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The "Federalist Papers" - Put In Perspective - FP# 3 - 5: Dangers To the Union

Updated on September 17, 2016
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ME has spent most of his retirement from service to the United States studying, thinking, and writing about the country he served.

Federalist Papers 3 - 5 on "Conserning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence"

FINALLY, THE FEDERALIST PAPERS BEGIN THE ARGUMENT that without a strong Union, external threats will ultimately destroy any alternative structure, i.e., 13 States or 2 to 3 smaller confederacies. Each essay looks at the question from differing perspectives which address each of the arguments opposing ratification and the creation of a single union.

If You Are Serious About Politics - This is a Must Read


Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence:

Governor John Jay (NY) begins by observing that intelligent people rarely pursue a national objective for very long that is contrary to their interests. Instead, they coalesce around one that bring many advantages to the whole. Indeed, he asserts, for American people that idea is one of "continuing firmly united under one federal government, vested with sufficient powers for all general and national purposes." Given, however, how close the vote for ratification ended up being, one must wonder how true that assertion is. If fact, because Jay, Hamilton, and Mason spent so much time trying to convince "the people" of the efficacy of this idea that it begs the question of whether they believed their own assertion to be true.

Why this topic came first in the series of essays becomes apparent when Jay notes that the first thing people think about when creating a government is how will it provide for their safety; that would be the first principle. It is also the core of John Locke's reasoning from the need for people to give up their personal liberty.

Foreign Dangers from "Just or Contrived" Causes

There are two sources of danger, foreign and domestic, and he will tackle both, beginning with foreign. Jay proceeds to make the case that the "best" solution for providing "peace and tranquility" for the people is to form a single national government of a people who share so many common traits, e.g., language, culture, etc. He will contrast this idea against other alternatives being proposed of having 13 separate States or 2 to 3 confederacies of smaller size 1, all working together when their interests are common between them.

The reasons for war are many, whether justified or contrived. Jay asks the question about whether "just causes of war are likely to be given by United America as by disunited America". His answer is that "United America will probably give the fewest" causes and therefore "the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations."; peace between the States will be addressed later.

Given the following realities that America has treaties with six nations, five of which are maritime with whom America has extensive trade. Therefore, it is of great national interest that peace be maintained by following the Laws of Nations. Then he asks, then answers, "what governmental organization best can achieve this purpose, a single national government or 13 separate States?"

1 While the full phrase, "thirteen separate States or by three or four distinct confederacies" is used throughout the Papers, for simplification and brevity purposes I will simply use 13 separate States.

Benefits of a Federal Government

Now the trio of authors uniformly have a much higher opinion regarding those who will serve the federal government than many people today have of them. Jay thinks that "once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it ...". Consequently, "... the administration, political counsels ... will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States." --> "more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more safe with respect to us." In my opinion, history has, for the most part, proven such a thought.

It follows that a single federal government will be more consistent in addressing issues concerning the laws of nations as well as the adjudication of those same issues. It makes common sense that this cannot be true, almost by definition, of 13 separate States approaching other nations with similar clarity. Further, if, under a single government construct, a few States deem it in their best interests to "serve from good faith and justice" in this regard, other States receiving no benefit will check such adventures.

Assuming America is attacked, who is in the better position to defend? Is it one unified national government acting to a single purpose, or 13 separate States working toward 13 separate purposes? Clearly, it must be the former. And, that is one of the most compelling arguments, I think, made in the Federalist Papers for ratifying the new constitution.


Foreign Dangers from Self-Inflicted Reasons

While the previous paper dealt with just (as opposed to "pretend"), but nevertheless unwarranted, causes for war by foreign nations on America, this essay looks at it from the opposite point of view by asking about the dangers invited by givingjust cause to other nations to attack us. From which configuration of Union or disunion is it more likely to bring foreign troops to America's shores? Again, is it from 13 separate States or from one united government?

Inviting our own destruction, whether by design or circumstance, is always present; and will grow ever more probable the bigger the nation, whether a single nation or a host of sovereign States, becomes. Jay presents example after example of the various scenarios where this could happen; most have to do where our trading interests come into conflict with those of other maritime nations. The fact that America can supply the French or British markets more cheaply than they can themselves for many products is one specific flash point.

