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. []

The Federalist Project – #5

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 5

Jay

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.

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.

The Federalist Project – #3

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 3

Jay

3 November, 1787

The third Federalist, as the second, is composed by John Jay.  This essay is more squarely in J’s wheelhouse, as it deals with the advantages of Union (again, almost always capitalized) vis-à-vis foreign affairs; and to a lesser extent vis-à-vis internal stability.  The essay is more firmly grounded in the real world, rather than theory, and is, in my opinion, the stronger for it.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through his arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

 

  • “It is not a new observation that the people of any country (if like the Americans intelligent and well informed) seldom adopt, and steadily preserve for many years in, an erroneous opinion respecting their interests.”
    • Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure…
    • Anyway, J opens again with a ‘we can all agree’ position.
  • “…the high opinion which the people of America have so long and uniformly entertained of the importance of their continuing firmly united under one Fœderal Government…”
    • ipso facto: “intelligent and well informed” people don’t keep bad opinions for long; Americans are “intelligent and well informed” and have had this opinion for a while…therefore it must be right and good.

 

In the third Paragraph, J introduces the main theme of the essay: Safety:

  • “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.”
    • There’s something interesting going on here. J stipulates that the people must first be “free.”  That is, “safety” can’t be addressed until independence (in this case from Britain) is secured.  However, it strikes me that this argument cuts both ways.  For surely, the opposition would view themselves as being ‘unfree’ under one (in their eyes) too-powerful Fœderal Government, and would themselves be in no position to address their own (and ‘sovereign’) “safety.”
    • Be that as it may, J will, in the the next paragraph, define safety “precisely and comprehensively.”

 

Paragraph Four sets out that definition:

  • “At present I mean only to consider it [i.e. safety] as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquility, as well as against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes.”
    • Now J moves into an area where he can, and does, speak with greater clarity and authority – real world policies (opp. theory). As we will see, his reasoning is largely based on history and practical experience as well as America’s current geo-political relationships.
  • “…a cordial Union under an efficient national Government, affords them [the people] the best security that can be advised against hostilities from abroad.”
    • In Fed.2.2 (and echoing Rousseau), J writes: “the people must cede to it [the Government] some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” Here, he is essentially substituting the States for the People.  For, as we will see, his arguments all revolve around the efficiency of the Union in these matters, as opposed to the thirteen States or three or four confederacies.

 

Paragraph Five addresses advantages of Union with respect to the causes of war:

  • “The number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world, will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether real or pretended, which provoke or invite
    • I suppose this is more or less true, if a bit circular. But more interesting – to me, anyway – is that this is another example of J beginning an argument with what he posits to be a universal truth, or at least, a universally agreed upon principle.  It seems, at those early stage, to be a marker of his rhetorical style.
  • “…it becomes useful to enquire, whether so many just causes of war are likely to be given by United America, as by disunited America…”
    • Now we embark upon one of the two main arguments of this essay: that Union will better promote peace and security on the international stage.
    • On an orthographic level, what, if any, is the significance of capitals and italics for “United America” v. non-italic, lower case “disunited” (and not “America”)? Does he mean to imply that one is more legitimate – more “proper,” so to speak – than the other?  Or am I reading too much into it?
  • “…for if it should turn out that United America will probably give the fewest [just causes of war], then it will follow that, in this respect, the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations.”
    • “Useful to enquire,” “if it should turn out”: A change in rhetorical style here. Now he proceeds from inquiry, thesis.  In the following paragraphs, he will set out to prove these.

 

Paragraph Six sees J leave theory behind and enter the upon the ‘real world’ with special attention to America’s actual relationships with other powers in the real of geo-politics.  Nor should we forget J’s experience as a diplomat, which lends weight and expertise to his arguments and analyses.

