The Federalist Project – #4

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 4

Jay

7 November, 1787

 

Easily J’s best work so far, this essay is grounded firmly in the real and current geo-political questions facing the new nation.  Where he does stray into theory, it is still much more down to earth and practical than in his previous essays.  The writing also, I think, is more focused, tighter.

One additional note.  I have lately been working through Demosthenes’ First Philippic, the commentary for which gives special attention to the rhetorical structure and style of the speech.  As a result, I find that my eye is more attuned to these things in general, and in these writings particularly.  As a result, I will, from time to time, be dropping in a bit of rhetorical analysis of my own.  However, that not being the purpose of these essays, I shall try not to go too far down that particular rabbit hole.  Nevertheless, I hope that this will give an extra layer of depth to my analyses; however little they may be worth.

As in my previous essay, we will proceed through J’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

 

  • “My last paper assigned several reasons why the safety of the people would be best served by Union against the danger it may be exposed to by just causes of war given to other nations…”
    • ¶1 serves to link F.4 with F.3, showing it to be a continuation and that the two properly form a pair. Here, he briefly restates the main arguments of F.3.

 

The just causes of war having already been addressed, in ¶2 J pivots to the pretended causes of war:

  • “But the safety of the People of America against dangers from foreign force, depends on…their placing and continuing themselves in such a situation as not to invite hostility or insult…”
    • Here, then, J introduces the main theme of F.4.
  • …for it need not be observed, that there are pretended as well as just causes of war.”
    • A decent bit of rhetoric. Of course Ju will proceed to look at these closely in order to strengthen his case and I’ll add here that I think he does a fair job of it.  But more on this as it comes.

 

In ¶3, J reminds the reader of the less than pure motives which often impel (other) nations to war; particularly monarchies:

  • “It is true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature…”
    • It seems like he’s getting ready to go off again on one of his broad theoretical jaunts. But in fact, I find his analysis in this ¶ to be very down to earth, practical and well-reasoned.
  • “…that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting any thing by it…”
    • As an axiom, this was probably more true in his time than today – [as this Times article argues] – but it is by no means untrue today.
  • “…nay that absolute monarchies will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for objects merely personal, such as, a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts; ambition or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families, or partisans.”
    • This is an excellent argument in itself against absolute monarchy. And yet, that not being the purpose of this essay, he takes it no further.
    • It is interesting to consider exchanging absolute monarchy with corporations and the motives of profit, and then to consider how true this might still be: e.g. Halliburton/Iraq, or for that matter, W. Bush and personal affront (i.e. Hussein)/Iraq.
    • We might also consider Iraq in the light of partisan aggrandizement as well, whether these partisans be corporations or fellow politicians.
  • “But…there are others [motives] which affect nations as often as Kings; and some of them will on examination be found to grow out of our relative situation and circumstances.”
    • A relevant distinction to make at the time, in a world still abounding with absolute monarchies (France) or constitutional monarchies (England). In any case, this segues into a detailed analysis of America’s geo-political situation.

 

In ¶4, J deals first with France and Britain:

  • “With France and with Britain we are rivals in the fisheries, and can supply their markets cheaper than they can themselves, notwithstanding any efforts to prevent it by bounties on their own, or duties on foreign fish.”
    • Our first real-world specific example.
    • “duties on foreign fish” is clear. I’m not sure hat J means by “bounties on their own.”  But it obviously refers to some kind of rigging of (their own domestic) markets in their own favor.

 

¶5 sees J turning to the rest of Europe generally:

  • “With most other European nations, we are rivals in navigation and the carrying trade; we shall deceive ourselves, if we suppose that any of them will rejoice to see it flourish…”
    • A clear-eyed analysis.
    • “navigation and the carrying trade” must simply mean shipping and transport, irrespective of the goods themselves.
  • “…for as our carrying trade cannot encrease, without in some degree diminishing their’s [sic], it is more their interest and will be more their policy, to restrain, than to promote it.”
    • The overall argument is probably more or less true, and most likely reflects the general thinking of the time. Yet it is interesting to note how J (and presumably other powers) view this as zero-sum.  After all, America, with its vast resources, could simply increase its overall production – and thereby shipping – without materially affecting the shipping of other nations.