How a Federal Government Solves This Eventuality

Once again, the reader is challenged to explain how 13 sovereign States working independently, and in their own interests can lessen the probability of maritime economic conflict from turning into a hot war. Instead, why isn't it more likely that a single, properly armed nation can successfully prosecute its economic pursuits without turning it into real conflict?

Jay drives home the point on how easy it is to enter into a hot conflict by saying:

"It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans."

So why, Jay would argue, make it easy for a nation already predisposed to war to make it on you by encouraging them needlessly? Why construct a union such that there are 3, 4, or 13 different opportunities to invite invasion or shut down the Mississippi and or the St. Lawrence Rivers? Why not just have one nation capable of conducting a unified foreign commerce policy that minimizes the risk of inviting conflict?

Then Jay starts his compelling analysis, as he did in the previous paper, of all of the reasons why it is much more beneficial to have a single nation capable of creating a large, integrated military response on both land and sea which is out of reach of a smaller confederacy or a single State.

Jay concludes by noting that other nations will "act toward us accordingly". He posits two possibilities:

  1. "If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly trained, organized, and disciplined, our resources and finances distinctly managed, our credit re-established [only to jeopardize it again in 2011], our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment."
  2. "If, on the other hand, they find us either destitute of an effectual government (each State doing right or wrong, as to its rulers may seem convenient), or split into three or four independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies, one inclining to Britain, another to France and third to Spain, and perhaps played off against each other by the three, what a poor, pitiful figure will America make in their eyes!"

Chief Justice and NY Governor John Jay



Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence (cont.):

In his final essay on this subject, Gov. Jay begins by rehearsing that the weakness and divisions at home can "invite dangers from abroad". In Federalist Paper #3, he considers the danger from conflict with other nations due to just or pretend reasons not related to any particular bad action from America. Federalist Paper #4 then flips that around and discusses how a divided America increases the chances of external war because of our own intentional or accidental provocation.

This paper now considers the likelihood of war with other nations deriving from internecine conflict between states or smaller confederacies if the People chose disunion. He approaches this subject from several angles. Starting with Great Britain as an example Jay points out that common sense would dictate that these islands ought to be one nation; yet there were three for a very long time. They each enjoyed the same basic language, culture, origins, and at the root, similar religeous beliefs; exactly the way America was currently configured. The anti-Federalists insist these same characteristics would be the glue that binds the states together in friendly relations.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, what are essentially Ireland, England, and Scotland today were at each others throats almost constantly. Jay asserts this would be no different were the People to reject the Constitution. His rationale, through many examples and just plain logic, is that not one of the states is of equal size, power, resources, or any other metric you might want to consider and that these differences will drive wedges between each state which would lead to jealousies and finally conflict. This was already happening, after all, under the contract of confederation they were currently suffering through.

Maryland was at loggerheads with Virginia for one reason, and with Pennsylvania for another and the Continental Congress did not have the ability to stop or influence it. In fact, it was these internal discords that motivated certain patriots to establish the Constitutional Convention in the first place.

Jay argues that even if only three or four smaller confederations, a popular idea then, were created, the same dynamics would be in play (and ironically was a major reason there was a Civil War 80 years later) and that by their very nature, the confederation of Northern States, who is an industrial-based economy, would gain a superior position over the Southern States, whose economy is agrarian.

Dividing them even more was the issue of slavery. Generally, the North found the practice repugnant, while the South thought it was natural, the way God intended things; besides they had so integrated their economic viability with the existence of slavery, it would collapse without it. Because of these, and many more differences, conflicts must, as they always have in history, develop.

Given all of the above, Jay makes his main point for this Paper by describing how the conflicts between the States, or small confederacies, will necessarily invite foreign intervention as each side of the debate reaches out to one European nation or another to bolster their cause against the other. Only with a strong central government, Jay asserts, would America be in a position and be powerful enough to tamp down these fires, to regulate those things which might cause conflict, to enforce, if necessary the internal peace and therefore avoid foreign conflict. Jay ends his essay with the following:

"Let candid men judge, then, whether the division of America into any given number of independent sovereignties would tend to secure us against hostilities and improper interference of foreign nations."

© 2016 Scott Belford


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