The Federalist Project – #5

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 5


10 November, 1787


Ostensibly on the advantages of Union, Federalist No. 5 – Jay’s last contribution to the series – really focuses on the dangers of dis-union and the various hypothetical futures which might attend it.  Several historical examples are also given in support of the argument.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through J’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

Paragraph One begins with a nod to historical authority, in the form of a letter by England’s Queen Ann to the Scottish Parliament:

  • “Queen Ann, in her letter of the 1st July 1706 to the Scotch Parliament, makes some observations on the importance of the Union then forming between England and Scotland, which merit our attention.”
    • J begins by laying the groundwork for – preparing the reader to – expect a discussion on the manifold advantages of Union. Yet this line of argument does not really get beyond the second paragraph.  Thereafter, it is about the disadvantages of disunion.  But first, Ann’s argument for:
  • “An entire and perfect Union will be the solid foundation of lasting peace: It will serve your religion, liberty, and property, remove the animosities amongst yourselves, and the jealousies and differences betwixt our two kingdoms.”
    • Interesting that she (and by extension, J) leads with ‘serve your religion.’ Though I am no student of Scotch/English history, I know that there were plenty of religious wars between them, of the Catholic/Protestant variety.  Whose religion, then, is being served?  Or does she here mean the freedom to practice freely the religion of one’s own choosing?  If so, that would be interesting in itself, as it is not that long (1620) that the Puritans feld religious persecution in coming to the New World.  And can J really mean the freedom to practice freely the religion of one’s own choosing?  On the one hand, no doubt America is religiously pluralistic: Anglicans, Catholics, Puritans, Quakers, et al; even Jews.  On the other hand, H himself sang the praises of a nation which ‘Providence has been pleased to give…to one united people…professing the same religion…’ (F.2.5).  Therefore, I must conclude at least, that whatever its advantages, Union is hardly a guarantee of the “security” of religion, at least, any more than separate States or confederacies would be.
  • “It must encrease your strength, riches, and trade: And by this Union the whole Island, being joined in affection and free from all apprehensions of different interest, will be enabled to resist all its enemies.”
    • ‘It must encrease your strength, riches, and trade’ – This, no doubt, is the strongest – and most incontrovertible – of arguments.
    • ‘…being joined in affection and free from all apprehensions of different interest…’ – This is almost laughable. How many Scots – then or now – speak of England with ‘affection’?  As for ‘free from all apprehensions of different interest,’ I highly doubt this was absolutely true of England and Scotland, even if it were comparatively true vis-à-vis the time before Union.  As for the US, this would hardly be true of the various sections (i.e. North/South) in Union, certainly up to the Civil War.  One may even question how true it is now, to a certain degree (e.g. Coasts v. Heartland) when looking at strictly domestic  Though one must concede that the argument stands scrutiny when considering Union vis-à-vis foreign affairs.
  • “…[Union] being the only effectual way to serve our present and future happiness; And disappoint the designs of our and your enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, use their utmost endeavours to prevent or delay this Union.”
    • This will essentially serve as the Leitmotif of J’s arguments in this essay.


¶ 2 simply restates the thrust of F.4:

  • “It was remarked in the preceding Paper, that weakness and division at home, would invite dangers from abroad; And that nothing would tend more to secure us from them than Union, strength, and good Government within ourselves. This subject is copious and cannot easily be exhausted.”
    • F.5 is not all that different than F.4.  It makes much the same argument, and in much the same way.


J is always strongest, in my mind, when he bases his arguments in cold reality, whether that be the current geo-political situation or historical example.  In ¶3, J makes use of the latter:

  • “The history of Great Britain is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted, and it gives us many useful lessons. We may profit by their experience, without paying the price which it cost them.”
    • Right enough, and thus a good starting point. Though as for ‘the price which it cost them,’ I’m not sure what he means.  Perhaps this would be more obvious to the contemporary reader.
  • “Altho’ it seems obvious to common sense, that the people of such an island, should be but one nation, yet we find that they were for ages divided into three, and that those three were almost constantly embroiled in quarrels and wary with one another.”
    • How, in any sense of the word, is that ‘obvious’? Of the three, the weaker two – Scotland & Wales – were of a different ethnicity (Celtic opp. Germanic/Anglo-Norman), speaking their own distinct languages and having their own different histories.  Foregoing the earlier Roman and then Germanic (to say nothing of Norse) invasions, which pushed aside the native Celts (Britons included), the fact that they were ‘embroiled in quarrels and wary’ owes far more to English aggression, and ultimately domination, than to anything else.  And their eventual Union owed far more to England’s comparative strength than to anything that might be termed ‘affection.’  That said, problems of historical accuracy aside, the argument serves rhetorically to prepare the reader to agree with the real point of the paragraph, to wit:
  • “Notwithstanding their true interest, with respect to the continental nations was really the same, yet by the arts and practices of those nations, their mutual jealousies were perpetually kept enflamed…”
    • Here we get to the main point. They have more in common in terms of interest than they do with any other powers.
  • “…and for a long series of years they were far more inconvenient and troublesome, than they were useful and assisting to each other.”
    • This is essentially a re-stating of his warning that ‘independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies…[could] perhaps [be] played off against each other’ (F.4.17). But here it is given the weight of historical example.


