding instance. It will accordingly appear, that though not exempt from a similar catastrophe, it by no means equally deserved it.

The so-called Achaean league was another society of Grecian republics, which supplies us with valuable instruction.

This Union was much stronger and organized more wisely than that in the preceding example.  However, we will show that although it was not exempt from a similar catastrophe, it by no means equally deserved it.

The cities composing this league retained their municipal jurisdiction, appointed their own officers, and enjoyed a perfect equality. The senate, in which they were represented, had the sole and exclusive right of peace and war; of sending and receiving ambassadors; of entering into treaties and alliances; of appointing a chief magistrate or praetor, as he was called, who commanded their armies, and who, with the advice and consent of ten of the senators, not only administered the government in the recess of the senate, but had a great share in its deliberations, when assembled. According to the primitive constitution, there were two praetors associated in the administration; but on trial a single one was preferred.

The cities composing this league retained their municipal jurisdiction, appointed their own officers, and enjoyed a perfect equality.  The senate, in which they were represented, had the sole and exclusive right of peace and war; of sending and receiving ambassadors and of entering into treaties and alliances.  It could also appoint the chief magistrate or praetor, who commanded their armies, and who, with the advice and consent of ten of the senators, not only administered the government in the recess of the senate, but had a great share in its deliberations, when assembled.  According to the primitive constitution, there were two praetors associated in the administration; but in practice, a single one was generally appointed.

It appears that the cities had all the same laws and customs, the same weights and measures, and the same money. But how far this effect proceeded from the authority of the federal council is left in uncertainty. It is said only that the cities were in a manner compelled to receive the same laws and usages. When Lacedaemon was brought into the league by Philopoemen, it was attended with an abolition of the institutions and laws of Lycurgus, and an adoption of those of the Achaeans. The Amphictyonic confederacy, of which she had been a member, left her in the full exercise of her government and her legislation. This circumstance alone proves a very material difference in the genius of the two systems.

It appears that the cities had all the same laws and customs, the same weights and measures, and the same money.  It is not clear that this was due to the authority of the federal council.  Apparently they were in some manner compelled to live under the same rules and regulations.  When Philopoemen brought Lacedaemon into the league, it came in under the stipulation that the laws of Lycurgus were abolished in favor of those of the Achaeans.  When formerly part of the Amphictyonic confederacy, she had retained power over her own legislation and governance.  This is a key difference between the two systems.

It is much to be regretted that such imperfect monuments remain of this curious political fabric. Could its interior structure and regular operation be ascertained, it is probable that more light would be thrown by it on the science of federal government, than by any of the like experiments with which we are acquainted.

Ancient GreeceIt is a shame that there is so little known about their political system.  If we knew more about its political structure, we might learn a great deal about the science of federal government, perhaps more than by any of the other systems with which we are acquainted.

One important fact seems to be witnessed by all the historians who take notice of Achaean affairs. It is, that as well after the renovation of the league by Aratus, as before its dissolution by the arts of Macedon, there was infinitely more of moderation and justice in the administration of its government, and less of violence and sedition in the people, than were to be found in any of the cities exercising singly all the prerogatives of sovereignty. The Abbé Mably, in his observations on Greece, says that the popular government, which was so tempestuous elsewhere, caused no disorders in the members of the Achaean republic, because it was there tempered by the general authority and laws of the confederacy.

Abbe MablyAll historians interest in Achaean history seem to focus on one central fact.  In the period of time between the reforms of Aratus of Sicyon and the intervention of Macedon, the government was moderate and just.  There was much less violence and sedition in the people than in any of the cities which governed themselves as sovereign states.  The Abbé Mably, in his observations on Greece, says that the popular government, which was so tempestuous elsewhere, caused no disorders in the members of the Achaean republic, because it was there tempered by the general authority and laws of the confederacy.

We are not to conclude too hastily, however, that faction did not, in a certain degree, agitate the particular cities; much less that a due subordination and harmony reigned in the general system. The contrary is sufficiently displayed in the vicissitudes and fate of the republic.

We should not jump to the conclusion that everything was peace and harmony and that factions did not cause problems in the cities.  The problems and ultimate fate of that republic show the opposite.

Whilst the Amphictyonic confederacy remained, that of the Achaeans, which comprehended the less important cities only, made little figure on the theatre of Greece. When the former became a victim to Macedon, the latter was spared by the policy of Philip and Alexander. Under the successors of these princes, however, a different policy prevailed. The arts of division were practiced among the Achaeans. Each city was seduced into a separate interest; the union was dissolved. Some of the cities fell under the tyranny of Macedonian garrisons; others under that of usurpers springing out of their own confusions. Shame and oppression erelong awaken their love of liberty. A few cities reunited. Their example was followed by others, as opportunities were found of cutting off their tyrants. The league soon embraced almost the whole Peloponnesus. Macedon saw its progress; but was hindered by internal dissensions from stopping it. All Greece caught the enthusiasm and seemed ready to unite in one confederacy, when the jealousy and envy in Sparta and Athens, of the rising glory of the Achaeans, threw a fatal damp on the enterprise. The dread of the Macedonian power induced the league to court the alliance of the Kings of Egypt and Syria, who, as successors of Alexander, were rivals of the king of Macedon. This policy was defeated by Cleomenes, king of Sparta, who was led by his ambition to make an unprovoked attack on his neighbors, the Achaeans, and who, as an enemy to Macedon, had interest enough with the Egyptian and Syrian princes to effect a breach of their engagements with the league.