 

J turns, in ¶6, to China and India:

  • “In the trade with China and India, we interfere with more than one nation, in as much as it enables us to partake in advantages which they had in a manner monopolized…”
    • I myself didn’t realize to what extent we were engaged in global trade at this early stage of our history.
  • “…and as we thereby supply ourselves with commodities which we used to purchase from them.”
    • Almost a throw-away passage. And yet, it serves to highlight how America is emerging as a) self-sufficient (or, at least, functionally independent of Euro-powers) and b) as a player on the world stage.

 

After addressing Europe and the Orient, ¶7 sees J pivot towards North America, which, of course, is of the most immediate interest:

  • “The extension of our own commerce in our own vessels…”
    • Even at this early stage, J sees America as an emerging power and as a legitimate rival to the older, established Euro-powers.
  • “…cannot give pleasure to any nation who possess territories in or near this Continent, because the cheapness and excellence of our productions, added to the circumstance of vicinity, and the enterprise and address of our merchants and navigators…”
    • “enterprise and address” – the hallmark of the American work-ethic, already present.
  • “…will give us a greater share in the advantages which those territories afford, than consists with the wishes or policy of their respective Sovereigns.”
    • J notes, without mentioning Providence, how America is uniquely situated to profit by the simple nature of its geography.
    • “Sovereigns” – again, America is, at this time, the only functioning democracy. All other great powers are governed by ‘Sovereigns’; even England, to whatever degree.
    • It is also worth noting, I think, that I have quoted the last five paragraphs in their entirety. This speaks, I think, to the tightness now of J’s arguments.  And shows that he is now, as the discussion is firmly in his wheelhouse, not wasting a single word.

 

¶8 addresses the physical/geo-political boundaries imposed upon America by Spain and Britain, who still, at this time, have holdings in North America:

  • “Spain thinks it convenient to shut the Mississippi against us on the one side, and Britain excludes us from the St. Lawrence on the other. Nor will either of them permit the other waters, which are between them and us, to become the means of mutual intercourse and traffic.”
    • In theory, ¶7 should have been enough. Yet, J drives the point home – and home, yes, to our very doorstep – with these specific examples.  In doing so, he brings a realness and immediacy to the issue which may not be apparent when considering China and India.
    • “between them and us” – J chooses to refer to ‘us’ de facto. In other words, the implication being, the default is that we are already one nation, one us.
      • Further to this, this is how things stand when we are united. Imagine how much worse if we allow ourselves to be broken apart, whether into individual States or 3-4 confederacies.
    • Note the structure of the first sentence, which is broadly parallel: Nation x deprives us of body-of-water a, and nation y deprives us of body-of-water b. Yet within this parallelism, J hides two rather subtle antitheses.  The first is in the choice of verbs and their objects.  Spain “shuts the M. against us,” while Britain “excludes us from the St.L.  More interesting, perhaps, is their respective methodologies, which are also antithetical.  Spain “thinks it convenient,” perhaps reflecting the capricious whims of an absolute monarchy.  Whereas Britain simply “excludes,” which may reflect the more (theoretically) rational processes of their parliamentary system.

 

With the scene clearly set, J begins to show in ¶9 how these conditions may fester into unjust or ‘pretended’ casus belli:

  • “From these and such like considerations…it is easy to see that jealousies and uneasiness may gradually slide into the minds and cabinets of other nations…”
    • “minds and cabinets” – interesting, as it stands in contrast to the ‘Sovereigns’ of ¶7. Perhaps the idea is that even in states that have parliaments (UK) or else royal counselors, this is inevitable.  Whether ruled by one man or many, human nature – ‘jealousies and uneasiness’ – cannot be avoided.
  • “…we are not to expect that they should regard our advancement in union, in power and consequence by land and by sea, with an eye of indifference and composure.”
    • For J, nobody is going to sit idly by and let a united America emerge as a major player. Only united can America defend its gains and continue to grow.  Whereas divided, the Euro-powers will take the first opportunity to snuff out the fledgling independent States/confederacies.