  • “The just causes of war for the most part arise either from violation of treaties, or from direct violence.”
    • I read this as simple analysis rather than the rhetorical ‘first principles’ we have previously seen.
  • “America has already formed treaties with no less than six foreign nations, and all of them, except Prussia, are maritime, and therefore able to injure us…”
    • This information is no doubt as useful to the modern reader as to the contemporary.
  • “She also has extensive commerce with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and with respect to the two latter, has in addition the circumstances of neighborhood to attend to.”
    • Somewhat tangentially, perhaps, J reminds the reader that not only are war and peace at stake, but trade and commerce as well; surely no small thing for the sate of New York in particular, to whom these essays are, after all, primarily addressed.
    • “Neighborhood”: I assume, Spanish Florida and British Canada, as well as the various holdings of both states in the Caribbean. That he does not identify these means, presumably, he well expects the reader to know exactly what he means.
      • This may contradict my earlier note about separation/protection by ocean (cf. Fed.2.4). For if the Spanish are in Florida and the Brits in Canada; and both in the Caribbean, than perhaps the Atlantic is not so great a barrier and protection as I previously allowed; even if it is not wholly insignificant.

 

We the readers – both modern and contemporary – tend to focus our analyses of the Federalist essays and the debate over adoption of the constitution on how empowered the federal government should be.  But in Paragraph Seven, J reminds us that America’s legitimacy on the international stage was very much at stake here:

  • “It is of high importance to the peace of America, that she observe the laws of nations towards all these Powers…”

 

In Paragraph Eight, J argues that one national government will necessarily lead to the election and appointment of the best people and those most suited to manage national affairs (as opposed to local), both foreign and domestic:

  • “Because when once the efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve; but also be generally appointed to manage it…”
    • So much to unpack here. First, “men” only and white men at that.  Second, it’s optimistic, although perhaps not unfairly so.  After all, the quality of the members of the Continental Congress and the Convention was at an extremely high level.  But is it unfair to think that this was a time when much greater emphasis was placed on public service?  Furthermore, those assemblies may have been the greatest collection of minds in our history.  Is it naïve to think such constellations would be easily repeated?  I don’t’ know.  In any case, it does seem that today, our best minds do not go into public service.
  • “…for altho’ town our country, or other contracted influence may place men in state assemblies, or senates, or courts of justice, or executive departments; yet more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications, will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government…”
    • Again, I don’t know if this reasonably optimistic or foolishly naïve. Additionally, I wonder now how one is able to acquire “more general and extensive reputation” outside of military service.  Outside of the one-time initial Continental Congress, must not all politicians make their names locally before they can aspire to national office?
  • “…especially as it will have the widest field of choice, and never experience the want of proper persons, which is not uncommon in some of the States.”
    • Even if this can be said to be generally true – and I’m not sure that it can – it is certainly not nearly always true, as the election of 2016 made painfully clear.
  • “Hence it will result, that the administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national Government will be more wise, systematical and judicious, than those of the States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more safe with respect to us.”
    • But this has not always been true. Sometimes the national Government is “more wise [etc.]” than the States (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education).  But sometimes states take the lead (e.g. California with environmental standards).  And even on the international stage, it is now states (and cities) which must take the lead on environmental issues after national withdrawal from the Paris agreements.
    • Earlier, I mentioned military service as a way to gain “general and extensive reputation.” It occurs to me hat success in business is another avenue.  But in our history, businessmen have tended to stay in business, while politicians seem to run a sort of cursus honorum beginning at the local level.  But perhaps this is a post-industrial view?  Hancock and Jefferson were both ‘businessmen,’ albeit of very different sorts.  And Adams would have gained national notoriety as a lawyer for defending the accused in the Boston Massacre.  But in modern times, names like Perot and Trump come to mind, and I don’t think either can be said to have been (or be) successful, despite the latter’s electoral victory; certainly not in the ways that J here describes.

 

In Paragraph Nine, J addresses the efficacy of “committing such questions to the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by, and responsible only to one national Government.”  Such questions include:

  • “…treaties and articles of treaties…”
  • “…laws of nations…”
    • The importance of doing so “cannot be too much commended.”

