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The Philadelphian system: sovereignty, arms control, and balance of power in the American states-union, circa 1787–1861

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

Daniel H. Deudney
Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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A rediscovery of the long-forgotten republican version of liberal political theory has arresting implications for the theory and practice of international relations. Republican liberalism has a theory of security that is superior to realism, because it addresses not only threats of war from other states but also the threat of despotism at home. In this view, a Hobson's choice between anarchy and hierarchy is not necessary because an intermediary structure, here dubbed “negarchy,” is also available. The American Union from 1787 until 1861 is a historical example. This Philadelphian system was not a real state since, for example, the union did not enjoy a monopoly of legitimate violence. Yet neither was it a state system, since the American states lacked sufficient autonomy. While it shared some features with the Westphalian system such as balance of power, it differed fundamentally. Its origins owed something to particular conditions of time and place, and the American Civil War ended this system. Yet close analysis indicates that it may have surprising relevance for the future of contemporary issues such as the European Union and nuclear governance.

Copyright © The IO Foundation 1995

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1. The term “realism” is not capitalized here, although I agree with Keohane that a distinction is necessary between the school of thought termed realism by international relations scholars and the term as generally used: “Capitalization is used to indicate that Realism is a specific school, and that it would be possible to be a realist—-in the sense of examining reality as it really is-without subscribing to Realist assumptions.” See Keohane, Robert O., International Institutions and State Power (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1989), p. 68 n. 17Google Scholar.

2. This composite picture glosses over many secondary differences. Key texts include: Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Lexington, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979)Google Scholar; and Jervis, Robert, “Security Regimes,” in Krasner, Stephen, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 173–94Google Scholar.

3. For overviews of many of the different liberal international theory arguments, see Baldwin, David, ed., Neoliberalism and Neorealism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993)Google Scholar; and Moravcsik, Andrew, “Liberalism and International Relations Theory,” working paper, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1993Google Scholar.

4. This argument is now backed by extensive empirical evidence. See Doyle, Michael W., “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs,” part 1, Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (Summer 1983), pp. 205–35Google Scholar, and part 2, Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (Fall 1983), pp. 323353Google Scholar; and Russett, Bruce, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

5. On the definition of state, see Hexter, J. H., The Vision of Politics on the Eve of the Reformation (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 192Google Scholar: “Lo stato is not a matrix of values, a body politic: it is an instrument of exploitation, the instrument the prince uses to get what he wants.” For extended analysis, see Viroli, Maurizio, From Politics to Reason of State: The Acquisition and Transformation of the Language of Politics 1250–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. Works describing the European political order in this manner include Hinsley, F. H., Power and the Pursuit of Peace (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963), pp. 107119Google Scholar; and Gulick, Edward, Europe's Classical Balance of Power (New York: Norton, 1967), pp. 120135Google Scholar.

7. Everdell comes close to my definition: “Republicanism is a kaleidoscope of institutions, all with the one purpose of preventing rule by one person. This seemingly simple objective has continually demanded the most bewilderingly complex of means.” See Everdell, William, The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans (New York: Free Press, 1983), p. 12Google Scholar.

8. For an account of this process, see Downing, Brian M., The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992)Google Scholar.

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10. Much confusion arises because both state and republic are used in a generic and synonymous sense and in more specific and opposing senses. For a useful sorting, see Onuf, Nicholas, “Civitas Maxima: Wolff, Vattel, and the Fate of Republicanism, American Journal of International Law 88 (04 1994), pp. 288289CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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14. De Tocqueville saw “two governments, completely separate and almost independent… [and] twenty-four small sovereign nations, whose agglomeration constitutes the body of the Union.” See Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America vol. 2 (New York: Knopf, 1945), p. 61Google Scholar.See also Kelley, G. A., “Hegel's America,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (Fall 1972), pp. 336Google Scholar.

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17. Morgenthau responded to this structural alternative with an argument about identity: the American founding was essentially an event in national history, exceptional in size but not in form. Subsequent idealist work, most notably by Karl Deutsch and associates, followed suit, focusing on identity and treating all American order after 1789 as “amalgamated” and thus otherwise undistinguished structurally from a federal state or, indeed, a totalitarian one. See Morgenthau, Hans, Politics Among Nations, 4th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1967), pp. 496500Google Scholar; Calleo, David and Rowland, Benjamin, America and the World Political Economy: Atlantic Dreams and National Realities (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1973), pp. 1684Google Scholar; and Deutsch, Karl et al. , Political Order in the North Atlantic Area (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 29 n. 7Google Scholar.

