Federalist No. 20 sees Hamilton and Madison continue to address the ongoing issue of the insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve the union.
In this essay, they discuss the United Netherlands, a confederacy of republics, or rather of aristocracies of a very remarkable texture that confirm all the lessons derived so far. Their review of the celebrated Belgic confederacy finds that while, on paper, everything sounds like the confederacy should be strong, in reality, there is imbecility in the government; discord among the provinces; foreign influence and indignities; a
precarious existence in peace, and peculiar calamities from war because it is not a even a true confederacy of republics, but a confederacy of aristocracies that ultimately answers to the stadtholder, an executive magistrate who is also a hereditary prince.
Then they discuss the union of Utrecht, which also reposes an authority in the States-General, seemingly sufficient to
secure harmony, but the jealousy in each province renders the practice very different from the theory.
From here they end the piece with a discussion of the province of Holland, the the wealth and influence that allow her to furnish quotas, without waiting for other provinces in the union, and then obtain reimbursements from others by frequent deputations, sometimes at the point of the bayonet. Furthermore, it was often compelled to overleap its constitutional bounds. This demonstrates that a weak constitution must necessarily terminate in dissolution, for want of proper powers, or the usurpation of powers requisite for the public safety.
But regardless of your view, the reality is that, in Holland, and the other provinces in the weak union to which it belongs, the unhappy people seem to be now suffering from popular convulsions, from dissensions among the states, and from the
actual invasion of foreign arms, the crisis of their destiny.
That’s why Hamilton and Madison make no apology for dwelling so long on the contemplation of the federal precedents. Experience is the oracle of
truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred. The important truth, which it
unequivocally pronounces in the present case, is that a sovereignty over sovereigns, a government over governments, a
legislation for communities, as contradistinguished from individuals, as it is a solecism in theory, so in practice it is
subversive of the order and ends of civil polity, by substituting VIOLENCE in place of LAW, or the destructive COERCION
of the SWORD in place of the mild and salutary COERCION of the MAGISTRACY. That’s why one union, one nation, is required.