In ¶4, J holds forth on the probable outcome(s) of disunion:

  • “Should the people of America divide themselves into three or four nations, would not the same thing happen? Would not similar jealousies arise; and be in like manner cherished?  Instead of their being “joined in affection, and free from all apprehension of different interest” [sic] envy and jealousy would soon extinguish confidence and affection, and the partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America, would be the only objects of their policy and pursuits.”
    • The rhetorical questions follow logically from the preceding paragraph. J then answers his own rhetorical questions.  The conclusion, based on his arguments, is logically sound.  The question is, does he imply such a rosy picture of Union while underestimating the degree of division between the sections, or to present a counterweight to those same divisions?  With knowledge of the Civil War to come, it may feel to the modern reader that he underestimates them.  Yet by giving the negative outcome of disunion so clearly and forcefully, it suggests that he has a firm grasp of the underlying problems and divisions inherent among the States.
  • “Hence like most other bordering nations, they would always be either envolved in disputes and war, or live in the constant apprehension of them.”
    • As an argument, it is more or less redundant. However, it is an interesting insight into what was considered the natural order of things at the time – and indeed up to 1945.  Yet we can look at Europe today, or our relations with Canada and Mexico, and see that this hardly need be considered de facto  Could J ever have imagined a world like this?


¶5 sees J directly addressing the proponents of smaller confederacies.  In so doing, he argues that nothing resembling a reasonable balance of power can be long maintained, if it is even possible to establish such a balance at the outset:

  • “The most sanguine advocates for three or four confederacies, cannot reasonably suppose that they would long remain exactly on an equal footing in point of strength, even if it was possible to form them so at first…”
    • Although J grudgingly admits of a (brief) theoretical equality between confederacies, he essentially sees the enterprise as effectively zero-sum. If one succeeds, another – or all others – must fail.  However, I fail to see why.  If all the constituent parts of the Union have what it takes to succeed together, does it not stand to reason that they could each do so separately?  Tearing themselves apart through jealousy is one thing.  Simply not being able to succeed on their own merits seems quite another.  But we will examine this further in the course of this essay…
  • “…but admitting that to be practicable, yet what human contrivance can secure the continuance of such equality.”
    • This is little more than rhetorical fluff, as the point is already made well enough in the first part of the sentence. But the rhetoric is worth looking at.  We should note the strong language: ‘what human contrivance.’  The proposal is beyond difficult, J argues.  So far beyond difficult in fact, that it exceeds human capacity.  It is thus virtually impossible.  Also of note is the assonance: ‘contrivance…continuance.’  Both words start and end with the same sound.  Finally, it is a rhetorical question, yet he ends with a period.  It is not even worth trying to answer against it.  It is as good as fact.
  • “Independent of those local circumstances which tend to beget and encrease power in one part, and to impede its progress in another…”
    • Presumably, he is referring to natural resources, technological development, internal improvements, etc. J treats this as a throwaway, yet to me, it is far more important than his main argument, which follows…
  • “…we must advert to the effects of that superior policy and good management which would probably distinguish the Government of one above the rest, and by which their relative equality and in strength and consideration, would be destroyed.”
    • “In other words, the quality of one Government must necessarily be superior to others, and to the detriment of others. It would be lovely to think that by this he somehow means that a Northern confederacy, free from slavery, would inherently be of a better and stronger Government than a Southern confederacy based on slavery, and that this must lead to a diminution of the power and strength of such a confederacy.  Yet, if he does mean this, it is super-buried, for he seems really to be speaking in the usual J-esque axiomatic absolutes.
  • “For it cannot be presumed that the same degree of sound policy…would uniformly be observed by each of these confederacies, for a long succession of years.”
    • The key here is ‘for a long succession of years,’ set off by a comma, which otherwise seems unnecessary. (Though admittedly, trying to read into commas of this era – and J’s in particular – may be a bit of a fool’s errand).  In any case, this is a direct rebuke of those who would argue that separate confederacies would absolutely establish good Governments.  Perhaps they could – at the outset, J argues.  But it won’t, nay can’t, last.  This argument from the future is, of course, unprovable.  And J knows this.  Thus he will make the case in the following paragraphs.


In ¶5, J predicts a collapse of cooperation and failure to achieve a balance of power.  In ¶6, he paints a more vivid picture of what that would look like:

  • “Whenever, and from whatever causes, it might happen; and happen it would, that any one of these nations or confederacies should rise on the scale of political importance much above the degree of their neighbours, that moment would those neighbours behold her with envy and with fear…”
    • J here continues his argument from ¶5, driving home the point as a fait accompli that a state of equality could not long endure. With his ‘and happen it would,’ he brooks no room for debate on this subject.
  • “…Both those passions [envy and fear] would lead them to countenance, if not to promote, whatever might promise to diminish her importance; and would also restrain them from measures calculated to advance, or even to secure her prosperity.”
    • J continues to see petty rivalries as a greater motivating factor than what he calls ‘interest,’ which would guide a Union.
  • “Much time would not be necessary to enable her to discern these unfriendly dispositions – She would soon begin, not only to lose confidence in her neighbours, but also to feel a disposition equally unfavorable to them: Distrust naturally creates distrust, and by nothing is good will and kind conduct more speedily changed, than by invidious jealousies and uncandid imputations, whether expressed or implied.”
    • J foresees an inevitable cascade of failures:
      • Discern unfriendly dispositions à lose confidence/feel equally unfriendly à mutual distrust à jealousies/uncandid or implied imputations à end of good will.
    • One other thought, and I am almost hesitant to write this. J here speaks of an individual nation/confederacy as a ‘she.’  And here also he imputes to ‘her’ emotional characteristics: unfavorable disposition, distrust, good will and kind conduct, invidious jealousy, expressed and implied imputations.  Does this in any way reflect the latent sexism of the period, i.e. that women were ‘emotional’ and unstable?  Or is it simply that any nation in any context would be referred to as a ‘she,’ and that the conduct described is natural to politics, to the men who operate governments, to human nature in general?  A very brief check of where J mentions other nations shows no use of singular pronouns, so I can, at the moment, add nothing more.  And since this is J’s last essay, there may not be much more to find.  Still, I shall endeavor to keep on eye on this going forward…


In ¶7, J speculates, rather presciently, on what a Northern and a Southern might look like, and what their relationship to each other would likely be:

  • “The North is generally the region of strength, and many local circumstances render it probable, that the most Northern of the proposed confederacies would, at a point not very distant, be unquestionably more formidable than any of the others.”
    • J here breaks from his theoreticals and hypotheticals and returns to the real world, and in so doing, suggests a very real, probable and believable outcome.
    • ‘local circumstances’ are left unexplained and to the reader’s imagination. We should naturally assume strength of economy, size and activity of ports, cities, internal improvements, etc.  Left unstated also, but hopefully implied, are the deleterious effects of slavery on the South and their corresponding absence in the North.  We would also do well to remember that in these pre-cotton gin times, cotton was not yet king, the South was not the (cotton-based) economic power it would later become, and slavery not as profitable as it would later be.
  • “No sooner would this become evident, than the Northern Hive would excite the same Ideas and sensations in the more Southern party of America, which it formerly did in the Southern parts of Europe.”
    • By italicizing and capitalizing ‘Northern Hive’ and by comparing it to Europe, J seems to be referencing some historical circumstance which, presumably would be known to the reader. For my part, I do not know to what he refers.
  • “Nor does it appear to be a rash conjecture, that its young swarms might often be tempted to gather honey in the more blooming fields and milder air of their luxurious and more delicate neighbors.”
    • Another rare use of metaphor by J. And as with the previous example, in which he spoke of Britain (cf. F.4.14), he here uses it to describe a real-world example, rather than one of his academic theoreticals or hypotheticals.  In both cases, he can hardly be said to have gone overboard in restricting himself to two metaphors in each instance (‘nursery for seamen,’ ‘prowess and thunder’ in the former; ‘young swarms,’ and ‘gather honey’ in the latter).  Though to be sure, this passage is far more poetic than the previous, using four adjectives (‘blooming fields,’ ‘milder air,’ ‘luxurious, delicate neighbors’).  We should also note the mild use of anaphora in his double use of the comparative ‘more’.


In ¶8, J essentially restates his the previous argument, but in more general terms:

  • “Those who well consider the history of similar divisions and confederacies…that those in contemplation would in no other sense be neighbors, than as they would be borderers; that they would neither love nor trust one another, but on the contrary would be a prey to discord, jealousy and mutual injuries; in short that they would place us exactly in the situation which some other nations doubtless wish to see us, viz. formidable only to each other.”
    • Essentially a rehashing of the foregoing. But after the very specific picture painted in ¶7, J returns again to the vague and theoretical, leaving it to the audience to imagine for themselves what this might look like, and what nations might be the source of our troubles.  In this way, those who most perceive France as a threat or enemy are sure to imagine France, those England, England, etc.  And again, he ends with a warning.
    • “discord, jealousy and mutual injuries” – J seems largely predisposed to using the Oxford (serial) comma. Yet here he avoids it.  I cannot see that there is even the slightest shade or variation of meaning expressed by its omission.  On the contrary, I think it highlights the dangers of trying to read too much into the use of commas generally from this period.