 

Paragraph Ten continues to present the advantages of one national government:

  • “Because the prospect of present loss or advantage, may often tempt the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice; but those temptations not reaching the other States, and consequently having little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved.”
    • This is a very sound argument, I think. Thirteen states acting under one federal government should, in theory, only arrive at decisions which benefit the nation as a whole, even if certain aspects of a treaty may be found to be harmful to a particular state or region.  Perhaps the nature of trade or relations with England or France might be examples of this.
  • “The case of the treaty of peace with Britain, adds great weight to this reasoning.”
    • Though this is surely right, J is hardly a disinterested party here, having been a principal negotiator in that treaty. But this, I think, serves to lend weight and expertise to the argument.

 

Paragraph Eleven paints the proposed national government as a counterbalance to the “temptations” and jealousies of local and regional politics.  And while the two-party system had yet to manifest itself, it is easy to read this paragraph as presenting the proposed national government as a counterbalance to the “temptations” and jealousies of party politics as well:

  • “Because even if the governing party in a State should be disposed to resist such temptations, yet as such temptations may, and commonly do result from circumstances peculiar to the State, and my affect a great number of the inhabitants, the governing party may not always be able if wiling to prevent the injustice mediated, or to punish the aggressors.”
    • And now J returns to theory, where I have so far felt him less strong. In nay case, while this may be true to an extent of the “governing party,” nevertheless, it has not seemed to hinder the independent judiciary.  If we take NY as an example, the state Attorneys General have shown themselves equal to the task of taking on members of their own party as well as of the opposition.  And this has been no less true of the Federal prosecutors (e.g. Preet Bharara).
  • “But the national Government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be induced to commit the wrong themselves, nor want power or inclination to prevent, or punish its commission by others.”
    • I’m not sure that the national government isn’t affected by “local circumstances,” first of all. But let us stipulate this for the sake of argument.  I find the notion that the national government wouldn’t be “induced to commit the wrong” somewhat laughable.  And when those wrongs do happen on the national level, it is here, I think, that politicians have shown themselves least willing to go after members of their own party.  Indeed, they seem all too ready to defend the wrongdoers – and indeed the wrongs themselves – in the interest of protecting the “brand.”  But perhaps this is too modern, too current, a view.  And if so, should J be held to be in the wrong on this account?

 

Taking Paragraphs Twelve & Thirteen together, we say J return to the causes of war:

  • (12) “So far therefore as either designed or accidental violation of treaties and of laws of nations afford just causes for war…the former [i.e. “one general government”] most favors the safety of the people.”
  • (13) “As to those causes of war which proceed from direct and unlawful violence…one good national government affords vastly more security against dangers of that sort, than can be derived from any other quarter.”
    • ¶12 is based on his arguments in ¶11, which read to me as being more relevant to domestic concerns. I do not alter my commentary however, where we might cite Benghazi as an example of the politicization of an external matter on the one hand, and defense of torture on the other.  Though the decision to go to war in Iraq was blundered into on both sides, which shows that one “general government” is hardly infallible or incapable of giving “just causes” of war.  But perhaps this is more relevant to ¶13-14.
    • As ¶12 depends on ¶11, by a sort of chiasmus does ¶13 depend upon ¶14…

 

Paragraph 14 sees J attempt to show that one national government could hardly be expected to give “unjust causes” for war:

  • “Because such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than the whole, of one or two States than of the Union.”
    • He may be right here, when the question of adoption is still unresolved and the States had more power to act independently outside their own borders. The fact that this point seems hardly relevant today may actually prove him right.
  • “Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of the present Fœderal Government, feeble as it is…”
    • But perhaps no such war had “been occasioned” precisely because of the federal government was so “feeble.”
  • “…but there are several instances of Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual States, who either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offences, have given occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.”
    • Yes, well, his concern for the “innocent inhabitants” is touching. Perhaps he’d be willing to re-negotiate of Manhattan with those “innocent inhabitants” on more favorable terms, or give back other appropriated lands unjustly taken.
    • In any case, president Jackson would soon put the lie to this argument, nevermind the “general government”’s dealings with the “innocent inhabitants” during the course of the following century.

 

In Paragraph Fifteen, J argues that local interests might be more likely to entangle single states or regions in wars with Great Powers and that, consequently, one national government would be more likely to prevent such occurrences:

  • “The neighborhood of Spanish and British territories, bordering on some States, and not on others, naturally confines the causes of quarrel more immediately to the borderers. The bordering States if any…will be most likely to direct violence, to excite war with these nations…”
    • J returns again to present real world affairs, and again – I find – his arguments are stronger for it.
  • “…and nothing can so effectually obviate that danger, as a national Government, whose wisdom and prudence will not be diminished by the passions which actuate the parties immediately interested.”
    • That a strong central government can – and will – provide a moderating influence on local passions is almost certainly true, at least within the scope here addressed. However, when those passions become regional – e.g. slavery – a strong central government can, and will, exacerbate those passions.  But clearly the Founders/Framers were aware of this and decided to leave that particular problem for another day and another generation.

In Paragraph Sixteen, J argues that one national government will be better suited to settling (violent) disputes when they do arise:

  • “But not only fewer just causes of war will be given by the national Government, but it will also be more in their power to accommodate and settle them amicably.”
    • Certainly true vis-à-vis foreign affairs.
  • “The pride of States as well as of men, naturally disposes them to justify all their actions, and opposes their acknowledging, correcting or repairing their errors and offenses.”
    • An astute observation of human nature. And insofar as States are made of men, then of States as well.  Whereas one national government should (or would, J argues) dissipate such “pride” (cf. ¶11).
  • “The national Government in such cases will not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and candour to consider and decide on the means most proper to extricate them from the difficulties which threaten them.”
    • Perhaps true in the case of local border disputes. But if the national government perceives itself wronged, surely it too is capable of (self-destructive) “pride.”  Or does this register as a “just cause” of war?

 

Paragraph Seventeen suggests that one national government will have more credibility abroad:

  • “Besides it is well known that acknowledgements, explanations and compensations are often accepted as satisfactory from a strong united nation, which would be rejected as unsatisfactory if offered by a State or Confederacy of little consideration or power.”
    • Is this a ‘might makes right’ argument? Does he mean to imply that a united government can get away with more “unjust” causes of war?  Or simply that they are less likely to be persecuted, hassled, etc. if they are stronger?  That unintentional errors can be more easily forgiven?  Or perhaps even more simply that a united government is less likely to be ‘taken to the cleaners’ in any negotiation with a foreign power?

 

J continues the argument in Paragraph Eighteen, after citing the example of Genoa vis-à-vis France in 1685:

  • “Would he [Louis XIV] on any occasion either have demanded, or have received the like humiliation from Spain, Britain, or any other powerful nation?”
    • So perhaps for J, it’s just about respect and not getting ‘taken to the cleaners.’ Still, the idea that powerful nations can more or less do as they please, even unjustly, should not be overlooked.  And lest we think that modern norms or NGOs have dealt with this, we need only consider the examples of Russia in Ukraine/Crimea or North Korea’s nuclear program to see that “powerful” nations continue to have a much longer leash.

The full text of Federalist No.3 may be found here.

The Federalist Project – #2

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 2

Jay

31 October, 1787

The second Federalist essay is composed by John Jay, who picks up the pen of Publius from Hamilton.  The main thrust of the essay is twofold.  First, to remind the reader that the Union (almost always capitalized) is of vital, even existential, importance.  And second, that it is the proposed constitution on which the fate of the Union hinges; that the constitution is the only thing that will guarantee its survival.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through his arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

  • “…a question, which, in its consequences, must prove one of the most important, that ever engaged their [i.e. ‘the people of America’] attention…”
    • “one of”: J goes on to compare it to the importance of the question of ’76 and of adopting The Articles of Confederation. Already, this seems to differ from H, who presents the question as not just of being THE question for Americans, but indeed as of being of global importance (cf. Fed.1, par.1).
  • “…the propriety of their taking a very comprehensive, as well as a very serious view of it, will be evident.”
    • Again, his language is not nearly as strong as H’s.

 

Paragraph Two:

  • “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of Government…”
    • J begins with premises that everyone can agree on, striking a moderate and rational tone. He continues…
  • “…and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.”
    • This is straight out of Rousseau (du Contrat Social).
    • It is also a rhetorical choice. He is forcing people to concede at an early state – of the essay and of the series – that the government must have some powers; that we do not live in a ‘state of nature.’
  • “…whether it would conduce more to the interests of the people of America, that they should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one fœderal Government, than that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies…”
    • It is only at this point that J introduces the main theme of the essay.

 

In Paragraph Three, Jay deals for the first time with the opposition:

  • “It has until lately been a received and uncontradicted opinion, that the prosperity of the people of America depended on their continuing firmly united…”
    • Appealing to ‘received and uncontradicted opinion’ strikes me as a weak argument. Perhaps it is no weaker than ‘nothing is more certain’ or ‘equally undeniable’ (cf. 2.1).  But in the former cases, he speaks to questions which have already been decided.
  • “…and the wishes, prayers, and efforts of our best and wisest Citizens have been constantly directed to that object.”
    • And now, the appeal to authority (the first of several) – ‘the best and wisest.’ In other words, people better and smarter than you think this – who are you to argue?  This also strikes me as not the best argument.
  • “But Politicians now appear, who insist that this opinion is erroneous…”
    • The contrast between ‘Citizens’ and ‘Politicians’ cannot be missed nor overstated. The former put country ahead of personal interest; the latter do not.
  • “…and certain characters who were much opposed to it [i.e. ‘division’] formerly, are at present of the number [of advocates of division].”
    • To my eye, in 2017, this essentially reads as “beware of flip-floppers.”
  • “…it certainly would not be wise of the people at large to adopt these new political tenets without being fully convinced that they are founded in truth and sound Policy.”
    • In contrast to H’s use of ‘truth’ (cf. Fed.1), J pairs it with ‘good Policy.’ I’m not yet sure what this contrast means, but I feel sure it is not insignificant.
    • In any case, H argues that ‘motive’ is not nearly as important as ‘truth’ and ‘sound Policy.’ J seems more ready to equate them.

 

Paragraph Four is a description of America and the subsequent advantages bestowed by ‘Providence’ when the country is considered as one whole.  These include:

  • “…a variety of soils and productions…”
  • “…watered […] with innumerable streams…”
    • All of which exist “for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants.”
  • “…a succession of navigable rivers…[which form] a kind of chain around the borders…”
  • “…the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances…”
    • which “present them [i.e. ‘the inhabitants’] with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.”

For J, this is no accident.  He notes:

  • “Independent America [is] composed…of one connected, fertile, wide spreading country…the portion of our western sons of liberty.”
    • The term ‘sons of liberty’ seems an intentional effort to harken back to the pre-revolutionary period and the banding together of the colonies in opposition to perceived British tyranny. However, I’m not sure what to make of limiting the term with ‘western.’  Unless he sees the Brits – with Magna Carta, etc. – as the original ‘sons of liberty’ and seeks to draw a line there.  But whether the notion of the Brits as ‘sons of liberty’ as a phrase/idea with any currency at the time, I have no idea.
    • Of note also, is his use of ‘portion.’ Certainly, it can simply mean one’s share of the division of a whole.  But in classical mythology, one’s portion is very often a function of Fate.  Indeed, the Greek word for fate – μοῖρα – derives from the verb μείρεσθαι – “take/receive one’s share/due; divide” (LSJ).  In any case, he is more explicit in the next sentence:
  • “Providence has in a particular manner blessed it (with a variety of soils, etc.)…”
    • So the nature and composition of the land are down to Providence. Does this tie in to ‘portion’?  Is it by divine workings that it is the ‘western sons of liberty’ who have received these lands?  I think that’s how we have to understand it.  Certainly this was a notion that had currency among more than a few of the Founders.

Ultimately, although he paints a pretty picture amd makes mention of ‘delight,’ his argument is, at heart, an economic one, and to a lesser extent, one of national security, insofar as the rivers provide “a kind of chain round its borders.”  (Though, perhaps strangely, he makes no mention of the vast ocean that separates America from meddling Europe).

 

In Paragraph Five, J praises the makeup of the American body-politic, in ways that, in 2017, you’re either going to love or hate.

  • “…Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to…”
    • No longer splitting hairs. We’re still a ways away yet from Manifest Destiny, further still form American Exceptionalism.  But the idea, in some form, was always present, it seems.
  • “…to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attracted to the same philosophy of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”
    • This is a mixed bag, to say the least. On the one hand, we can see the roots of some of the very ugly ‘white nationalism’ currently afflicting us today.  But I wonder if that is reading it out of context.  Though certainly not to so homogeneous as J paints it, America had yet to experience the myriad waves of immigration from a multitude of nations that would follow in the succeeding centuries.  On the other hand, there were of course already Catholics and Jews in the country; to say nothing of (non-voting) Blacks and women.
    • That said, “attached to the same principles of government” is surely the key point here (though maybe that’s also a modern reading?). But this – and to a lesser extent, assimilation of language and culture – is what would bind those future heterogeneous peoples together.
  • “…and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general Liberty and Independence.”
    • An appeal to the strength – and previous success – of unity.

 

Paragraph Six continues the appeal to unity:

  • “This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient…”
    • ‘Providence’ again. And now the word ‘inheritance.’  Which strikes me as a bit odd.  In the preceding paragraph, it was hard won through “bloody war.”  Now it is an “inheritance.”  I suppose thre are biblical grounds for being ‘given’ something by God/Providence and still having to fight for it.  (I’m thinking of the Israelites returning to the ‘promised land’ and having to take it by force).  And then again of sons of kings warring with each other for the crown of England; their ‘inheritance.’  But there is definitely a ‘chosen people’ vibe here, to my eye.
  • “…should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.”
    • J does not leave open the possibility that separate sovereignties could be successful. If they split, he argues, this is how it will be.

 

Paragraph Seven continues the “e uno unum” theme:

  • “Similar sentiments have hitherto prevailed among all orders and denominations of men among us.”
    • Compared with ¶5: same ancestors, language, religion, etc. To what “orders and denominations” does he refer then?  Surely not class, with suffrage being at this time so limited.  I can only imagine he means political “orders and denominations.”  But even then, in ¶5, he also says, “attached to the same principles of government.”  Indeed, in the very next sentence of ¶7, he says:
  • “To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people…” and
  • “…each individual citizen every where enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protections.”
    • Is it even worth pointing out the obvious, that this excludes, Blacks, women, non-landowners, Indians, etc.?
  • “As a nation we have:
    • “vanquished our enemies…
    • “formed alliances and made treaties…
    • “and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign States.”
      • “As a nation” – I take this to mean as 13 united States; or else as a collection of only those making decisions as a Continental Congress, etc. For clearly, huge parts of this “nation” are excluded from the process.  But again, if the argument here is for unity (and adoption), I take “nation” in the broadest possible sense of ‘the States.’  That is to say, not as New Yorkers or Virginians, but as Americans.

 

In Paragraph Eight, J proceeds from the more general concepts of ‘unity’ and “nation” to the narrower concept of “Union.”

  • “A strong sense of the value and blessings of Union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a Fœderal Government to preserve and perpetuate it.”
    • It’s not hard to feel like J is sort of writing his own history here. Jamestown, 1607; Plymouth, 1620.  It was a rather long time before anybody was thinking about “Union.”  Unless he’s strictly counting from the 1770’s; which he may be…
  • “They formed it almost as soon as they had a political existence…”
    • e. a “political existence” separate from England. For of course, the colonists had political existence of a sort – with their own legislatures – well before the Revolution.  But he proceeds to narrow his argument further:
  • “…at a time, when their habitations were in flames, when many of their Citizens were bleeding…:”
    • Very well then. This “very early period,” this point of “political existence,” is no earlier than the war.  He then proceeds to an apology of sorts for the Articles and the present government:
  • “It is not to be wondered at that a Government instituted in times so auspicious, should on experiment be found greatly deficient and inadequate to the purpose it was intended to answer.”
    • So basically, despite the “strong sense of the value and blessings of Union,” present from the point of “political existence” or a “very early period,” they essentially knocked together a not-very-good system on the fly and under pressure; and it really wasn’t very good at all; and this was to be expected!

 

Paragraph Nine serves to introduce the Constitutional Convention:

  • “This intelligent people perceived and regretted these defects. …they, as with one voice, convened the late Convention at Philadelphia, to take that important subject under consideration.”
    • Again, playing fast and loose with the facts (as I read it). The convention was extra-legal and held behind closed doors.  It could hardly be – I think – said to be called for “with one voice.”  Perhaps I myself am not so well versed in the history as I ought to be, but this seems an over-happy and over-simplified version of events.  If it was as J paints it, I think, ratification would be a fait accompli and there would hardly be any need for the Federalist papers.
  • “…and being persuaded that ample security for both [union and liberty], could only be found in a national Government more wisely framed…”
    • No doubt; but attributing this an “intelligent people” speaking “as if with one voice” seems rather a stretch.

 

Paragraph Ten brings more whitewashing and edge-smoothing:

OF those involved:

  • “…men who possessed the confidence of the people…”
  • …and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom…”
  • “…without having been awed by power, or influenced by any passions except love for their Country…”

OF the circumstances:

  • “In the mild season of peace, with minds unoccupied by other subjects…”

OF the manner:

  • “…they passed many months in cool uninterrupted and daily consultation…”
  • “…the plan produced by their joint and very unanimous counsels.”
    • “Cool” is an interesting choice of word. The meaning is clear, but we know it was hot as hell, all the more so with the doors and windows shut to preserve secrecy.  In any case, the idea that the debates were cool and dispassionate rather than (at least at times) heated and contentious is hard to swallow.
    • “Very unanimous” – the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Anyway, we know, e.g., that of the New York delegation, only H was in favor of it.  And as for the “one voice,” we know, e.g. that governor Clinton (NY) was opposed.  So J is really painting a rather rosy – and not all that accurate – picture here.  But then, the proceedings were closed and M’s journals not yet published, so he can – at least to a certain degree – get away with it.  Synchronically, anyway.  Diachronically, this argument doesn’t really stand the test of time, in my opinion.

 

Paragraph Eleven seeks again to undermine the opposition by attacking their motives:

  • “…this plan is only recommended, not imposed…[recommended] to that sedate and candid consideration, which the magnitude and importance of the subject demand…”
    • Like H, a call for calm and rational discussion.
  • “Experience on a former occasion teaches us not to be too sanguine in such hopes. …yet it is fresh in our memories how soon the Press began to teem with Pamphlets and weekly Papers against those very measures [i.e. the measures ‘recommended’ by the “Memorable Congress of 1774”].
    • A perhaps not unironic argument given that this is the very method Publius utilizing to remonstrate for adoption. In other words, ‘Don’t trust the Press…but these “Pamphlets and weekly Papers” are alright.’
  • “Not only many of the Officers of Government who obeyed the dictates of personal interest, but others from mistaken estimates of consequences, or under the influence of former attachments, on whose ambition aimed at objects which did not correspond to the public good, were indefatigable in their endeavours to persuade the people to reject the advice of that Patriotic Congress.”
    • This seems in direct contradiction to H’s call not to impugn the motives of the opposition, who admitted of “sources, blameless at least, if not respectable,” and “good and wise men of the wrong as well as of the right side of questions” (1.4).
    • Furthermore, by casting the Congress as “Patriotic,” he implies that any opposition is necessarily unpatriotic. This, to me, is an ugly strain of political discourse, which continues to this very day.

 

Paragraph Twelve reads like a veritable hosanna to the “Memorable Congress of 1774”:

  • “…wise and experienced…”
  • “…bringing a variety of useful information…” from “…different parts of the country…”
  • “…enquiring into and discussing the true interests of their country…” having “…acquired very accurate knowledge on that head.”
  • “…individually interested in the public liberty and prosperity…”
  • “…not less their inclination, than their duty, to recommend only such measures, as after the most mature deliberation they really thought prudent and advisable.”
    • To borrow from the film Amadeus, he makes them sound as if they “shit marble.”