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22. In this article I treat Publius as one voice and as the authoritative understanding of the Constitution of 1787. For the emergence and components of the Constitution as “Grand Compromise,” see Anderson, Thornton, Creating the Constitution: The Convention of 1787 and the First Congress (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993)Google Scholar; and Rossiter, Clinton, 1787: The Grand Convention (New York: Norton, 1987)Google Scholar.

23. Dietze, Gottfried, The Federalist: A Classic on Federalism and Free Government, part 2, “The Federalist as a Treatise on Peace and Security” (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1960), pp. 177254Google Scholar.

24. Montesquieu, Baron, Spirit of the Laws, book 11, sec. 6, trans. Nugent, Thomas (New York: Hafner, 1948), p. 151Google Scholar. For Montesquieu's authority, see Lutz, Donald, “The Relative Influence of European Writers in Late Eighteenth Century Political Thought,” American Political Science Review 78 (03 1984), pp. 8997CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the place of security in liberalism more generally, see Sklar, Judith, “The Liberalism of Fear,” in Rosenbaum, Nancy, ed., Liberalism and the Moral Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 2138Google Scholar.

25. For a recent restatement on the state apparatus as protector and predator, see Tilly, Charles, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” in Evans, Peter B., Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol, Theda, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)Google Scholar.

26. Federalist, no. 51, p. 322.

27. Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed. Oakeshot, Michael (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1960), p. 75Google Scholar.

28. As Locke observed, anyone is “in much worse condition, who is exposed to the arbitrary power of a man, who has the command of 100,000, than he that is exposed to the arbitrary power of 100,000 single men.” See Locke, John, Second Treatise on Government, ed. Laslett, Peter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), p. 405Google Scholar.

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30. Calhoun explains, “It is, indeed, the negative power which makes the constitution, and the positive which makes the government. The one is the power of acting, and the other the power of preventing or arresting action. The two, combined, make constitutional governments.” See Calhoun, John C., A Disquisition on Government (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953), p. 28Google Scholar.

31. Federalist, no. 46, p. 294. See also Monroe, James, The People the Sovereigns (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1867)Google Scholar.

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34. See, for example, Arendt, Hannah, On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1965), p. 152Google Scholar: “The great and, in the long run, perhaps the greatest American innovation in politics as such was the consistent abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the republic, the insight that in the realm of human affairs sovereignty and tyranny are the same.”

35. Hobbes makes this error when he argues, “There cannot be a mixed state.” See Hobbes, Thomas, De Cive, ed. Gert, Bernard (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972), p. 191Google Scholar.

36. Leading theorists of the real-state, most notably Jean Bodin and Hobbes, insist that sovereignty should reside within the state apparatus or in the head of state. They view the location of sovereignty in a body made up of many individuals rather than one or a few as inimical to maintaining practical political order. The division of sovereignty is a conceptual impossibility; its location in the people is possible in principle but is undesirable in practice. See Bodin, Jean, The Six Books of the Commonwealth, trans. Tooley, M.J. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967)Google Scholar.

37. Montesquieu and David Hume argue that such regimes differ from real-states and despotisms because they have been tamed by the incorporation of the most important power control devices borrowed from republics. See Hume, David, “On the Rise and Progress of Arts and Sciences,” Political Essays, ed. Haakanssen, Knud (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38. On the emergence of popular sovereignty, see Morgan, Edmund S., Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (New York: Norton, 1988)Google Scholar; Bailyn, Bernard, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 198229Google Scholar; and Kammen, Michael, “Rethinking the ‘Fountain of Power’: Changing Perceptions of Popular Sovereignty, 1764–1788,” Sovereignty and Liberty (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), pp. 1132Google Scholar.