J counters directly, in ¶9, those holding the opposing view:

  • “From these considerations it appears that those Gentlemen are greatly mistaken, who suppose that alliances offensive and defensive might be found between these confederacies…which would be necessary to put and keep them in a formidable state of defence against foreign enemies.”
    • J rejects again the feasibility of disunion. By invoking real ‘Gentlemen,’ he uses this paragraph to pivot away from the theoretical and back to the real world with its real players.
    • We should also not that here, as in the previous paragraph, J closes with the adjective ‘formidable.’ But in ¶8, the divided States are formidable only to each other.  Here, they fail to be formidable against their enemies.


J uses ¶10 as ground to analyze the real-world geopolitical situation, and to make predictions based on those analyses:

  • “When did the independent states into which Britain and Spain were formerly divided, combine in such alliances, or unite their forces against a foreign enemy?”
    • By posing this as a rhetorical question, J is confident in having the reader’s agreement.
  • “The proposed confederacies will be distinct nations.”
    • But how distinct, I wonder. Remember J’s encomium on the one-ness of the American people in F2.5?  Slavery not withstanding, do the American people have more or less in common than the English/Scots/Welsh or Castile/Aragon?  The answer seems to depend on the argument J is trying to make.
  • “Each of them would have its commerce with foreigners to regulate by distinct treaties; and as their production and commodities are different, and proper for different markets, so would those treaties be essentially different. Different commercial concerns must create different interests, and of course different degrees of political attachment to, and connection with different foreign nations.”
    • J the diplomat returns, and as usual, his analysis is clear-eyed and realistic. No coincidence then, that he here speaks of ‘interest’ rather than ‘convenience,’ ‘jealousy,’ and the like.
  • “Hence it might and probably would happen, that the foreign nations with whom the Southern confederacy might be at war, would be the one, with whom the Northern confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.”
    • Very astute. During the Civil War, the South would try to engage England, with whom they had strong economic ties, to their cause.  And of course, the North feared this greatly.  Only the question of slavery, not here addressed (and apparently never addressed by J in these essays) prevented it.
  • “An alliance so contrary to their immediate interests would not therefore be easy to form, nor if formed, would it be observed and fulfilled with perfect good faith.”
    • Once again, J ends the paragraph with an unambiguous prediction of failure if the constitution is not adopted.


In ¶11, J continues his predictions begun in the previous paragraph before pivoting to a historical example:

  • “Nay it is far more probable that in America, as in Europe, neighboring nations, acting under the impulse of opposite interest, and unfriendly passions, would frequently be found taking different sides.”
    • Here J, in his warning, combines ‘interests’ and ‘passions.’ This is a fitting summation of all his previous analyses.
  • “Considering our distance from Europe, it would be more natural for these confederacies to apprehend danger from one another, than from distant nations, and therefore that each of them should be more desirous to guard against the others, by aid of foreign alliances, than to guard against foreign dangers by alliances between themselves.”
    • Once again, J bases his arguments on what is ‘natural,’ leaving the reader little room to argue the point within himself.
  • “And let us not forget how much more easy it is to receive foreign fleets into our ports, and foreign armies into our country, than it is to persuade or compel them to depart.”
    • No doubt the quartering of British troops in American homes and British ships in American ports during the Revolution is still fresh in J’s mind; and no doubt he assumes it is just as fresh in the minds of his readers. And we should remember that New York City – to whom this essay is largely addressed – was occupied by the British for most of the war.
  • “How many conquests di the Romans and others make in the character of allies, and what innovations did they under the same character introduce into the Governments of those whom they pretended to protect.”
    • This question, and the previous, were marked out by M as being of special import. To my eye, however, J jumps rather quickly from foreign alliances to inevitable occupation.  Especially in light of the geographic distance, which he paints as an advantage when it suits him.
    • And again, we see rhetorical questions written with a period rather than a question mark, which paints them more as fact than question.


In ¶12, J’s last in the Federalist, he calls for sound judgment, albeit on his terms and based on the analyses he has presented:

  • “Let candid men judge then whether the division of America into any given number of independent sovereignties would tend to secure us against the hostilities and improper interference of foreign nations.”
    • J closes his last Federalist essay with a call to judgment based on what he has argued rather than a dark warning or prediction, as in his previous essays. In a sense, he can be seen to be encouraging his readership, showing confidence in them to make the right decision.  From this point on, it will be H & M making the arguments.  J has said his piece.

The full text of Federalist No.5 can be found here.

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