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Accountability Debates: The Federalists, The

Anti-Federalists, and Democratic Decits

Craig T. Borowiak Haverford College
Motivated by an interest in contemporary debates over global governance, this essay examines competing visions of
accountability expressed in the U.S. ratication debates. Whereas the Federalists believed accountability and good
governance would be best realized if citizens are kept at a distance from government, the Anti-Federalists believed
republican accountability depends upon the active participation of diverse citizens, a type of participation that is
undermined when government grows distant. These different perspectives challenge conventional oppositions
between concentrated power and democratic legitimacy and between popular participation and effective govern-
ment. They also illustrate how republican forms of accountability can serve conicting agendas. Drawing from these
debates can help clarify challenges faced today by those seeking to create global governance institutions that are both
effective and legitimate.
n recent years, accountability has become a central
concept in debates over democracy and global
governance. With globalization amplifying inter-
dependence and insecurity across nations, and with
global inequalities exacerbating perceptions of injus-
tice in the global system, both the capacity and the
legitimacy of existing global governance regimes have
come under scrutiny. In these debates, anxiety over
global democratic decits is frequently accompanied
by widespread skepticism about extending conven-
tional democratic forms of legitimation beyond the
nation-state. When it comes to the transnational level,
there is clearly a need for innovative approaches to
governance design. In this context, accountability has
become both normatively indispensable and politi-
cally contested. One nds it being deployed in general
discussions of abuses of power in world politics
(Grant and Keohane 2005; Held and Koenig-
Archibugi 2005; Nye et al. 2003), as well as in specic
studies of global capital markets (Sassen 1996), inter-
national nancial institutions (Birdsall 2005; Fox and
Brown 1998; Kahler 2004; Woods 2001); the European
Union (Caporaso 1999; Moravcsik 2005), and multi-
national corporations (Koenig-Archibugi 2005),
among other places. Much of this literature seems to
assume a connection between accountability and
some form of democratic legitimacy. And yet this con-
nection is often undertheorized. No one, it appears,
from international institutions to civil society groups
to capitalists to governments, wants to be deemed
unaccountable. To be accountable is to garner legiti-
macy; to be unaccountable is to be in the company of
tyrants. Yet while accountability might be desired all
around, not all forms of accountability are the same.
As Grant and Keohane (2005) have recently observed,
democratic accountability is only one of many pos-
sible forms of accountability, and democracy is only
one source of legitimacy. While accepting this point
that democratic accountability needs to be contextu-
alized within a wider set of accountability types, one
might also pose questions about the different forms
democratic accountability itself might take. On this
issue, the existing literature tends to lack historical
depth, restricting its discussions to the current geopo-
litical context. There is, however, at least one instruc-
tive historical precedent: The place of accountability in
government was a major theme in the U.S. constitu-
tional debates between the Federalists and Anti-
Federalists. The ratication debates can add to current
discussions by illustrating how even if one accepts
democraticor more precisely republican
standards of accountability as a basis for legitimacy,
The Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 4, November 2007, pp. 9981014
2007 Southern Political Science Association ISSN 0022-3816
the details of institutional structure are of great
importance for whether and how those standards are
The ratication debates are noteworthy in that at
the same time that they gave expression to a very
particular set of accountability issues unique to
postindependence America, they also raised more
general issues associated with representative govern-
ment and the perils of institutional design. In this
way their discussions of accountability have continu-
ing relevance for comparative studies of democrati-
zation on the national level, as well as for students of
American politics and political theory. Their useful-
ness, however, also extends beyond the domestic level
to include lessons for global governance. Not unlike
the present political context in which sovereignty,
democracy, and political community have been put
into question by globalization, the Federalists and
Anti-Federalists were debating in a context of major
institutional transformation, expansion, and political
reconstitution. Sharing a political horizon shaped by
the question of whether popular sovereignty could be
compatible with an expanded political sphere, both
groups of authors embraced popular accountability
as a standard of government legitimacy. And yet their
respective approaches to accountability differed sig-
nicantly, reecting differing outlooks on the perils
of concentrated power, on the role of citizen partici-
pation, and on the need for energetic and effective
In this essay I paint a picture of two visions of
democraticor rather republicanaccountability.
One, the Federalist vision, emphasized the importance
of concentrating governmental power and of keeping
citizens at some distance from government both for
the sake of well-managed government and so that
accountability mechanisms might be effective. In con-
trast, the other, Anti-Federalist, vision highlighted the
dangers of concentrated power and pointed to how
republican accountability depends upon the active
and meaningful participation of citizens, a type of
participation that would be undermined if govern-
ment were to grow distant. Both perspectives illumi-
nate dangers and possibilities for realizing accountable
and legitimate governance. Among other things, they
complicate simple oppositions between government
accountability and government efcacy. Given the
complexity of their debates, I devote the bulk of this
essay to a discussion of the Federalist and Anti-
Federalist perspectives. I reserve my discussion of their
contemporary relevance for the end, where I offer
some suggestions for how the anxieties of the early
Americans can heighten our awareness of democratic
decits and the stakes involved in different account-
ability frameworks.
Before proceeding further, I wish to make two
caveats regarding my use of language across historical
periods. In the eighteenth century, democracy was
generally associated with the republics of ancient
Greece and Renaissance Italy, and not with what we
today call representative democracy. Correspondingly,
neither the Federalists nor the Anti-Federalists would
have described themselves as advocating democratic
accountability, even if we would describe them in that
language today. For the sake of historical accuracy and
to avoid confusion, I hereafter restrict my use of the
word democratic to the sort of direct democratic
practices associated with those early republics. I will
use the more historically appropriate word republi-
can where today we might use the worddemocratic,
as reecting the principle that governmental legiti-
macy is derived from the authority of the people,
whether directly or through representation. While this
use of republican avoids problems of anachronism,
it does carry dangers of its own, especially given that
the concept of republic was itself hotly contested in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
do not believe it is possible to completely avoid the
ambiguities that stem from this shifting conceptual
and linguistic terrain. I will, however, strive to be
consistent in my own usage so as to avoid further
My second caveat relates to the language of
accountability. Eighteenth-century Americans used
many words to describe what we would typically char-
acterize as accountable government. The semantic
barriers between words like accountable, responsible,
answerable, punishable, and amenable were much
more uid than they are today. The specic word
accountability was in fact scarcely used in the rati-
cation debates. This observation needs to be qualied,
however, with the additional observation thatat
least according to the Oxford English Dictionarythe
Whereas some authors drew a clear distinction between a republic
and a democracy, others, in what was arguably the more standard
usage of the period, treated democracy as a species of republic. In
Federalist 10, for example, Madison describes a republic as a form
of government involving a scheme of representation. He contrasts
this with a pure democracy in which citizens assemble and
administer government in person (Hamilton, Madison, and Jay
2003, 4344; Compare Brutus, 2.9.1314, in Storing 1981a). Con-
trast this with John Adamss claim that {a} democracy is as really
a republic as an oak is a tree, or a temple a building (Adams 1856,
37778; quoted in Ball 1988b, 173n51). See also The Federal
Farmer, 2.8.7172, Storing 1981a. For commentary on the shifting
meaning of republic during the period, see Ball (1988b) and
Hanson (1985).
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word was just appearing in the English language
around the same time. The ratication debates may
actually have helped introduce the word.
This having
been said, the words etymology does not, as Dubnick
(2002) has noted, encompass the history of the
concept. For these reasons, while some linguistic
imprecision is unavoidable in my discussion of the
ratication debates, I do not believe it presents an
intractable problem for my project. This essay thus
draws upon references to the specic words account-
ability and accountable, as well as upon references
to related words when they are used in a manner
reective of the concept of accountability as it is com-
monly understood today. Central to this understand-
ing is the idea that to be accountable is to have to
answer for ones actions and to face sanctions depend-
ing upon that answer and ones performance (Grant
and Keohane 2005; Schedler 1999).
Representative Government and
The principle that government should be accountable
to citizens was vital to the founding generations effort
to reconcile republican principles with the need to
concentrate governing power. Representative govern-
ment may be a way to make popular sovereignty com-
patible with a large society, but the distances created
when authority is delegated to representatives also
makes popular sovereignty a problem. Put simply, rep-
resentation created power-laden gaps between the sov-
ereign people and the drafters of their laws. Among
other things, the relationship between representative
and represented is constituted by: spatial gaps char-
acterized by the distance between the locales in which
people live and the location of government; scalar
gaps characterized by the proportion of representa-
tives to constituents; temporal gaps characterized by
the authorization of the representative in the past and
his present and future behavior; epistemological gaps
characterized by constituents ignorance about what
the representative is doing and the representatives
ignorance about the needs, interests, and desires of
constituents; competence gaps characterized by differ-
ences in governing capabilities; and identity gaps
characterized by differences in class, character, and
experience. These gaps create opportunities for repre-
sentatives to abuse their power and to create laws
transgressing the liberty of the very citizens who
authorized them. The founding generation regarded
governmental accountability to the great body of the
people as a principal way to protect against such
abuses of power. They perceived governments that
lack such accountability to citizens as invitations to
This having been said, neither the Federalists nor
the Anti-Federalists sought to use accountability to
establish a system of direct popular rule along the lines
of then existing democratic orthodoxy. Rather, they
sought to use it as part of a system of popular control
in which potential abuses of governmental power
could be avoided by making government dependent
upon citizens, even as government was afforded
degrees of autonomy so that it might govern effec-
Popular accountability would thus generate a
further connection to the people and introduce some
constraint to government power without completely
overriding the governing authority of policymakers.
For both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, account-
ability served not to completely collapse the gaps
between rulers and ruled, but to regulate them. And
yet accountability can be implemented in many differ-
ent ways with very different effects. The ratication
debates can be viewed as a struggle over how the afore-
mentioned gaps would be regulated and how account-
ability would be congured around degrees of
dependence and autonomy.
Federalist Accountability
The Federalist writings include works by a broad range
of authors supportive of the proposed constitution.
Although the Federalist perspective is most often asso-
ciated with the essays by Publius collected in The
Federalist, it is important to acknowledge that these
essays do not exhaust the corpus of Federalist writings,
nor dothey cover the entire range of Federalist views on
the constitution. The Federalist authors did not speak
with one voice or with one set of concerns. This diver-
sity of opinion notwithstanding, and even though
exceptions certainly exist, one can identify clear pat-
terns in their writings on accountable government.
For the Federalists, the issue of governmental
accountability turned both on the question of how to
While the word accountable has a longer history, the rst refer-
ence to accountability noted in the OED is in a history of
Vermont published in 1794. That the word actually appeared seven
years earlier in the ratication debates (Centinel 2.7.22, 2.7.24, in
Storing 1981a) is suggestive of how crucial the concept was for the
For a discussion of the difference between popular control and
popular rule, see Grant and Grant (1981, 36).
:ooo cv.ic r. vovowi.x
make accountability mechanisms procedurally effec-
tive and on the question of how to make government
good. More than the Anti-Federalists, the Federalists
argued from the perspective of power. They used a
concern over stability, energy, and efciency in
government to justify concentrating power in the
hands of ofcials and to resist efforts by the Anti-
Federalists to tighten the dependence of government
on local communities (See Federalist 1, Federalist 37,
and Federalist 63, Hamilton, Madison and Jay 2003).
To be sure, the Federalists accepted the republican
principle that government should be accountable to
the people, but they also believed that the zeal of
jealous republicans needed to be checked lest it gen-
erate onerous obligations of accountability that would
hamper good government.
Such observations about
the Federalists focus on good government should be
familiar to students of this period. What has drawn
less attention, however, is that the Federalists ratio-
nale for concentrating power and distancing citizens
also included claims about what is good for account-
They tended to perceive centralized authority
and enlarged distances between citizens and the gov-
ernment as necessary to avoid muddled and ineffective
forms of accountability that would abet abuses of
power. Their defense of the constitution thus involved
a two-pronged critique of decentralized accountability
arrangements. Such arrangements were bad for
good government, and they were bad for good
The Problems with Accountability
in Direct Democracies
One of the ways Federalist authors demonstrated the
problems with decentralized and participatory forms
of accountability was by distinguishing their republic
from earlier models of direct democracy (hereafter
democracy). Madison famously characterized these
democracies as spectacles of turbulence and conten-
tion perishing under the mortal disease of insta-
bility, injustice, and confusion (Federalist 10, 44, 40).
Fisher Ames described democracy as a volcano, which
conceals the ery materials of its own destruction
(1998, 199; see also Fabius 1998, 48791). Noah
Webster described democracy as inconsistent with
the peace of society, and the rights of freemen (A
Citizen of America 1998, 378). Similarly, Hamilton
heaped scorn on the Greek and Italian republics:
It is impossible to read the history of the petty Republics
of Greece and Italy, without feeling sensations of horror
and disgust at the distractions with which they were con-
tinuously agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolu-
tions, by which they were kept in a state of perpetual
vibration, between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.
(Federalist 9, 35)
For Hamilton, the science of politics provided pow-
erful means by which the excellencies of republican
government may be retained and its imperfections
lessened or avoided (36). These imperfections that
Hamilton described are imperfections in political
order. The Greek and Italian republics were imperfect
because they were disorderly. And the improvements
the constitution offered were considered improve-
ments because they would limit the chaotic excesses of
participatory politics found in small republics, and by
extension, in the decentralized power arrangements of
the Articles of Confederation. Viewed in terms of
accountability, one might say that participatory forms
of democratic accountability are key sources of disor-
derliness. It is the very ability of diverse, small com-
munities to hold government to account that
generates the agitation Hamilton and others regarded
with horror and disgust. Popular accountability is
dangerous. Part of what the science of politics offers is
a way to rationalize government accountability by
pacifying the distractions andperpetual vibrations
of an active citizenry.
In addition to perceiving popular accountability
as a potential threat to effective and orderly rule, the
Federalists, and Madison in particular, also expressed
concern that democracy per se might actually be in
tension with governmental accountability. Not only is
democratic accountability bad for governance, but
democracy may be bad for accountability. For
Madison, the communication and concert of citizens
can easily lead to majorities that are all too willing to
freely sacrice their fellows (Federalist 10; Federalist
63, 30910). History has shown how democratic ide-
ology provides cover for unaccountable majorities. In
the name of the demosthe nal authority to whom
all other concentrations of power are presumably
accountablemajority factions were able to tyrannize
over minorities without having to account for their
actions. In short, a government accountable to the
demos acting collectively would not be accountable to the
demos at all, but would instead be beholden to fac-
tional interests. It is difcult to overestimate the
All subsequent references to The Federalist are taken from this
edition and will be indicated with the essay number and, where
relevant, the page number(s).
For one example of this perspective, see A Foreign Spectator
(1998), 408.
See Grant and Keohane (2005), Grant and Grant (1981), and
Zuckert (1992) for three interesting exceptions.
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importance of this point for the Federalist position.
While much has been written on the topic, it is none-
theless worth reiterating. The Federalists were deeply
concerned about the way efforts to bring government
close to the people might only result in drawing gov-
ernment into the inuence of factions, which, parti-
san by nature, would fail to serve the interests of the
people as a whole. Such partisanship, they believed,
was more likely to take hold at the local or state level
than at the federal level (for an example, see A Citizen
of America 1998, 384). The problem with popular
accountability was thus not just its tendency towards
disorder, but also the potential for the public interest
to be thwarted.
Whether one attends to the disruption caused by
democratic accountability or to the unaccountable
majorities generated by democracy, the Federalist
solution was to prevent the demos from acting collec-
tively (see Federalist 63, 309). In designing institutions
of accountability for representative government one
needs to address how to control government. But, for
them, one also needs to address how citizens can be
controlled. Had they been seeking to approximate
democracy, the Federalists might have sought wher-
ever possible to draw citizens further into governmen-
tal accountability processes. But for them, republican
government does not approximate democracy. It
rather improves upon democracy with a vision of
limited citizen participation in which sovereignty is
retained by the people, but is exercised at a safe dis-
From this perspective, the value of accountabil-
ity derives as much from the way it limits citizen
involvement in government as it does from the way it
draws government closer to the people.
The Unaccountable British Monarchy
With their push for a stronger national government
rubbing against the grain of still prevalent antimonar-
chical revolutionary sentiment, leading Federalist
authors like Madison and Hamilton were eager to dis-
tance themselves from the former British rulers.
Shrewdly, they used the unaccountability of the British
monarchy, with its tendency towards aristocratic
usurpations and tyranny, as a foil to illustrate the
accountability inherent in the proposed constitution.
With regard to the legislative branch, Madison, for
example, referred to the British House of Lords as an
hereditary assembly of opulent nobles. He observed
further that to the extent that there was a system of
electoral accountability in place at all in the House of
Commons, it pertained to merely a fraction of govern-
ment, was plagued by corruption, and was composed
of ofcials elected only at large intervals in a very great
proportion by a very small proportion of the people
(Federalist 63, 311; see also Federalist 41, 198).
regard to the executive branch, the more authoritarian
Hamilton contrasted the presidential model with the
British monarch, whom he portrayed as a perpetual
magistrate unaccountable for his administration,
and his person sacred (Federalist 70, 346). Under the
monarchy, rather than the executive being accountable
for his behavior, as would be the case with the U.S.
President, it was citizens and councilors who were
accountable to the king. In opposition to such depic-
tions of an unaccountable British system, the Federal-
ists characterized the constitution as embodying a
republican standard in which every magistrate ought
to be personally responsible for his behavior in ofce
and where dependence on the people was the
primary control on the government (Federalist 70,
346; Federalist 51, 252; See also Federalist 39, 182).
And yet even while they afrmed the importance
of accountable government, these authors ultimately
did so in a fashion that worked to further centralize
federal power and to distance citizens from the execu-
tion of government. In their rationales, both Madison
and Hamilton emphasized good government and the
need for effective accountability. Madison used his
characterization of the unaccountable House of Lords
not to illustrate the need for more dependence on
citizens, but rather to rebut Anti-Federalist arguments
that the Senate would be dangerously far removed
from popular accountability. He made his case by
pointing to the dangers of an overly responsive legis-
lature: If even the hereditary House of Lords was over-
whelmed by the populism of the House of
Commonsand the House of Commons was only
marginally responsible to citizensjust imagine how
much weaker the elected Senate would be in the face of
the more thoroughly populist House of Representa-
tives (Federalist 63, 311)!
See Madisons Speech in the Federal Convention on the Senate,
June 26, 1787; Letter to George Washington, April 16, 1787;
Letter to Jefferson, October 24, 1787; Vices of the Political
System of the United States, in Madison 1999, 11012, 8088,
14257, 6979.
Dickinson, Wilson, and the pseudonymous A Democratic Feder-
alist (possibly Tench Coxe) also stand out for the way they con-
trasted the constitution with the British system. See Fabius 1998,
497; Wilson 1998b, 77; A Democratic Federalist 1998, 351.
Compare Madisons January 18, 1800 letter to Jefferson (Madison
1906, 388).
:oo: cv.ic r. vovowi.x
For his part, Hamilton used his observations
about the unaccountable British monarch not to warn
about the dangers of centralized power, but rather to
argue against a plural executive and to emphasize the
importance of having an energetic executive, which he
regarded as a leading character in the denition of
good government (Federalist 70, 341). Diffusing
power across an executive council would sap energy
from the executive while at the same time obstructing
executive accountability. He argued that rather than
centralized power being anathema to republican
accountability, it was in fact its condition of possibil-
ity. Whereas in the British system an executive council
was needed to at least partially offset monarchical
unaccountability, in the American republic where the
executive was to be held to account, spreading execu-
tive power across an executive council would merely
obscure individual responsibility (34448). For
Hamilton, it was only by further concentrating power
in the hands of a single executive that responsibility
could be clearly demarcated and blame could be more
easily assigned.
Leadership, Electoral Accountability,
and Identity Gaps
Elections have a special place in these accountability
debates, as they are the signature vehicle of account-
ability in representative government. Both the Feder-
alists and Anti-Federalists generally regarded electoral
accountability at regular intervals to be indispensable
for republican government and crucial for preventing
and correcting poor and corrupt rule. As Madison
The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic
policy of republican government. The means relied on in
this form of government for preventing their degeneracy
are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is
such a limitation of the term of appointments as will
maintain a proper responsibility to the people. (Federalist
57, 277)
The vulnerability of elected ofcials at the ballot box
helps to foster a dependence and sympathy with
the people (Federalist 52, 25657; Federalist 21, 9596).
In short, the prospect of being held accountable at the
ballot box in the future disciplines representatives to
habitually recollect their dependence upon the
people. As Madison continued,
Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the
mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of
power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment
when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to
be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level
from which they were raised; there forever to remain
unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have estab-
lished their title to a renewal of it. (Federalist 57, 279)
This dislocability, as Bentham later called it, of rep-
resentatives presumably helps to ensure that the public
interest does not stray too far from the legislators
mind (Bentham [1843] 2005, 63, 103, 118, 155). But
just how dependent should a representative be made?
And how reliable are elections for generating such a
Elections serve a double function. On the one
hand, they authorize leaders to rule with some
autonomy. On the other, they hold leaders to account
and thereby generate dependence upon citizens. In
their effort to strike a balance between autonomy and
dependence, the Federalists clearly pushed for greater
autonomy. The rst aim of every political constitution,
Madison argued, ought to be to obtain for rulers men
who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue
to pursue, the common good of the society.And while
he and the other Founders clearly also saw the need for
effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous
whilst they continue to hold their public trust, those
precautions come, notably, second (Federalist 57, 277;
see also Wilson 1998a, 508). Too much emphasis on
accountability and the dependence it creates would
result in too little emphasis on good government and
the selection of high-quality leaders.
And yet, even as they downplayed the importance
of popular accountability relative to the importance of
authorizing leaders of high quality, the Federalist
authors also expressed great faith that the procedures
of electoral accounting alone would build sufcient
sympathy with the people. In this respect their
approach was more disembodied than that of their
Anti-Federalist counterparts. They generally rejected
the Anti-Federalists expectations that the represen-
tative assembly should reect the diversity of the
citizenry, farmers representing farmers, merchants
representing merchants, mecanicks representing
mecanicks, and so forth (Ball 1988a; Manin 1997;
Storing 1981b). Evincing more than a little distrust of
the competence of ordinary citizens, they tended to
believe representatives neither would nor should be
like their constituents (for an example of this view,
see Federalist 35). Qualitative differences between
Recent scholarship within the public choice eld of political
science has emphatically demonstrated how tenuous and impre-
cise elections can be. While this literature is far more developed
and more cynicalthan the writings of the ratication debates,
many of the themes are similar. For explicit discussions of
accountability within this literature, see Przeworski, Stokes, and
Manin (1999) and Hardin (2000).
.ccouwr.viiirr nzv.rzs. ruz vznzv.iisrs, ruz .wri-vznzv.iisrs, .wn nzmocv.ric nzvicirs :oo,
representative and constituent were not only accept-
able; they were desirable insofar as such differences
allowed for those of superior talents to be chosen.
From their perspective, what matters is the competence
gap, not the identity gap. Forms of populist account-
ability that aim to collapse such qualitative gaps risk
jeopardizing good government by removing capable
leaders from ofce. It would also have perverse effects
on governmental accountability by holding ofcials
accountable for the wrong things. Elections should
authorize and hold leaders accountable for what they
do, not for what they are. While there was some dis-
agreement among the Federalist authors over the rela-
tion between competence and economic class, they
tended to agree that when highly competent represen-
tatives know that come election time they will be
judged by constituents for their behavior (and not
their identity), they will have sufcient incentive to
adjust their behavior to serve their constituents inter-
The dependence so produced, along with a well-
designed system of checks and balances, would allow
for safe government without jeopardizing government
In Defense of Long Election Cycles
The Federalist vision of a more distant citizenry is also
reected in their perspective on the frequency of elec-
toral accounting. In their criticisms of the constitu-
tion, leading Anti-Federalists had argued for shorter
terms in ofce than the two-year terms for the House
and the six-year terms for the Senate, both of which
they thought were of too long a duration to ensure a
proper responsibility to citizens. In response, Federal-
ists like Madison, Dickinson, and Ames defended the
need for longer election cycles as appropriate for safe
and effective government (Ames 1998, 196, 200;
Fabius 1998, 62; see also A Foreign Spectator 1998,
49). Madisons argument is particularly interesting. If
accountability (or responsibility) is to be reasonable,
he wrote, it must be limited to objects within the
power of the responsible party. And if it is to be effec-
tual, it must relate to operations of that power, of
which a ready and proper judgment can be formed by
the constituents (Federalist 63, 306). Seen in this way,
short election cycles risk making accountability both
unreasonable and ineffective.
Madison argued that more frequent electoral
accounting would be bad for government competence.
No man, he wrote, can be a competent legislator
who does not add to an upright intention and a sound
judgment a certain degree of knowledge of the sub-
jects on which he is to legislate. While much can be
learned in private life, some knowledge can only be
acquired by actual experience in the station which
requires the use of it. Consequently, [t]he period of
service ought . . . in all such cases, to bear some pro-
portion to the extent of practical knowledge requisite
to the due performance of the service (Federalist 53,
261). Short election cycles would not only, as another
Federalist author put it, keep the nation in perpetual
electionary ferment (Socius 1998, 166). They would
also create gaps in the institutional knowledge base of
the legislature and would thereby undermine compe-
tence. As Madison continued, The greater the propor-
tion of new members and the less the information of
the bulk of the members, the more apt will they be to
fall in to the snares that may be laid for them (Feder-
alist 53, 26364). Subjecting government to short
cycles of accountability with a relatively rapid change
of leadership would signicantly impede its capacity
to perform effectively, throwing obstacles in the way of
longer-term performance.
Madison went on to argue that short election
cycles would impede processes of government
accountability that require a longer time horizon. He
described, for example, how government ofcials
must be in ofce a minimum amount of time if elec-
toral fraud is to be discovered and controlled for with
accountability procedures (Federalist 53, 264). Gener-
alizing, one might say that in order for accountability
to be effective, one needs to be able to correctly iden-
tify improprieties. If the process is too swift, it may
result in accountability failures as investigations that
require more time are made obsolete.
In a related fashion, Madison defended the Senate
by discussing how frequent elections tend to remove
from ofce those ofcials who were responsible for
policies that have long-term effects. Here he linked
institutional responsibility to individual responsibility
and pointed to the injustice of holding legislators
accountable (or answerable) for others long-term
For Hamilton, the actual representation of all classes of citizens
was unrealizable and substantively unnecessary. For him, interests
mattered more than identity. While he insisted that the door
ought to be equally open to all to enter government so as to allow
for exceptional cases, he nonetheless believed that representatives
would appropriately tend to resolve into just three categories: mer-
chants, landowners and members of the learned professions. While
these classes might not resemble their constituents, each represen-
tatives dependence on the suffrages of his fellow-citizens for the
continuance of his public honors would lead him to take care to
inform himself of their dispositions and inclinations and should
be willing to allow them their proper degree of inuence upon his
conduct (Federalist 35, 161).
:oo, cv.ic r. vovowi.x
. . . it is evident that an assembly elected for so short a
term as to be unable to provide more than one or two
links in a chain of measures, on which the general welfare
may essentially depend, ought not to be answerable for
the nal result any more than a steward or tenant,
engaged for one year, could be justly made to answer
for places or improvements which could not be
accomplished in less than half a dozen years. (Federalist
63, 306)
Accountability requires the assigning of agency. It is
difcult enough to preserve personal responsibility in
a numerous body where decisions have immediate and
palpable effects on constituents. But this is made
exceedingly difcult when the responsible parties are
no longer around to be identied or no longer in a
position of being sanctioned. Along similar lines, Fed-
eralist author Nicholas Collin described how a
member who but comes and goes, is less responsible
for bad public measures, and consequently less ani-
mated by a sense of duty and honor (A Foreign Spec-
tator 1998, 4950). On this reasoning, in order to
promote accountability and a sense of responsibility,
the duration of power needs to be lengthened to keep
responsible parties around. This becomes a rationale
for bicameralism. The proper remedy for the Houses
frequent electoral accounting, Madison argued, would
be the Senate, which having sufcient permanency to
provide for such objects as require a continued atten-
tion, and a train of measures, may be justly and effec-
tually answerable for the attainments of those objects
(Federalist 63, 306). Here again an expressed concern
with accountable government entails further distanc-
ing citizens from government.
Constituencies and the Problems of Scale
The size of government also factors into the Federal-
ist vision of accountability. In his defense of a smaller
sized House of Representatives, Madison drew atten-
tion to both the governance and the accountability
problems that result when a governing body becomes
too populous and populist. As though anticipating
Michels Iron Law of Oligarchy,
he observed how
large groups tend to be controlled by organized fac-
tions and leaders. [I]n all legislative assemblies, he
writes, the greater the number composing them may
be, the fewer will be the men who will in fact direct
their proceedings (Federalist 58, 285). He explained
this in terms of passion and incompetence. The more
numerous an assembly becomes, the greater is the
tendency for passion to dominate over reason in its
proceedings (see A Citizen of America 1998, 377).
And as the number of representatives grows, so too
does the ratio of members lacking the requisite
knowledge and capabilities to govern well. The large
numbers would, as one Federalist put it, clog the
wheels (A Democratic Federalist 1998, 42). This, in
turn, creates a situation ripe for the eloquence and
address of a few to dominate over the others, and
thereby opens avenues for well-organized parties to
gain precisely the sort of undue inuence that the
Federalists so intently sought to prevent. This oligar-
chic tendency of large bodies not only undermines
good government, it also offsets the disciplinary
effects of electoral accountability as representatives
are duped by the cunning and sophistry of their
peers. The people can never err more, Madison
wrote, than in supposing that by multiplying their
representatives beyond a certain limit they strengthen
the barrier against the government of a few. On the
contrary, after securing a sufcient number for the
purposes of safety, of local information, and of diffu-
sive sympathy with the whole society, increasing the
size of the representative assembly further would
counteract the republican intention (Federalist 58,
286). Republican accountability apparently has its
limits. One can defeat the purpose by multiplying the
number of accountable agents too far. The Federalists
correspondingly showed resolve at preventing pas-
sionate, less competent leaders from serving in ofce,
and at designing institutional dynamics that would
prevent well-organized partisans from dominating
policymaking in ways that would diminish the
efcacy of representatives accountability to their
Ive been arguing that even as the Federalists
defended the constitution as embodying accountable
government, they construed accountability in ways
that involved institutionalizing more, not less concen-
tration of power, and more, not less distance between
government and citizens. Although they perceived
accountability institutions as an indispensable way to
make government dependent on the people, their con-
strual of accountability worked to serve the needs of
power by limiting the participation of citizens within a
series of regulated distances. They sought to make
government dependent on the people, but not too
dependent. They wished citizens to be active and
involved, but not too active and involved. On one hand
they criticized populist and more decentralized
accountability arrangements as detrimental to good
The German sociologist Robert Michels argued in his 1911 book
Political Parties that all forms of organization, regardless of how
democratic they may initially be, will eventually develop into oli-
garchies (Michels 1978).
.ccouwr.viiirr nzv.rzs. ruz vznzv.iisrs, ruz .wri-vznzv.iisrs, .wn nzmocv.ric nzvicirs :oo,
governance. On the other hand they argued that the
new constitution would embody more, not less,
accountability than the alternatives, not despite its
concentrated power, but because of it. This view
stands in sharp contrast to that of the Anti-Federalists,
who charged the Federalists with putting forward an
unsafe form of government shockingly devoid of
accountability to citizens.
Anti-Federalist Accountability
Even more than the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists
were a disparate group, spanning many strands of
opposition to the proposed constitution. And yet
taken collectively these authors gave expression to
both a tradition of dissent in American politics and a
very basic distrust of concentrated political power. In
their dissent, one can identify patterns related to
accountability and to the need to enhance governmen-
tal dependence upon citizens. Like the Federalists, they
were concerned about preventing the abuse of govern-
mental power. And like the Federalists, they believed
accountability to citizens was a vital precautionary
mechanism in republican government. As Brutus
(probably Robert Yates) wrote, When great and
extraordinary powers are vested in any man, or body
of men, which in their exercise, may operate to the
oppression of the people, it is of high importance that
powerful checks should be formed to prevent the
abuse of it. Accountability to the people offers just
such a check. As he continued,
Perhaps no restraints are more forcible, than such as arise
from responsibility to some superior power.Hence it is
that the true policy of a republican government is, to
frame it in such manner, that all persons who are con-
cerned in the government, are made accountable to some
superior for their conduct in ofce.This responsibility
should ultimately rest with the People. (Storing 1981a,
When power is concentrated, as it surely is in an
extended republicand as it certainly is today in
global governance regimesthere is a need for pow-
erful checks (compare Smith 6.12.29). In a republican
government where citizens are considered the highest
authority, they are the ones to whom ofcials should
ultimately be accountable. As Centinel (probably
Samuel Bryan) put it, a governments responsibility to
its constituents is the only effectual security for the
liberties and happiness of the people (2.7.10). While
comments such as Centinels and Brutuss bear a
supercial resemblance to those of Federalist authors,
underlying this similarity is a rather sharp disagree-
ment about the place of accountability in the proposed
The Anti-Federalists rejected claims that the con-
stitution offered an accountable alternative to the
British regime. They in fact denounced the constitu-
tion for its accountability failures, branding it an aris-
tocratic usurpation of popular government. Centinel
was particularly outspoken on this point. So far as he
was concerned, the constitution was devoid of all
responsibility or accountability to the great body of
the people (2.7.24). So being, it amounted to an
attempt by the well-born to establish a despotic aris-
tocracy among freemen (2.7.10) through which
tyranny may glut its vengeance on the low-born
(2.7.67). Similar sentiments were expressed in the
inuential Pennsylvania Convention Minority
Address, where it was asserted that the strongest of all
checks upon the conduct of administration, responsi-
bility to the people, will not exist in this government
(3.11.48). Elsewhere, Patrick Henry asked Where, Sir,
is the responsibility? On his reading it was the con-
stitution, and not the British monarchy, that embod-
ied unaccountability.
This, Sir, is my great objection to the Constitution, that
there is no true responsibilityand that the preservation
of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being
virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves. In
the country from which we are descended, they have real,
and not imaginary, responsibilityfor there, maladmin-
istration has cost their heads, to some of the most saucy
geniuses that ever were. (5.16.8)
In the eyes of Henry, Brutus, Centinel, and other Anti-
Federalists like them, the constitution failed abysmally
to protect the liberty of citizens in large part because it
failed to provide effective provisions for those citizens
to hold government to account. In the end, the Anti-
Federalists had a different understanding of what
accountability entails. Unlike the Federalists, the Anti-
Federalists perceived accountability as a way to resist
concentrations of governing power and to decentralize
authority in a manner that would bring it closer to
I follow Storing in my use of the term Anti-Federalists rather
than the alternatives Antifederalists, which suggests more agree-
ment than there actually was, and anti-Federalists, which sug-
gests that the group found unity only in opposition. Like Storing,
I am trying to make a case that the Anti-Federalists were for
something. See Storing (1981b), 79n6.
Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent references to the Anti-
Federalist writings (including Brutuss essays) are drawn from
Storings seven volume set, The Complete Anti-Federalist (Storing
1981a). For these, I identify the Anti-Federalist author followed by
the three-part reference number (Volume. Place in Volume. Para-
graph) assigned by the editors.
:ooo cv.ic r. vovowi.x
local communities, without whose meaningful input
government would be anything but good.
Constitution and De-Constitution
The new constitution may indeed have been a found-
ing, but not ex nihilo. It was, as Sheldon Wolin has
observed, also a de-constitution, most immediately of
the Articles of Confederation, but also of the varied
state constitutions (Wolin 1989, 87). In objecting to
the unaccountability of the newconstitution, the Anti-
Federalists were not denying that there were problems
with the existing confederation, or even that a greater
concentration of power may be necessary. There was
in fact wide acceptance that the situation in the
country was critical (Storing 1981b, 26; for examples,
see An Old Whig 3.3.18; The Federal Farmer 2.8.1,
2.8.70; Candidus, 4.9.5; Centinel, 2.7.3). While the
span of their opinions was considerable, the Anti-
Federalists did, however, tend to believe that the Fed-
eralists were overstating the crisis, that the problems
were contextual more than institutional, and that the
Articles could in fact be reformed without having to
adopt the radical solution of creating a new constitu-
tion with its drastic shift away from the confederal
framework (See Centinel 2.7.7993; Candidus 4.9.13
39; Address by A Plebian 6.11.127; Antifederalist
No. 15 1965, 40).
The Articles, which might be regarded more as a
set of treaties than as a centralized system, had hardly
been a pinnacle of accountability. They were never
subjected to popular ratication. Given that Congress
was appointed by state legislatures, there was no way
for voters to hold legislators accountable at elections.
There was no executive branch at all, and consequently
there was no body to hold to account for the carrying
out of decisions. At the same time, states were not held
to account for their commitments. Congress did not
reect the diversity of the American people within
states or, given that each state had one vote regardless
of population, among states. And Congresss sessions
were often so sparsely attended as to lack a quorum,
which made decision making difcult and account-
ability elusive. Even so, in the confederation there was
a system of accountability that was noteworthy for its
state-centeredness and for the frequency with which
ofcials were held to account. Whats more, for all of
its accountability problems, the Articles had the virtue
of weakness (a virtue that was, of course, also its
undoing). The prospect that Congress would form a
tyrannical central government that would usurp local
and state authority was very unlikely given the limits
of its coercive power and given how much authority
was vested in the individual states. By proposing to
concentrate power in a national government, the Fed-
eralists were raising both the stakes and the danger.
They thereby also intensied the need for vigorous
accountability mechanisms to instill a strong sense of
responsibility among ofcials.
This having been said, for the Anti-Federalists the
problem extended beyond the fact that the new gov-
ernment would be strong. It also included the fact that
the new government would be further detached from
local communities. The Anti-Federalists tended to
follow the conventional republican wisdom of their
day that associated principles of popular sovereignty
with the homogeneity of small republics. And even
though they, like many others of the age, were skeptical
about the viability of a small republic in an age of
growing commerce and warring nation-states, they
nevertheless believed government needed to maintain
close ties to small communities. So while most of them
accepted the need for some form of union and for a
more energetic government than had been provided
under the Articles (especially when it came to issues of
debt and defense),
they also advised great caution
about concentrating power at too great a distance (on
multiple dimensions) from the diverse communities it
was expected to serve (see Address by A Plebian
6.11.12; Elbridge Gerry 2.1.3; An Old Whig 3.3.18).