39. A compound republic serving an extended recessed public is distinct from a majoritarian democracy because its architecture of vetoes protects minorities by requiring a concurrent majority. For discussions, see Ostrum, , The Political Theory of a Compound Republic, pp. 12 and 23Google Scholar; Eidelberg, Paul, The Philosophy of the American Constitution (New York: Free Press, 1968), p. 21Google Scholar; and II, William F. Harris, The Interpretable Constitution (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993)Google Scholar. In the years leading up to the Civil War the Publius synthesis was challenged by Calhoun, who held that the peoples of the states retained sovereignty, and by Daniel Webster and other nationalists, who held that the sovereign of the union was a national democratic majority. For concise overviews, see Forsyth, , Unions of States, pp. 112–32Google Scholar; and Stamp, Kenneth M., “The Concept of a Perpetual Union,” Journal of American History 65 (06 1978), pp. 553CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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41. Federalist, no. 9, pp. 73 and 71, respectively.

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43. Federalist, no. 6, p. 54. For fears of interstate American wars, see Onuf, The Origins of the Federal Republic.

44. See Main, Jackson Turner, “The American States in the Revolutionary Era,” in Hoffman, Ronald and Albert, Peter J., eds., Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1981), pp. 130Google Scholar; and Jensen, Merrill, The Articles of Confederation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1940)Google Scholar.

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48. Thought was given at the Constitutional Convention to emulating the Roman model of a dual executive, the two simultaneously serving consuls, but the necessity of unitary command of the military forces in the field, demonstrated so memorably at Cannae, convinced them to construct a unitary commander-in-chief of the armed forces. See Federalist, no. 70, pp. 423–31.

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52. As Henken observed: “Every grant to the President … relating to foreign affairs, was in effect a derogation from Congressional power, eked out slowly, reluctantly, and not without limitations and safeguards.” See Henken, Louis, Foreign Affairs and the Constitution (New York: Norton, 1975), p. 33Google Scholar.

53. Wormuth, Francis D. and Firmage, Edwin B., To Chain the Dog of War: The War Power of Congress in History and Law (Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1986)Google Scholar.

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69. Although unelected to Parliament, Franklin spoke directly to Parliament, and his intervention was widely credited with resolving the political crisis caused by the First Stamp Act. Since Franklin also served as organizer of the abortive Albany Plan of Union in 1754 and the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a careful examination of how he was able to say what to whom would provide a revealing picture of the nature of diplomatic, representational, and constitutional discourse and practice. A comparison between the multiple-access lobbying of the agency system and the Europeans and Japanese in Washington over the last generation would be revealing. See Morgam, Edmund S. and Morgam, Helen M., The Stamp Act Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953)Google Scholar.

70. Interstate rendition and extradition was made possible by interstate treaties and compacts, which are remarkably similar to those that sovereign nation-states have employed in recent years to fight criminal activity occurring across international borders. See Moore, John Bassett, A Treatise on Interstate Extradition and Rendition (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1891)Google Scholar; and Nadelmann, Ethan, Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

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72. The recent liberal emphasis upon microfoundations has led to the neglect of structural liberalism: “In contrast to Marxism and realism Liberalism is not committed to ambitious and parsimonious structural theory.” See Keohane, Robert O., “International Liberalism Reconsidered,” in Dunn, John, ed., The Economic Limits to Modem Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 165–94 and pp. 172–73Google Scholar.

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76. For overviews, see Nevins, Allan, The American States During and After the Revolution, 1775–1789 (New York: Macmillan, 1924)Google Scholar; and Morris, Richard B., The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789 (New York: Harper and Row, 1987)Google Scholar.

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93. As Middlekauf writes, “There was … a standard culture throughout the colonies, not strictly American, but one heavily indebted to England. For the most part the institutions of politics and governments on all levels followed English models; the ‘official’ language, that is the language used by governing bodies and colonial leadership, was English; prevailing social values were also English.” See Middlekauf, Robert, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 28Google Scholar.

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102. An even earlier precedent, the union of Scotland with Britain in 1707, was facilitated by the ability of the Scots to send representatives to Parliament in proportion to their numbers and thus participate in the exercise of British power rather than being oppressed by it. For a discussion, see Pryde, George S., The Treaty of Union of Scotland and England (London: Thomas Nelson, 1950)Google Scholar.

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119. As Edward S. Corwin observed, “The maintenance of constitutional government in the United States becomes linked with the broader cause of its restoration and preservation elsewhere.” See The Constitution and International Organization (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1944), p. 5556Google Scholar.

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