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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Federalist Maxims

By Robert Goodloe Harper (1765–1825)

[Born near Fredericksburg, Va., 1765. Died in Baltimore, Md., 1825. Select Works. 1814.]

IN the management of our domestic affairs their system has been, in the first place to support vigorously the independence and authority of the federal government; which alone is capable of insuring our safety from abroad, by opposing to foreign nations the barrier of our united strength, and of maintaining our peace at home, by checking the ambition and repressing the passions of the several states, and balancing their forces, so as to prevent the greater from overpowering and subduing the lesser. They well knew this government, being under the necessity of laying and collecting considerable taxes, of raising and supporting armies and fleets, of maintaining numerous officers, and of carrying on all those expensive operations which its superintendence of our general affairs require, and from which the state governments are wholly exempt, is far more likely than those governments to incur unpopularity, to become subject to the imputation of extravagance, oppression, and ambitious views, and to be deprived of the public confidence. They well knew that this government, being removed to a greater distance than the state governments from the people, was more apt to be viewed with jealousy and considered as a foreign government; and that there never would be wanting ambitious and restless men, who failing to obtain that share of influence in the federal government, or those honors and employments under it, to which they might think themselves entitled, would take refuge in the state governments, and avail themselves of all these circumstances to render the federal government odious, to excite against it the public resentment, and even to overrule and control it by means of the state governments. Well knowing this, the federalists considered it as a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of the federal government, to render it as independent as possible of state influence; to give it a movement of its own, and complete power to enforce its own laws; to resist state encroachments; and to restrain the state governments within their just and proper bounds. In every struggle between the federal and the state governments, they considered the latter as possessing infinitely the greatest natural strength; and therefore thought it their duty to take part with the former, in order to preserve the balance.

As to the federal government itself, their second great maxim was to support the executive power against the encroachments, the ambition and the superior strength of the popular branch. The power of a popular assembly, being little suspected by the people, is always little watched; and as no one member is to bear the blame of any excesses which the whole body may commit, its power is but little restrained by personal responsibility and a regard to character, and of course is very likely to be abused. Hence has resulted, in every age and nation where the form of government admitted popular assemblies, a constant effort on the part of those assemblies to get all power into their own hands, and to exercise it according to their own passions and caprice. This has everywhere produced the necessity of checking the power of those assemblies, by confining it wholly to legislation, by dividing it between two houses, and by giving the judicial and executive powers to persons independent of the legislature. This has been done by our constitution, which gives the executive power to the President, a single magistrate, places the judicial power in the courts, and divides the legislative power between the Senate and House of Representatives. This House of Representatives, being the most numerous and the most popular body, is subject to the same passions and dispositions which popular bodies ever feel; and consequently has a perpetual tendency to encroach on the executive powers, and to direct and control the President in the exercise of his authority. As the President, being a single magistrate, is much more apt to be suspected and viewed with a jealous eye than this popular assembly, which the people consider as nearer to themselves and more under their control, he would have the people against him in these contests, and must finally submit absolutely to the control of the House, were there not always some members of it, whose just way of thinking and regard to the constitution induce them to oppose the improper enterprizes of their own body, and to defend the executive power against its perpetual attacks. This was the conduct of the federalists. Knowing the executive power to be absolutely essential for preserving the due balance of the constitution and for conducting the affairs of the nation with prudence, steadiness and success, and knowing it also to be in itself much weaker than its antagonist, they made themselves its defenders, and by their perseverance and talents have thus far succeeded in preserving to it the weight and authority designed for it by the constitution.

It was a third maxim in the system of the federalists, to give liberal not large compensations to men in office: well knowing that in a country where there are but few fortunes, and where almost every man of talents and character depends on his industry for supporting and providing for his family, the contrary system has a constant and powerful tendency to throw the most important offices into the hands of unworthy or unqualified persons, who either neglect or mismanage the public business, or resort to dishonest means for supplying the deficiencies in their regular compensation. Nothing is more true than that men of talents and character will not long leave their homes and devote their time to the public service, unless they are at least supported decently; and that if we wish for able and faithful services we must pay their price. This the federal government has never done. The first officers under it do not receive enough to support them and their families in a proper manner. Hence in part the difficulty which has been constantly experienced, in prevailing on men of high character and qualifications to fill those offices. The Secretary of State for instance, or the Secretary of the Treasury, receives but little more from his office, than half as much as a lawyer of talents can derive from his practice, with half the labor and confinement. The federalists have constantly endeavored to remedy this abuse. They have done something, but never were able to do enough. The expense is constantly made an objection; but it is a most futile objection. To compensate liberally, and even handsomely, all the principal officers of the government, would require an additional expense of perhaps thirty thousand dollars annually; which is less than a man without talents, in one of those offices, may waste or lose through mismanagement in a month.