Do We Need a Strong National Government?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Federalist Papers" by Alexander Hamilton. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

What does it mean to have a strong national government? How does the Constitution support one?

A strong national government is important for national security. Federalist 3 discusses defense against foreign threats.

Read more about Federalist 3 and the need for a strong national government.

Strong National Government for National Security

To see why the Union was so vital, let’s examine its role in enabling the government to fulfill one of its most elemental functions—securing the safety of its citizens. The Union, bound together by a strong national government, was far less likely to start wars than small states or confederations of states.

This was because smaller confederations would each be pursuing their own interests and independent policies. Unconstrained by the steadying hand of a unifying federal government, they would be free to act aggressively toward other nations, provoking more wars. 

This was no mere thought experiment. Overzealous states had already put the nation at risk by provoking conflicts with the Native Americans. Indeed, the majority of armed skirmishes between white settlers and Native Americans had been at the instigation of individual states—not the national government (feeble as it was under the Articles of Confederation). This danger of warfare remained high.

Of course, the danger went the other way as well—foreign powers would be more easily able to exploit weak confederations that were not supported by a strong federal government. Such confederations would lack the financial resources to levy armies and navies to prevent or turn back the aggressive actions of other countries. Moreover, states or confederations would have little reason to aid their neighbors in a war against a foreign power, because they would barely be part of the same political nation. Foreign nations, of course, would be well aware of this state of disunity and would eagerly seek to exploit it by playing the rival confederacies against one another—creating more conditions for war.

Thus, unity was crucial to national defense, prosperity, and the protection of liberty. As a historical parallel, Great Britain would never have become a world power if its military and financial resources had remained divided between the constituent nations of England, Scotland, and Wales. A national government would be able to better provide for the national defense, because it would have the resources to combine the various state militias, levy a national army, and collect the revenue to maintain a strong navy to protect American commerce on the high seas. These would act as deterrents, preventing other nations from behaving aggressively toward the United States.


As discussed in Federalist 3, a strong national government would also be more cautious and broad-minded in its conduct toward other nations because it would be less beholden to local interests and parties than the states. It would be able to act with more singular purpose and adequately defend all the states, thereby reducing the likelihood of war for each of them.

Do We Need a Strong National Government?

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Alexander Hamilton's "The Federalist Papers" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Federalist Papers summary:

  • The genius of the founding fathers in how they designed the United States Constitution
  • Why it was critical for the United States to form a union rather than stay separated as colonies
  • How Alexander Hamilton anticipated social issues that are still relevant today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *