on April 20, 2012
I think that a reading of the Federalist would not lead to the conclusion that the United States is merely a league and that its bonds are not merely commercial, even though I grant you that etymologically "Federal" comes from the Latin for "league" or "compact" and also that the U.S. Constitution is a "compact". Nevertheless, the founders were concerned that a mere league (or treaty) would not be able to accomplish the ends of union. With the U.S. federal pact, there is a sharing of sovereignty and a contract between the peoples of the respective States as sovereign entities. Essentially, the people in each state agrees to assign (divide) the governmental exercise of that sovereignty between two entities - a state government and a federal one.
So the federal government is empowered as much as the state one directly from the sovereignty residing in the people of each individual state. The Articles of Confederation was closer to being a mere "league" since it was a contract between governments. (See Madison, Federalist 43, where he says, "A compact between independent sovereigns, founded on ordinary acts of legislative authority, can pretend to no higher validity than a league or treaty between the parties.") The Articles were ratified by the respective state legislatures and not directly by the people. So at least in that respect it was more like a treaty (even though it also transcended the limits of a treaty, but I don't have time to go into that).
The Constitution, on the other hand, was ratified by the respective peoples - such that it goes beyond the level of a mere treaty or league. This is why, when the Southern States seceded in the 19th century, they did so by calling conventions and letting their people vote on the articles of secession, effectively withdrawing by the same process that they came in. A legislative vote to withdraw from the Union would have been null and void since the original Constitutional contract was made directly with the people in each state acting in their "highest sovereign capacity" (as Madison says in the Federalist).
Rather than being simply a league, it is a people of peoples in a manner of speaking, sovereignty being shared in its exercise (and only in its exercise, or "operation" as Madison termed it) on a "national" level and sovereignty residing "ultimately" and originally in the people in the individual states, one by one, who are the parties to the Constitutional Contract (see article VII of the Constitution, that it is a Constitution "between the States" and Madison's reply in the Virginia Convention, as well as Federalist 39. For more information on this, I suggest a careful reading of the Federalist, especially number 39 by Madison.)
"On examining the first relation, it appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act." - Madison, Federalist 39
Thus, the federal government we see today operates on principles completely at odds with the Constitution. The tail now wags the dog, the federal government being the tail and the sovereignty of the people being the dog, the source of the tail's very life. The dog can live without the tail, but the tail cannot live without the dog. And yet the federal government acts as if all sovereignty came from it originally and not from the people, as if it needs no authorization for its actions in the Constitution, as if its judges can boss around the people of the United States.
One final note - Storing's Anti Federalist is a wonderful resource. I, however, have made use of the unabridged version, so I can't really not recommend this edition. However, I endorse the complete unabridged edition, despite the price. But I would guess that this, like other abridgments, is useful for a beginning student or someone who doesn't currently have the resources to buy the complete version. But the serious student of the founding would do well to buy the unabridged version. I have rated this 5 stars regardless because the book is good in itself compared to the other abridged versions available.