While the Amphictyonic confederacy remained, that of the Achaens, which was comprised of the smaller cities, was not terribly notable in Grecian history.  When the former fell to Macedonia, the latter was spared by Philip and Alexander.  Their successors, however, had different ideas.  They intrigued among the Achaeans.  Each city was seduced into a separate interest; the union was dissolved. Some of the cities fell under the tyranny of Macedonian garrisons; others under that of usurpers springing out of their own confusions. Shame and oppression eventually awakened their love of liberty and a few cities reunited. Soon others followed their example as opportunities arose.  Pretty soon the league encompassed almost all of Peloponnesus.  Macedon saw this happening, but had its own internal problems and could not stop it.   Just as it looked as though all of Greece would unite under one confederacy, Sparta and Athens grew jealous of the rising power of the Achaeans and ruined its prospects.  The threat of Macedonian power induced the league to court the alliance of the Kings of Egypt and Syria, who, as successors of Alexander, were rivals of the king of Macedon.  Cleomenes, the king of Sparta, prevented this alliance by making an unprovoked attack on his neighbors, the Achaeans.  The Spartans, themselves powerful enemies of the Macedonians, had sufficient influence with the Egyptian and Syrian princes to break up the alliance.

The Achaeans were now reduced to the dilemma of submitting to Cleomenes, or of supplicating the aid of Macedon, its former oppressor. The latter expedient was adopted. The contests of the Greeks always afforded a pleasing opportunity to that powerful neighbor of intermeddling in their affairs. A Macedonian army quickly appeared. Cleomenes was vanquished. The Achaeans soon experienced, as often happens, that a victorious and powerful ally is but another name for a master. All that their most abject compliances could obtain from him was a toleration of the exercise of their laws. Philip, who was now on the throne of Macedon, soon provoked by his tyrannies, fresh combinations among the Greeks. The Achaeans, though weakenened by internal dissensions and by the revolt of Messene, one of its members, being joined by the Ætolians and Athenians, erected the standard of opposition. Finding themselves, though thus supported, unequal to the undertaking, they once more had recourse to the dangerous expedient of introducing the succor of foreign arms. The Romans, to whom the invitation was made, eagerly embraced it. Philip was conquered; Macedon subdued. A new crisis ensued to the league. Dissensions broke out among it members. These the Romans fostered. Callicrates and other popular leaders became mercenary instruments for inveigling their countrymen. The more effectually to nourish discord and disorder the Romans had, to the astonishment of those who confided in their sincerity, already proclaimed universal liberty1 throughout Greece. With the same insidious views, they now seduced the members from the league, by representing to their pride the violation it committed on their sovereignty. By these arts this union, the last hope of Greece, the last hope of ancient liberty, was torn into pieces; and such imbecility and distraction introduced, that the arms of Rome found little difficulty in completing the ruin which their arts had commenced. The Achaeans were cut to pieces, and Achaia loaded with chains, under which it is groaning at this hour.

The  Achaeans now faced the prospect of subordinating themselves to Cleomenes or to their former oppressor, Macedon.  They chose the latter course.  Macedon never failed to take advantage of the internecine squabbles of the Greeks.  A Macedonian army quickly appeared and Cleomenes was vanquished. The Achaeans soon experienced, as often happens, that a victorious and powerful ally is but another name for a master.  In spite of their abject humility, all that they could obtain from him was a toleration of the exercise of their laws. Philip, who was now on the throne of Macedon, soon fomented more factions among the Greeks.  The Achaeans, though weakenened by internal dissensions and by the revolt of Messene (one of its members), joined by the Ætolians and Athenians, mounted an opposition.  Even with this new-found support they were still too weak to oppose Macedon and had to resort to the dangerous expedient of seeking help from a foreign power.  The Romans, to whom the invitation was made, eagerly embraced the opportunity.   Philip was conquered and Macedon subdued.  A new crisis ensued to the league. Dissensions broke out among it members and the Romans fostered them.  Callicrates and other popular leaders became mercenary instruments for inveigling their countrymen.  In an effort to nourish discord and disorder, the Romans proclaimed universal liberty throughout Greece.  With the same insidious views, they now seduced the members from the league, stating that membership in it violated the members’ sovereignty.  By this method, the union, the last hope of Greece, the last hope of ancient liberty, was torn into pieces.  Furthermore, such imbecility and distraction was introduced, that Rome had no problem in completing their ruin. The Achaeans were cut to pieces, and Achaia loaded with chains, under which it is groaning even today.

I have thought it not superfluous to give the outlines of this important portion of history; both because it teaches more than one lesson, and because, as a supplement to the outlines of the Achaean constitution, it emphatically illustrates the tendency of federal bodies rather to anarchy among the members, than to tyranny in the head.

I did not think it a waste of time to go over this bit of ancient history because it teaches more than one lesson.  It emphatically illustrates the tendency of federal bodies to devolve into anarchy among the members, more than to tyranny in the head.

PUBLIUS

1. This was but another name more specious for the independence of the members on the federal head.

3 comments

1 Bob Mack { 04.13.11 at 7:44 pm }

Very interesting piece, Martin. Thanks.

[Reply]

Martin Reply:

Bob, I commend you on making it through. I thought it was interesting but was cognizant of it being rather long and involved. 🙂

[Reply]

2 Teeing it Up: A Round at the LINKs | SENTRY JOURNAL { 04.17.11 at 9:59 am }

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