 

¶10 develops the potential threats outlined in ¶9 and then reiterates the prophylactic advantages of Union:

  • “The People of America are aware that inducements to war, may arise out of these circumstances, as well as others not so obvious at present…”
    • In the foregoing ¶‘s, J paints a pretty accurate picture of America’s current geo-political situation. Yet he is also aware that little things can become big things and that causes of war are essentially innumerable.
  • “…and that whenever such inducements may find fit time and opportunity for operation, pretences to colour and justify them will not be wanting.”
    • A bit ironic, perhaps. If one accepts the pretense that we went into Iraq for oil or familial revenge, nevertheless, it was ‘colour[ed] and justif[ied]’ by WMD which did not exist.  And so America itself would one day be guilty of that which J warns us to be ready for at the hands of other nations.
  • “Wisely therefore do they consider Union and a good national Government as necessary to put and keep them in such a situation as instead of inviting war, will tend to repress and discourage it. That situation consists in the best possible state of defence, and necessarily depends on the Government, the army and the resources of the country.”
    • The usual refrain for Union. What’s interesting is how J tacks on ‘the army and the resources of the country’ almost as a throw-away.  Up til now, I think, the argument has been efficiency of government and unity of policy.  And yes, mutual protection.  But the pooling of ‘army and resources’ I don’t think has been adequately addressed.  This will of course come to be the so-called “Arsenal of Democracy” some 150 years later.  But it seems that here, J either doesn’t fully recognize – or else takes for granted – America’s nascent industrial might; even if the industrial revolution has yet to really begin.
    • Rhetorically, there is a tendency in Demosthenes to put the most important point last, particularly when part of a long periodic sentence. Here, the first sentence is rather long and complex.  In it, he buries (while italicizing) the potential negative outcome (“inviting war”) and ends firmly on the positive (“will tend to repress and discourage it”).

 

¶11 sees J moving away from the ‘pretended’ causes of war and focusing more squarely on the advantages of Union per se:

  • “As the safety of the whole is the interest of the whole…let us inquire whether one good Government is not…more competent than any given number whatever.”
    • J takes for granted that the proposed ‘one Government’ will in fact be ‘good’; a point to which many would surely object.

 

¶12 is essentially an encomium to the quality of talent and the efficiency of government inherent in Union:

  • “One Government can collect and avail itself of the talents and experiences of the ablest men…”
    • Washingtons and Franklins for everybody!
  • “It can move in uniform principles of policy…In the formation of treaties it will regard the interest of the whole…It can apply the resources and power of the whole to the defence of any particular part, and that more easily and expeditiously than State Governments, or separate confederacies can possibly do…It can place the militia under one plan of discipline…and thereby render them more efficient than if divided into thirteen or three or four distinct independent bodies.”
    • A distinct enumeration of the benefits of Union vis-à-vis policy and defense. And by policy, presumably foreign

 

¶13 does little more than to illustrate the point of the previous ¶ by (hypothetical) analogy:

  • “What would the militia of Britain be, if the English militia obeyed the Government of England, if the Scotch militia obeyed the Government of Scotland, and if the Welsh militia obeyed the Government of Wales!”
    • To me, this seems an unnecessary and extraneous example. But I copy it here as Madison seems to have marked it out as being of particular importance.  Form where I stand, the point has already been well enough made.
    • Stylistically, it’s clear that J is enjoying himself here. The sentence would be tighter with a bit of ellipsis (why repeat twice “militia obeyed the Government of”?).  By this use of anaphora – the repetition of words or phrases – J nearly gives the feeling of shouting his point from the rostrum, with full-throated exuberance.  The exclamation point is the final touch on this (apparently) rare show of emotion.  (Perhaps this is what caused M to highlight the passage?).

 

In ¶14, J further pursues this more “oratorical” style as he develops the central argument of the previous ¶L:

  • “…and the time may come, if we are wise, when the fleets of America may engage attention.”
    • By focusing this ¶ on the British navy, J implies that if his prescriptions are followed, America has the potential to be a true rival and thus a world power.
    • Also of note here is J’s use (again, apparently rare) of apostrophe, of addressing the audience directly (“if we are wise”), rather than his usual indirect reference to the American “people.”
  • Otherwise, the paragraph is little more than an elaboration of ¶13. The purpose seems to be for J to give himself an opportunity to flex his rhetorical muscles.  He does this with metaphor and anaphora (which, to this point, he has generally avoided):
    • Metaphor:
      • “Britain…a nursery for seaman…”
      • “…their thunder would never have been celebrated.”
    • Anaphora:
      • Let England have its navigation and fleetLet Scotland have its navigation and fleet…Let Wales have its navigation and fleet…Let Ireland have its navigation and fleet…Let…
    • And finally the anaphora, in its final clause, pivots on an antithesis:
      • “…Let those four independent parts of the British empire be under four independent Governments, and it is easy to perceive how soon they would each dwindle into comparative insignificance…”

 

In ¶15, J turns applies the arguments of ¶13 & 14 back to America:

  • “Apply these facts to our own case – Leave America divided…what armies could they raise and pay, what fleets could they ever hope to have?”
    • The logical conclusion to ¶14.
  • “Would there be no danger of their [independent Governments] being flattered into neutrality by specious promises, or seduced by a too great fondness for peace to decline hazarding their tranquility and present safety for the sake of neighbors, of whom perhaps they have been jealous, and whose importance they are content to see diminished?”
    • Although J casts these as hypotheticals, no doubt he seeks to remind the readers of the very real rivalries that exist between the States.
  • “Although such conduct would not be wise, it would nevertheless be natural.”
    • Another classic J statement of “incontrovertible fact.”
      • But here he supports it with the example(s) of “The history of the States of Greece, and of other countries…” before suggesting that “it is not improbable that what has so often happened, would under similar circumstances happen again.”

 

¶16 begins with an unhappy picture of even the best possible outcome under disunion before closing with another argument for the efficacy of Union:

  • “But admit that they night be willing to help the invaded State or Confederacy…various difficulties and inconveniences would be inseparable from such a situation…”
    • Even the best case scenario under these conditions would be a “hot mess.” The ‘difficulties and inconveniences’ include:
      • “How and when, and in what proportion shall aids of men and money be afforded?”
      • Who shall command the allied armies, and from which of them shall he receive his orders?”
      • Who shall settle the terms of peace, and in the case of disputes what umpire shall decided between them, and compel acquiescence?”
    • “Whereas one Government watching over the general and common interests, and combining and directing the powers and resources of the whole, would be free from all these embarrassments, and conduce far more to the safety of the people.”
      • After using a tri-colon of rhetorical questions to illustrate the impracticability of ‘independent Governments,’ J states unambiguously the advantages of ‘one Government’ in the management of foreign affairs and the strengths of Union in concert.

 

¶17 – the final paragraph of this essay – sees J summing up with a predictive dose of Realpolitik before closing with an admonishing warning:

  • “But whatever may be our situation…certain it is, that foreign powers will know and view it exactly as it is; and they will act towards us accordingly.”
    • J’s Realpolitik prediction.
  • “If they see that our national Government is efficient and well administered…they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship, than provoke our resentment.”
    • He enumerates what he means by ‘efficient and well administered’:
      • “our trade prudently regulated…
      • “our militia properly organized and disciplined…
      • “our resources and finances discreetly managed…
      • “our credit re-established…
      • “our people free, contented, and united.”
        • Hidden in this is the assumption – taken as fact – that this would be the state of things under Union. He allows the reader to assume that all this would be guaranteed.  Allows?  No, encourages.
      • “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 a third to Spain, and perhaps played off against each other by the three, what a poor pitiful figure will America make in their eyes!”
        • First, J admits of a nation ‘destitute of an effectual Government’ only in the circumstance of disunion. He implies that Union would necessarily be ‘effectual.’
        • Second, the use of ‘convenient’ is an interesting choice. To me, this word implies emotional whim and would be better suited to a monarch (cf. ¶8).  Even independent States would still be republican democracies and would therefore be acting in their own “interests,” not out of ‘convenience.’  Or, if a republican democracy could be said to be acting from a place of ‘convenience,’ then this would be no less true of the Union as a whole.  Thus, if the Union ‘inclined’ to a particular foreign power, it would either be out of “interest” or else ‘convenience,’ no different from an independent State or confederacy.
        • Third, at the early stages, even a Union would be weaker than Britain, France or Spain and so almost certainly must ‘incline’ towards one or the other, even under conditions of ostensible “neutrality.” In this case, even a Union would be at risk of being used as a pawn and being played against one or more of the other Great Powers.
      • “How liable would she become not only to their contempt, but to their outrage; and how soon would dear bought experience proclaim, that when a people or family so divide, it never fails to be against themselves.”
        • Again J closes with a sort of admonition, warning the audience of the inevitable failure of disunion – the inevitable consequences of failing to adopt the constitution. In F.2, he does this by means of a Shakespearean quote (“Farewell, a long farewell to all my greatness.”).  In F.3, with a rhetorical question (“Would [Louis XIV] on any occasion either have demanded, or have received the like humiliation from Spain, or Britain, or any other powerful nation?”).  J seems to wish to impel his audience to action by means of leaving them with a lingering fear of the “inevitable” results of inaction.

The full text of Federalist No.4 can be found here.

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