Unlike the Federalists, for whom diversity within
and between states posed an obstacle to the organiza-
tional needs of federal power, for the Anti-Federalists
the challenge was not to manage diverse communities
but rather to empower them. They were particularly
wary that electoral institutions would be manipulated
in ways that would allow a class of urban elites to use
a seemingly popular mandate to assume power against
the interests of lower and middling classes and agrar-
ian communities (as embodied in the gure of the
virtuous yeoman farmer). These heightened anxieties
reected an awareness that systems of accountability
can themselves be made to support elitist forms of
The Importance of Timely Accounting
Consider the Anti-Federalist approach to the fre-
quency of electoral accountability. When it comes to
accountable government, timing matters. As noted
previously, Madison argued that governing and
accountability problems result if accountability cycles
are too short. The Anti-Federalists, in contrast,
One might compare attitudes today toward the concentrated
powers of the World Bank and Security Council.
.ccouwr.viiirr nzv.rzs. ruz vznzv.iisrs, ruz .wri-vznzv.iisrs, .wn nzmocv.ric nzvicirs :oo,
pointed to the problems that result when electoral
cycles are too long. Defending the practice of holding
annual electionssomething done both within state
governments and under the Articlesthe Anti-
Federalists tended to believe that the two-year term in
ofce for representatives and the six-year term in
ofce for senators are simply too long to ensure,
in Centinels words, a due dependence and account-
ability to their constituents (2.7.22; See also The
Federal Farmer 2.8.147). When terms in ofce are
long, representatives have incentives to discount
future electoral accountings and to pursue interests
other than those of their constituents. Brutuss
remarks about the Senate are characteristic: Men long
in ofce are very apt to feel themselves independent
[and] to formand pursue interests separate fromthose
who appointed them (2.9.200). While regular elec-
tions might in the abstract induce a recollection of
the peoples interests, when there is too much time
between elections the disciplinary effect is confounded
as representatives become weaned from their constitu-
ents. In contrast, shorter terms compel legislators to
become better acquainted with their constituents
while allowing constituents more frequent opportuni-
ties to hold these legislators to account for their
In addition to shorter election cycles, many Anti-
Federalists also argued that states should retain the
authority to recall senators (see Smith 6.12.29;
Agrippa 4.6.45; Brutus 2.9.201; The Federal Farmer
2.8.147; Address by A Watchman 4.22.4; Amicus
1965, 15254). Such an institution had existed under
the confederation as well as within some state consti-
tutions, and its removal under the constitution
reected the shift of accountability away from states.
The idea of the recall had come up briey in the con-
stitutional convention of 1787, and then again as
proposed amendments in the New York and Massa-
chusetts ratifying conventions. In reaction to Hamil-
tons assertions that the recall would render the
senator a slave to all the capricious humors among
the people (Kurland and Lerner 1987, 225), the
recalls Anti-Federalist supporters countered that not
only had the recall never been deployed under the
confederation, but also that even if it had, too much
dependence was hardly the greatest danger. As The
Federal Farmer warned, Men elected for several years,
several hundred miles distant from their states,
possessed of very extensive powers, and the means of
paying themselves, will not, probably, be oppressed
with a sense of dependence and responsibility
(2.8.147). The Anti-Federalists feared that senators, on
account of their long appointments, would lose their
respect for the power from whom they receive their
existence, and consequently that they would disre-
gard the great object for which they are instituted
(Kurland and Lerner 1987, 222). As an accountability
mechanism, the recall option would help states ensure
that representatives perform well. Again in the words
of The Federal Farmer, the principle of responsibility
is strongly felt in men who are liable to be recalled and
censured for their misconduct.Additionally, the recall
option would help empower local actors to keep an eye
on the federal government: Where there is a power to
recall, trusty centinels among the people, or in the
state legislatures, will have a fair opportunity to
become useful (2.8.147). This concern over the con-
dition of vigilant citizens is characteristic of the Anti-
Federalist approach to accountability.
For some Anti-Federalists, the very presence of the
Senate, with its long terms in ofce, was an obstacle to
accountability. For these, the Senate marked a depar-
ture from the responsibility one nds in an idealized
simple and small republic. Centinel was particularly
outspoken on this point,
The highest responsibility is to be attained, in a simple
structure of government, for the great body of the people
never steadily attend to the operations of government,
and for want of due information are liable to be imposed
on. If you complicate the plan by various orders, the
people will be perplexed and divided in their sentiments
about the source of abuses or misconduct, some will
impute it to the senate, others to the house of represen-
tatives, and so on, that the interposition of the people
may be rendered imperfect or perhaps wholly abortive.
The argument is an epistemological one about the
challenge of accountability where responsibility is
spread across a multipolar authority structure. A
bicameral legislature would interfere with government
accountability not only by extending the term of leg-
islative ofce beyond reasonable limits, but also by
muddling the ability of constituents to correctly deter-
mine who should be held to account for legislative
action. A better form of government would simplify
representation with only one legislative chamber. Cen-
tinel continued,
if . . . you vest all the legislative power in one body of
men (separating the executive and judicial) elected for a
short period, and necessarily excluded by rotation from
permanency, and guarded from precipitancy and sur-
prise by delays imposed on its proceedings, you will
create the most perfect responsibility for them, whenever
the people feel a grievance they cannot mistake its
authors, and will apply the remedy with certainty and
effect, discarding them at the next election. This tie of
responsibility will obviate all the dangers apprehended
from a single legislature, and will the best secure the
rights of the people. (2.7.10)
:oo8 cv.ic r. vovowi.x
Centinels argument resembles Hamiltons defense of
a singular executive in that it justies concentrating
power in a single body, only in this case it is the House
rather than the presidency. This difference is, however,
signicant. Unlike Hamilton, Centinels purpose was
to draw power closer to the people rather than to
concentrate it at a further distance. While Centinels
outright rejection of bicameralism was not shared by
all Anti-Federalists,
his effort to maximize clarity
while minimizing time delays between accountings is
illustrative of the way the Anti-Federalists more gen-
erally sought to congure accountability institutions
so as to empower citizens and intensify governmental
dependence upon them.
Communication and the Scale
of Government
This approach was also reected in their critique of
the size of government. The Anti-Federalists generally
believed the representative body should be large
enough to ensure that the different classes of society
have meaningful opportunities to hold government to
account if their interests are abused. As Melancton
Smith put it, enlarging the legislature would be the
most effectual as well as natural security against cor-
ruption in government. For Smith and others, the
House of Representatives offered a mere shadow of
representation. Reason revolts at the idea, he
declared, of the liberties of three million people being
entrusted to so few men (6.12.19). Centinel expressed
similar sentiments about the House:
The number of the representatives (being only one for
every 30,000 inhabitants) appears to be too few, either to
communicate the requisite information, of the wants,
local circumstances and sentiments of so extensive an
empire, or to prevent corruption and undue inuence, in
the exercise of such great powers. . . . (2.7.22)
Such characteristic emphasis on diverse local circum-
stances within a large republic displayed a concern
that governments great powers might be misused not
only because representatives would have less inclina-
tion to serve the interests of particular communities,
but also because they wouldnt know better.
This is important. Accountability institutions are
bound up with the production and transmission of
knowledge. Whatever their skills and good intentions,
leaders depend upon citizens to detect abuses and to
mobilize political energies around rectifying them.
The scale of representation affects the nature of such
citizen participation. A relatively small number of rep-
resentatives would mean a greater knowledge gap
between individual citizens and their representatives,
as each representative would be responsible to more
(and more diverse) constituents. A high citizen-
representative ratio would thus diminish the capacity
and incentives of particular individuals and groups of
citizens to make government register and answer for
the injustices that are done to them and their neigh-
bors. If, for example, constituencies were congured to
numerically disadvantage yeoman farmers vis--vis
urban elites, as the Anti-Federalists believed was
occurring, that class would be ill-situated to effectively
hold their representatives to account even when they
suffer abuses. While electoral accountability might still
create some dependence on the people, it would be a
watered down dependence that would risk becoming a
ruse for aristocratic dominance as the voices of
smaller, often rural communities would be pushed out
of earshot of a distant government.
