The Federalist Project – #6

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 6

Hamilton

14 November, 1787

After the last four essays written by Jay, we return now to Hamilton.  Before diving in, I want to make a few short observations vis-à-vis their styles.  H has come down to us through history – and now again via Broadway – as the more gifted stylist of the two.  Indeed, thanks to the musical, he may even be surpassing Jefferson as the most gifted stylist of the age; at least in the popular imagination.  And by and large, I’ve so far found this to be true.

And yet.  And yet, he is wordy.  Wordy in that Mozartian “too many notes” kind of way.  It’s fantastic, it’s fun and, at times, over the top.  But there as a tightness to J’s writing, a sparseness, if such a thing could be said about the Greco-Latin influenced periodic prose of the 18th century.  He wasted no words, in my opinion.  Whereas H erects whole paragraphs of historical examples, which, really, we could probably live without.  J is more efficient.  H burns brighter.

This, at least, is my opinion after reading a mere six essays (2 H, 4 J).  In any case, Fed 6 sees H resuming J’s last argument.  Namely, that proximity without alliance breeds resentment and eventually conflict; and that commerce is no sure check against this.  H also begins to offer us his (rather dark, I dare say) views on human nature, as we shall soon see.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through J’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

In Paragraph One, H reminds the reader where we left off before stating his purpose for this essay:

  • “The three last numbers of this Paper have been dedicated to an enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations.”
    • H picks up where J left off.
    • “arts and arms” is a nice alliteration.
    • H makes no mention in the initial opening of ‘confederacy’ or ‘States,’ but goes straight to ‘disunion,’ replacing J’s positive word with a negative.
  • “I shall now proceed to delineate dangers of a different, and, perhaps, still more alarming kind, those which will in all probability flow from dissentions between States themselves, and from domestic factions and convulsions.”
    • The second sentence marks H’s first reference to the ‘States’ as well as to that of ‘faction.’
    • Again, we may note the alliteration: ‘delineate dangers…different…dissentions…domestic.’
  • “These have been already in some instances slightly anticipated, but they deserve a more particular and more full investigation.”
    • H announces the purpose of this essay.

 

Paragraph Two is not so much a statement or defense of H’s own views as an attack on those of the opposition:

  • “A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt, that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other.”
    • ‘A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations…’ – H immediately undercuts the rationality of the opposition.
    • H is rhetorically clever here. He presents the argument of the opposition, but inverts it.  This argument, if made by an opponent, would be negative; in other words, he would say that these things would not  But by hanging the argument off a doubt clause (‘doubt that…’), he allows himself to use their words in a positive construction – to say that these things would happen.
  • “To presume a want of motives for such contests, as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious.”
    • An indictment of human nature. Previously, J implied these things, either by historical example or by thought experiment, but never was he so direct; never did he describe ‘men’ so bluntly.
  • “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.”
    • Although he will soon dive into (many) specific examples, H paints here with the broadest possible brush.
    • ‘uniform course of human events,’ ‘accumulated experience of ages’ – H is much stronger in his characterizations than J. Where the latter often set out in a conciliatory tone, often speaking of things upon which all men can readily agree (I paraphrase), H is more combative.  History is the evidence – all of history – and those who are blind to it either cannot or will not see.”
    • ‘set at defiance’ – those who think this way are not merely wrong or misguided, they actively stand in the face of and challenge all available (and obvious) proof; no better than political Don Quixotes, tilting at historical – or present – Utopian windmills.

 

H addresses, in Paragraph Three, the ‘causes of hostility among nations’ in broad and general terms:

  • “The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. These are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society.”
    • H breaks them down into three categories. The first:
      • “The love of power or the desire of preeminence and dominion.”
        • Further described as “the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety.”
      • The second is described is having “a more circumscribed, though an equally operative influence, within their spheres”:
        • “The rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations.”
      • The third group is comprised of “others, not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin intirely in private passions.”
        • “In the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members.”
      • To this last group, he adds the following commentary:
        • “Men of this class, whether the favourites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquility to personal advantage, or personal gratification.”
      • We may sum up in this way. The first group is ascribed to collective bodies of society’ and the second to ‘commercial nations.’  These are offered as simple facts with no need of further explanation.  The third group is ascribed to ‘private persons’ and ‘men of this class’ [italics mine].  Only here dos H offer any sort of commentary, and again, it is that of his negative view of human nature, though more implicit here than in ¶2.  In the former, he says this is how men are; here hey says, this is what they do.
      • One might argue that he gives added rhetorical weight to his description of the third class by his use of assonance (‘in’): ‘intirely in,’ ‘inenmities, interests…individuals…in…

 

From Paragraphs Four, Five and Six, no lengthy quotations need be given; an overview will suffice.  In each case, H cites, in detail, the historical examples of two well-known individuals.  In ¶4, it is the ‘celebrated Pericles.’  What is worth noting here, is that as far as his contemporary Thucydides was concerned, P was a heroic figure and represented the best that Athenian democracy had to offer.  But we know that the Founders – especially those of the Federalist bent (amongst whom H must be counted) – were not fans of direct democracy (the Athenian model), preferring rather the Roman republican model.  It is also worth noting that he draws his examples, not from Thucydides, but from Plutarch, who wrote several hundred years later.  Even for Plutarch, P was a noble figure.  Yet it is in his writings that the unflattering examples are be taken.  The only negative to be found in Thucydides is the plague at Athens, which was an unintended consequence of an otherwise sound policy, rather than avarice, lust for power or uxoriousness – the examples here given.
In ¶‘s Five and Six, the example is Henry VIII’s minster Cardinal Wolsey, where the nature of the examples given are much the same as those supplied for P.  I hazard the supposition that this example – that of an Englishman – was chosen with care, in that it would be wholly familiar to an American audience.  In terms of history, in that it is not so distant.  And by ethnicity, in that the English are most near to the Americans in terms of culture, language, &c.  Thus, it is in the English, that the Americans are most likely to see themselves.
In any case, by choosing two examples so different from one another – at least superficially: different cultures, languages, religions, systems of government, and separated by over 1,000 years – he demonstrates the universality of (flawed) human nature.

 

In Paragraph Seven, H notes that it is hardly necessary to give further examples from history, which abounds with them.  He then closes by supplying a contemporary example:

  • “To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the production of great national events, either foreign or domestic, according to their direction would be an unnecessary waste of time.”
    • Far be it from me to criticize the great H, but for one concerned with wasting time, he is at no want for a lack of verbiage, as this ¶ – and the preceding three – show.
  • “Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from which they are to be drawn will themselves recollect a variety of instances; and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will not stand in need of such lights, to form their opinion either of the reality or extent of that agency.”
    • A clever bit of antithesis, for who would openly avow themselves as being ignorant both of history and of human nature? Thus, even his enemies must be with him on this point, or else declare themselves ignorant at best, fools at worst.
    • ‘Superficial acquaintance’ can hardly be a casual choice of words. Indeed, it stands in direct contrast with the deep knowledge of history just demonstrated by H.
  • “Perhaps however a reference, tending to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves. If SHAYS had not been a desperate debtor it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.”
    • H cleverly cloaks his argument in the garment of detached rationality: “Perhaps…a reference…may with propriety me made…”. Yet, I assume it had – or, at least, that H meant for it to have – a rather different effect.  Whereas the examples of Pericles and Wolsey are relatively ancient history, Shay’s Rebellion is nothing short of current events (1786-7).  As such, it would almost certainly play upon the emptions of the readership in ways that the foregoing could not possibly.  Ending the paragraph with the highly charged words ‘civil war’ only hammers it home that much harder.

 

To this point, H has largely confined himself to arguing against the notion that neighboring confederacies would be naturally friendly towards one another.  In Paragraph Eight, he begins to rebut the idea that commercial relations are a guarantor of piece:

  • “But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular, there are still to be found visionary, or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the States, though dismembered and alienated from each other.”
    • ‘visionary’ – to our modern eyes, this word has only a positive connotation. Was it so in 1787, or could it also be negative?  If not, then it is sharply ironic.  Thus, ‘designing’ either reinforces it, or else stands in contrast to highlight the irony.
    • ‘perpetual peace’ – a nice bit of alliteration.
    • ‘dismembered – calls to mind the idea dating at least to the middle ages, and still then current – I believe – of the body politic as a literal body, with the executive as head, military as arms, &c. Thus, to ‘dismember’ the Union is to literally take apart a very real body.
  • “The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men and to extinguish those inflammable humours which have so often kindled into wars.”
    • We can perhaps agree with H, from the perspective of our own age of rampant and barely-checked capitalism, that commerce does little to ‘soften the manners of men.’
    • By identifying the ‘humours’ as ‘inflammable,’ H highlights the implied/inherent impossibility of their extinguishment.
    • We should also note the assonance: manners of men,’ ‘softenso often.’
  • “Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other [continues the opposition argument]. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and accord.”
    • Current history would seem to agree with that which H finds so laughable.  The European Union would be a prime example; or the US and Canada; or the US & Europe, &c.  But of course this is all post 1945, and can fairly be labeled as a “small sample size.”  And where we have engaged in war post 1945, it has been with nations who have not been our economic partners; e.g. Vietnam, Iraq, &c.  But perhaps this is a superficial analysis on my part.  In any case, I must conclude, for myself at least, that the jury is still out on this question.
    • Note: I wrote the above comments before President Trump instituted his tariffs against Canada, and – for the moment, at least – seems to have endangered our relationship with that country. But even still, a war between is must still be considered unfathomable.

 

Paragraph Nine continues the theme, arguing that commercial interests under any form of government are no guarantee of security because men are men:

  • “Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit?”
    • With this, H opens a series of rhetorical questions which make up ¶9. But in this first one, he casts the (implicitly) naïve argument of the opposition.  All that follow are his own counter-arguments.
  • “If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions and immediate interests have a more active and imperious controul [sic] over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • Simply a recasting of his previous arguments in the form of a rhetorical question.
  • “Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter?  Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships and desires of unjust acquisition that affect nations as well as kings?  Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities?”
    • H gives further depth and color to his view of human nature. It is perhaps striking to our modern eye – so fond of democracy – to see ‘the people’ painted with the same brush as monarchies and kings.  We will see how H develops his views in the coming essays, but it is diffiuclt here not to see that for H, the constitution is not so much an expression of human nature as a check against it.
  • “Is it not well known that their [popular assemblies’] determinations are often governed by a few individuals, in whom they place confidence, and are of course liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals? Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • ‘…governed by a few individuals, in whom they place confidence…’ – It is impossible for anyone even ‘superficially acquainted’ with history not to see in this a direct allusion to the already cited example Pericles. Nor would it be lost on anyone with such a ‘superficial acquaintance’ with the history, that Athens was very much a commercial empire; in a way that Sparta, e.g., was not.
  • “Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power and glory?”
    • An accusation that would later be leveled against the Founders themselves.
  • “Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives, since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned b[y] the cupidity of territory or dominion?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • I presume he speaks of the post-Columbian period and wars in and about the New World. But for me, it is hard to separate ‘commercial motives’ from those of ‘cupidity of territory or dominion,’ as the latter necessarily yields the former, whether in natural resources or human.
  • “Has not the spirit of commerce in many instances administered new incentives to the appetite both for the one and for the other?”
    • The ‘appetite’ always was – is and will be – present, as an inherent feature of human nature. ‘Commerce” simply gives it a new avenue for expression.
  • “Let experience the least fallible guide of human opinions be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.”
    • After a series of 12 rhetorical questions, H closes with the first and only statement of the ¶. By calling on ‘experience’ to answer these questions, he yields to a higher authority than himself, and one which is inherently harder for his opposition to gainsay.

 

In Paragraphs 10-14, H steps through a series of historical examples to show that commercial nations are as prone to war as any other.  I do not think much value is to be added to this analysis by quoting them in their entirety.  That said, M marked them out as being of special value, at least to him.  Therefore, a brief overview:

  • ¶10-11: Athens and Sparta; Carthage and Rome. H identifies Athens and Carthage as ‘commercial Republics’ and as instigators of the Peloponnesian war and the Punic wars respectively.  He also notes that both were ultimately defeated in those wars.  Special mention is made of Hannibal and Scipio, the generals of Carthage and Rome respectively.  No mention is here made of Pericles or any other Athenian general, nor of Leonidas or any other Spartan.
  • ¶12: The example is of Venice, which, H notes, ‘figured more than once in wars of ambition.’ He concludes by noting that Pope Julius II established a league against them which ultimately dealt a ‘deadly blow to the power and pride of that haughty Republic.’
  • ¶13: H here cites the Provinces of Holland as taking ‘a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe.’ He notes their ‘furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea’ and that they were ‘among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Lewis [sic] XIV.’
  • ¶14: As in ¶4-6, H’s final example is that of England, where, he notes, ‘the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature.’ I give here the last two sentences in full, as they serve as a succinct summary of these five paragraphs wholly:
    • “Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country. Few nations, nevertheless, have been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars, in which that Kingdom has been engaged, have in numerous instances proceeded from the people.”
      • We should note the verb tense in the final main clause, for H surely chose this with care. The use of the present perfect (‘has been engaged’) shows that this is still very much the current state of affairs with England; and by extension, would be the state of affairs for America if the proponents of disunion were to win out.  Although he begins in the 5th century B.C., he, after stepping nimbly through the ages, ends in the present day.  In so doing, he shows again that human nature – his view of it – has been constant for at least 2,300 years.

 

In Paragraph 15, H argues that representative governments can, in fact, be worse than monarchies:

  • “There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars. The cries of the nation and the importunities of their representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchy into war, or continued them in contrary to their inclinations, and, sometimes, contrary to the real interest of the State.”
    • The people are as dangerous – sometimes more dangerous – than a person, argues H. he goes on to cite ‘that memorable struggle, between the rival Houses of Austria and Bourbon which so long kept Europe in a flame…’  He notes further that ‘the antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition, or rather the avarice of a favorite leader [the Duke of Marlborough (H’s note)] protracted the war beyond the limits marked out by sound policy and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the Court.’

 

H clarifies his position, in Paragraph 16, that commercial nations are prone to war:

  • “The wars of these two last mentioned nations have in great measure grown out of commercial considerations – The desire of supplanting and the fear of being supplanted either in particular branches of traffic or in the general advantages of trade and navigation; and sometimes even the more culpable desire of sharing in the commerce of other nations without their consent.”
    • In the foregoing paragraphs, H contented himself with the simple recounting of historical examples. Here, finally, he gives the reasons why ‘commercial States’ are as prone to war as any other; if not more prone.
    • ‘sharing in the commerce of other nations without their consent’ – Presumably, H is referring, at least in part, to smuggling; something which the Americans themselves were not entirely innocent of. While I am not sure to what degree, if any, smuggling was going on in 1787, I seem to recall that not long before, the colonists were running a tidy smuggling racket in molasses from the West Indies; and that this was more or less common knowledge.  Assuming I have that right, we might assume that this last comment would ring a little louder in the ears of the readership.

 

We may also deal with Paragraph 17 in a summary fashion.  Here, H gives the examples of ‘the last war but two between Britain and Spain.,’  The gist is that ‘illicit trade with the Spanish main’ on the part of the British led to disproportionately harsh reprisals by the Spanish which led to harsher again reprisals by the British; and ultimately war.  Within this, there are two passages worth giving in full:

  • “…and by the usual progress of a spirit of resentment, the innocent were after a while confounded with the guilty in indiscriminate punishment.”
    • The key phrase here is ‘usual progress.’ And with it, just a little more light is shed on H’s conception of human nature.
  • “…and a war ensued, which in its consequences overthrew all the alliances that but twenty years before had been formed, with sanguine expectations of the most beneficial fruits.”
    • This stands as parallel to – or forewarning of – the suggested alliances that would exist between confederacies or individual States should disunion occur.

 

In Paragraph 18, H begins to draw together his ultimate conclusion.  In this paragraph, he invites the reader to agree with him through another series of rhetorical questions:

  • “From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries, which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation?”
    • H’s first rhetorical question – in this series of three, which make up the paragraph – is narrow, as its focus is solely on the examples of ‘other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own.” He expands on this in the next…
  • “Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?”
    • H broadens the scope of his rhetorical interrogation by moving beyond ‘other nations, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own,’ to now include ‘society in every shape.’
    • The choice of words, so freighted with disdain, are striking in their depiction of his view of human nature and any and all resultant ‘societies.’ These words – ‘fallacy and extravagance,’ ‘idle theories,’ ‘imperfections, weaknesses and evils’ – are no doubt calculated to arrest not only the intellectual attention of the reader, but indeed his emotional attention.
  • “Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the inhabitants of the glove, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?”
    • Although given in question form, H in fact leaves no room to question his analysis. The reader is not invited to consider H’s views and then, even if reluctantly, to agree with him.  The analysis is given as fact.  The question, really, for the reader to consider, is weather they will agree with H on what to do about it.  By ending this paragraph with a rhetorical question, the reader is allowed to reach the right conclusion – H’s conclusion – ‘on his own.’
    • H cleverly paints the opposition’s picture in Utopian terms. Both H and any informed reader would know the Greek origin of the word ‘Utopia’, which means “no place.”  In other words, it is a fantasy, a ‘deceitful dream’ which can not possibly exist.  This is the effect of closing the ¶ with the words ‘happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue.’

 

Paragraph 19 serves as the answer to the rhetorical questions offered in the preceding ¶:

  • “Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit has sunk – le the inconveniences felt every where from a lax and ill administration of government – let the revolt of a part of the State of North Carolina – the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts declare!”
    • H now answers his rhetorical questions with a series of exclamatory 3rd person imperatives.
    • My history is too weak to know to what he refers in NC; PA, I thought, was a reference to the “Whiskey Rebellion.” But that is dated 1791-4 and this essay 1787; so again I stand in ignorance.  MA almost certainly refers to the aforementioned “Shays’ Rebellion.”  In any case, the point is clearly and ably made.  There is already violent discord among commercially connected neighbors.  The opposition cannot even pretend to current state of tranquility.

 

Paragraph 20 is the final paragraph of this essay.  In it, H states once more his view of human nature before giving his proposed solution to the problem via a quotation:

  • “So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the tenets of those, who endeavor to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord and hostility between the States, in the even of disunion, that it has from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom in politics, that vicinity, or nearness of situation, constitutes nations natural enemies.”
    • In this long periodic sentence, H once again makes mention of the nature of man (‘the sense of mankind’), before briefly outlining the opposing argument, and then finally disposing of it by noting that his own position has ‘become a sort of axiom in politics.’
    • We should also note the assonance of the repeated N’s in his final four words: ‘constitutes nations natural en’ We might even fancy that this gives the closing a strong negative sound, as in ‘No!’
  • “An intelligent writer expresses himself on the subject to this effect – ‘NEIGHBORING NATIONS (say they) are natural ENEMIES of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy, which disposes States to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.’1 This passage, at the same time points out the EVIL and suggest the REMEDY.”
    • H, once again, stakes for himself the position of the ‘intelligent’ man. But by giving his own position in the words of another, he reinforces it with a further degree of authority.
    • His final sentence states succinctly what he has, by now, already stated at (great) length, many times over. Namely that the problem is clear.  Equally clear, is the course to be taken.

 

The full text of Federalist No.6 can be found here.

  1. The quotation, per H’s own citation: Vide Principes des Negotiations, par L’Abbe de Malby. []

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