Unlike the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists did not
seek to create governmental dependency on the people
in a general sense. Rather, they tended to believe that
representatives in a republican government should, in
George Masons words, know and sympathise with
every part of the community (Madison 1966, 39).
Responding to Hamiltons rejection of the claim that
all interests of the community should be represented,
Melancton Smith, for example, argued that the knowl-
edge necessary for the representation of a free people
extends beyond that which is acquired by men of
rened education, who have leisure to attain high
degrees of improvement. Rather, it should also com-
prehend that kind of acquaintance with the common
concerns and occupations of the people, which men of
the middling class of life are in general much better
competent to, than those of a superior class (6.12.15;
see also The Federal Farmer 2.8.14347; Aristocrotis
3.16.119). Enlarging the size of the legislature would
result in men of the middling class having a better
chance at entering government, and it would enable
commoners to demand that their experiences and
needs be addressed. While this was precisely what the
Federalists sought to avoid, as it signaled the introduc-
tion of less competence and more passion into gov-
ernment, for the Anti-Federalists this was a condition
of truly accountable government.
Political Culture and Democratic
For the American founding generation, accountability
constituted part of a politics of control through which
Compare A Maryland Farmer, 5.1.75.
.ccouwr.viiirr nzv.rzs. ruz vznzv.iisrs, ruz .wri-vznzv.iisrs, .wn nzmocv.ric nzvicirs :oo,
the concentrated power of delegated authority would
be checked and guided by the periodic exercise of
popular sovereignty. But, as I have already suggested,
government is not the only object of control: account-
ability institutions can also have controlling effects on
citizens. While this might be useful for the organiza-
tional needs of institutional power, such effects might
also undermine the very popular energies that govern-
ment accountability requires as its conditions of pos-
sibility. Accountability is part of the process through
which citizens help shape the ends of government.
Consequently, evaluating accountability mechanisms
requires assessing how effectively they enable and
transmit diverse citizens feedback. This is to suggest
that even from the perspective of institutional efcacy
and good governance, maintaining a culture of citizen
involvement is crucial.
In the quest for institutions of accountability
that reect the spirit of popular sovereignty, the
accounting capacity of the citizenry matters. Repub-
lican accountability depends, in short, upon republi-
can accountants. In this vein, one might see the
Anti-Federalists efforts to narrow the gaps between
representatives and citizens as efforts to defend the
diverse political cultures in which citizen activity
provided the structure for government accountabil-
ity. To be fair, the Anti-Federalists were not alone in
recognizing the importance of an enlightened and
vigilant citizenry. In his New York ratication
speeches, Hamilton, for example, identied an
enlightened citizenry as an indispensable check
against tyranny. And Madison showed considerable
concern in his later writings over the general ten-
dency towards citizen complacency.
And yet the
Federalist authors, with some major exceptions such
as Jefferson (see Yarbrough 1998), tended to be less
attentive than the Anti-Federalists to the inuence
that institutions have on the capacity of citizens to be
enlightened, awakened, and united. For the Anti-
Federalists, it was a mistake to rely upon a vigilant
citizenry abstracted from the institutional context in
which they live. As Smith declared in response to
To say, as this gentleman does, that our security is to
depend upon the spirit of the people, who will be watch-
ful of their liberties, and not suffer them to be infringed,
is absurd. It would equally prove that we might adopt any
form of government. (6.12.20)
Crucially for Smith, the issue was not only how the
spirit of the people operates on government, but also
how the government operates on the spirit of the
people. The two are thoroughly intertwined. Account-
ability institutions have effects upon citizens. They can
cause them to engage or disengage from politics, and
they can develop or leave undeveloped the skills of
collective political action. Following Wolin, one might
say that the wherewithal to hold government to
account constitutes a member skill developed in par-
ticular political cultures, cultures that both affect and
are affected by political institutions (Wolin 1989, 85).
By superseding local and state governance institutions
through the consolidation of federal authority, the
proposed constitution involved a deactivation of the
political cultures of accountability surrounding those
institutions. While the new institutions of federal gov-
ernment would generate new cultures of accountabil-
ity around federal elections, the Anti-Federalists were
skeptical about the sort of citizen capacities they
would generate. When citizens are expected to engage
with government only by voting once every two or
four years, the skills of demanding that government
account for its activities go underdeveloped. Within
the Anti-Federalist framework, republican account-
ability requires institutions that not only depend upon
a republican spirit, but also encourage it, in diverse
communities, among commoners as well as among
the political, economic, and indeed natural elite. From
this perspective, some disorder is to be expected and
even encouraged as part of vibrant public life in a
diverse republic.
When it comes to institutional design, history has
been kinder to the Federalists perspective. Theirs was a
vision of accountability conceived for an expanded
sphere of governance. The Anti-Federalists vision, in
contrast, emerged out of a concern over what would be
lost as the political sphere expanded and as govern-
ments power intensied. With their wedding of
accountability to participatory politics, they put
forward standards that become increasingly difcult to
realize the further one moves fromthe local level. While
they did offer some concrete suggestions for insti-
tutionalizing greater accountability on the national
levelexamples include annual elections, the recall,
and larger assembliesthese were losing propositions
arguably intended less as suggestions for perfecting the
national order and more as rationales for rejecting the
Constitution as inherently unsafe and unaccountable. I
dont believe, however, that this makes their vision of
accountability any less important today, especially if
one attends to the anxieties they expressed rather than
to the specic institutions they proposed.
See Consolidation, National Gazette, Dec. 5, 1791 andWho are
The Best Keepers of the Peoples Liberties?, National Gazette, Dec.
20, 1792, in Madison 1999, 53233, 49899.
:o:o cv.ic r. vovowi.x
Lessons for Global Governance
This essay has centered on the place of accountability
in the U.S. ratication debates. And yet as I implied at
the beginning, my analysis is motivated in part by my
interest in current debates over democracy and global
governance. While a full discussion of the global gov-
ernance literature and the relevance of the ratication
debates would require another essay, I would like
to offer a few suggestions about how viewing the
ratication debates through the lens of accountability
or, more precisely, competing conceptions of
accountabilitymight offer insights for contempo-
rary politics.
It is not difcult to draw analogies between the
ratication debates and global governance debates
today. Global governance discussions center on the
prospect of expanding the sphere of governance
beyond traditional boundaries, not unlike the way the
ratication debates centered on the prospect of
expanding governmental authority beyond the indi-
vidual states. During the ratication debates, there was
skepticism about the possibility and desirability of
extending direct democracy beyond the local level,
and accountability served a crucial role mediating
republican principles and the concentrated powers of
a distant government. Today, there is considerable
skepticism about the possibility and desirability of
extending representative democracy beyond the
nation-state, and accountability seems to offer a
similar mediating role between republican/democratic
principles of legitimacy and the apparent need for
authoritative governance structures.
Other parallels could surely be drawn. Some
authors have, with reason, even compared the Feder-
alists to cosmopolitan democrats and the Anti-
Federalists to Westphalian realists or communitarian
Nevertheless, as tempting as such compari-
sons may be, I do not wish to suggest that the Feder-
alists and/or Anti-Federalists provide a model that
necessarily can or should be simply extended to the
global level. Like others, I am skeptical about simple
analogies between domestic and transnational poli-
tics, and I believe it is necessary to attend to the his-
torical, cultural and geopolitical specicities of the
U.S. case, a case that is exceptional more than exem-
plary in many if not most respects. My point is not to
make the U.S. republic into the model for the world.
What I do nd helpful are the Federalist and Anti-
Federalist sensitivities to many of the dangers that sur-
round accountability and governance.
Ive described the ratication debates in terms of a
series of gapsspatial, scalar, temporal, epistemologi-
cal, competence, and identitythat separate commu-
nities and individuals from government. Ive argued
that how such gaps are viewed and managed has major
implications for how safe, effective, and legitimate
government will be. Today too one nds different per-
spectives on the relative merits and dangers of partici-
patory politics and concentrated power as well as on
the need for controlled government and for controlled
publics. And as in the ratication debates one can
identify several gaps separating those who make major
governance decisions from those who are affected by
those decisions.
There are epistemological gaps separating the bulk
of the worlds population living in the global South
from the dominant centers of knowledge produc-
tion in the developed North, where most of the
ideology and research that guide international insti-
tutions are generated.
While globalization might be collapsing distances, it
does so differentially such that there are meaningful
spatial gaps separating those who have access to the
geopolitical centers of international decision
making and those who do not. One might consider,
for example, how the choice of location prevents
rather than facilitates access to decision making,
such as is the case with the World Economic Forum
meetings in Davos, Switzerland, and was the case
with the WTO ministerial meeting held in Doha in
the wake of the failed Seattle meeting.
One nds scalar gaps that result from the way inter-
national policymaking power is indexed to wealth
and might rather than population, and from the fact
that so few people are making global governance
decisions that affect so many, even accepting that
global governance is constituted by more of a patch-
work of diverse institutions and key actors than by a
centralized structure.
Temporal gaps, both large and small, plague inter-
national policymaking. Among other things, such
There is a history of attempts to draw lessons from the ratica-
tion debates for discussions of supranational governance. Analo-
gies between the U.S. founding and international governance were
being drawn at least as early as the 1910s around the formation of
the League of Nations (Wells 1918). Since the 1930s, advocates of
a world federalist state have drawn support from the Federalists
writings (Van Doren 1948). More recently, some international
relations scholars have pointed to the early U.S. republic, with its
divided sovereignty and pacic foreign relations, to suggest a
unique Philadelphian alternative to the Westphalian paradigm
with its singular logic of undivided sovereign authority (Deudney
1996; Inoguchi 1999). John Tomasi has provided a sophisticated
discussion of this literature as well as of the contemporary rel-
evance of the politics of the borderlands of the early American
republic (Tomasi 2003).
.ccouwr.viiirr nzv.rzs. ruz vznzv.iisrs, ruz .wri-vznzv.iisrs, .wn nzmocv.ric nzvicirs :o::
gaps pertain to environmental policy, where long-
term ecological sustainability is often subordinated
to short-term material interests. Rapidly shifting
capital markets involve another sort of temporal
gap. Capital ight can induce devastating social con-
sequences so quickly that it interferes with domestic
processes of social regulation and democratic
Competence gaps are found where the need for
expertise and leadership is used to legitimate the
concentration of power in elite institutions (regard-
less of whether they are governmental, corporate, or
nongovernmental) as well as to justify technocratic
hierarchies within such institutions. One might con-
sider how much weight trade ministers carry in the
WTO even though WTO decisions have wide social
effects. One might also nd competence gaps in the
way activists who mobilize in unruly, contradictory,
and passionate ways to demand accountability
by which they often mean the democratization
of global powerare critiqued for naively dis-
rupting, disorganizing, and obstructing good
Finally, today one can nd something akin to iden-
tity gaps reected in the major differences in life
experience and social position separating most of
those who hold major decision-making power (who
often have a rather homogenous background) from
those affected by their decisions.
This listing of contemporary gaps is not meant to be
complete. Nor is it meant to correspond on a one-to-
one basis with the ratication debates. It is rather
meant to be suggestive of some of the challenges con-
temporary governance faces. All of these gaps might be
construed more generally as forms of democratic
decit that trouble the current order. These are pre-
cisely the sort of gaps for which accountability is an
issue and for which the Federalists and Anti-
Federalists might offer some lessons. How are those
who make far-reaching decisions going to be held
accountable across such distances? How are those who
are on the far side of governance decisions going to be
able to hold decision makers to account? To what
extent are these gaps necessary?
Among other things, the ratication debates
complicate any simple opposition between efcacy
and accountability, an opposition that frequently
appears in todays discussion of how to address
democratic decits. It is not simply the case that par-
ticipatory politics interfere with good governance.
Nor is it the case that concentrated power will nec-
essarily tend towards abuses of power. As the Feder-
alists illustrated, some of the concentrations of power
that presumably enhance government efcacy can
also facilitate government accountability, whereas
some of the decentralizations of power often associ-
ated with greater popular accountability can actually
undermine both the efcacy and accountability
of government. On the other hand, as the Anti-
Federalists illustrated, concern over efcacy needs to
be accompanied by the question Effective for what?
Popular accountability has an important role in
giving shape to the ends government should pursue
and it conveys vital knowledge of social needs and of
government failures. In this vein, more participatory
and decentralized forms of accountability contribute
to good government, and without an active public
itself enabled by participatory institutionsaccount-
ability will be stunted.
There is another, more cautionary, lesson to be
taken from the ratication debates. This I can discuss
only in passing. Both the Federalists and the Anti-
Federalists were dealing with the question of how citi-
zens would be included in processes for holding
government accountable. Yet both groups were ulti-
mately dealing with populations that were in a larger
sense already included. Citizenship was a background
assumption. The notion of popular sovereignty that
animates both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist
visions of republican accountability is premised upon
an antecedent accounting that determines or pre-
sumes who is and is not a legitimate participant. Yet
the club-like nature of citizenship has historically also
been a source of injustice. The legacies of slavery and
gendered exclusion haunt the ratication debates.
Through assertions of sovereign (and therefore
unaccountable) power, institutions of republican/
democratic accountability have been complicit in,
among other things, disenfranchisement along race,
class, and gender lines. These exclusions have in turn
been bound up with the production and maintenance
of racialized and gendered international political
economies. Unlike the ratication debates, todays
global governance debates, by virtue of their globality,
cannot afford to operate with exclusive citizenship as a
background assumption. The Federalists and Anti-
Federalists thus offer a cautionary tale about the
importance of interrogating background assump-
tions, about the need to build receptivity to the griev-
ances of extra-institutional actors, and about how the
distances that constitute accountabilitys internal
dynamic are accompanied by distances that separate
those who do participate fromthose who do not. More
than this, however, the Anti-Federalists in particular
illustrate how addressing the injustices that can (and
:o:: cv.ic r. vovowi.x
often do) take place across such gaps of exclusion
would also require developing political cultures that
cultivate the capacities of the excluded to demand
accountability from power. This may in the end be the
greater challenge for any form of global governance
aiming to derive legitimacy with claims that it is
Accountability has come to straddle the anxieties and
the hopes unleashed by globalization. As the sites of
power and governance shift within a globalizing
world, gaps are being produced, democratic practices
are being transformed. In an age in which globaliza-
tion has induced considerable anxiety about the loss of
control (democratic and otherwise), accountability is
frequently posed as the solution. This discussion has
hopefully also illustrated how accountability is also a
It is perhaps obvious that not all accountability
dynamics foster republican legitimacy. Less obvious is
the observation that not all republican accountability
regimes foster republican legitimacy. Rereading the
ratication debates can help us realize the importance
of identifying the distances that separate the agents of
governance from those who are governed. As impor-
tant, rereading these debates can help sensitize us to
how identifying such gaps is only the beginning of a
republican accountability project. It is not enough to
point to legitimacy problems and demand account-
ability. Nor is it adequate to respond to demands for
accountability by illustrating the mere fact that
accountability dynamics are in place. Which dynamics
are in place and what ends they are implicitly or
explicitly serving can make all the difference between
accountability regimes that help generate legitimacy
and those that provide normative cover for abuses of
The author would like to thank Romand Coles, Ruth
Grant, Nilgn Uygun, and several anonymous review-
ers for their valuable feedback on earlier versions of
this essay.
Manuscript submitted 12 June 2006
Manuscript accepted for publication 7 February 2007
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