 

Paragraph Thirteen is an appeal to the authority of the Framers:

  • “…it is well known that some of the most distinguished members of that Congress, who have been since tried and justly approved for patriotism and abilities, and who have grown old in acquiring political information, were also members of this convention and carried into it their accumulated knowledge and experience.”
    • In other words, ‘If you can’t approve the constitution on its own merits, take it on faith in those who drafted it.’ Or, more cynically, ‘Who are you to take up a position against men of such intellect and character?’  Or, at the very least, ‘You can’t possibly prefer the judgment of the opposition to that of the Framers.’

 

The Fourteenth and final Paragraph returns again to the praise of Union:

  • “…the prosperity of America depends[s] on its Union.”
    • Union above all else. This is the thrust of the closing argument.
    • No attempt is made, as yet, to address the particular merits of the proposed constitution, or even to show how it would guarantee Union; it is simply implied that those opposed would “[suggest] that three or four confederacies would be better than one.”
  • “I am persuaded in my own mind, that the people have always thought right on this subject, and that their universal and uniform attachment to the cause of the Union, rests on great and weighty reasons…”
    • J seems always comfortable in asserting the will and wishes of “the people,” and always in terms of unanimity and without dissent. This is what “the people” want, he seems to say, and those opposed are not of the people.
  • “…I sincerely wish that it may be as clearly foreseen by every good Citizen, that whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim in the words of the Poet, “FAREWELL, A LONG FAREWELL, TO ALL MY GREATNESS.”
    • The quote is from Henry VIII, 3.2.351.

 

Closing Remarks:

To my eye, J isn’t half the writer that H is.  His arguments are starker, less nuanced, and he more readily ascribes malignant intent to the opposition.  He sees “Patriots” and enemies.  He too easily ascribes unanimity both to the Framers and “the people,” the latter of which he too easily claims to speak for in their entirety.  He also points to the homogeneity of race and religion as virtues, in a way that is uncomfortable to the (or, at least, this) modern eye.  Nevertheless, he is devoted to the cause of Union, which, at the time, was of prime importance, and in whose name, at least one odious compromise would be made.

The full text of Federalist No.2 may be found here.

The Federalist Project – #1

A brief word, as this is the first post in my series on the Federalist Papers, which I’ve previously outlined here.  Going forward, I’ll simply post these as I finish them, with no extra commentary.  Those who are interested will read them, those who are not are free to skip them.  I’ve not yet settled on a format.  For this first post, I’ve decided to go with a sort of outline/bullet point style.  To this end, I welcome any feedback regarding style, organization, clarity, etc.  I also welcome any debate with regard to my analyses, limited though they be.
–DES, 7/28/17, Berlin

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 1

Hamilton

27 October, 1787

The first Federalist essay goes to Alexander Hamilton, and we essentially begin in medias res, with the self-evidently failing Articles of Confederation, which he refers to as the “inefficiency of the subsisting Fœderal Government.”1  For him, the importance of the proposed constitution is also self-evident.  Its consequences include:

  • “Nothing less than the existence of the Union…”
    • We read later that the “Union” is hardly to be taken for granted. This is, after all, the time of “The United States are” and not “The United States is.”
  • “…the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed…”
  • “…the fate of an empire…”
    • My initial impression was that this was a most remarkable choice of words. We must ask, I think, whether seeing America as a nascent “empire” is a particularly Hamiltonian vision.  Do opponents see, or even want, this?  But we must also ask if H. even uses the word as we understand it today.  Later usages of “empire” in this essay may shed some light on this; but I will deal with them as they arise.
  • “…, in many respects, the most interesting [empire] in the world.”
    • A common view among many of the “Founders,” to be sure; what we today might call “American Exceptionalism.”

He continues:

“…it seems to be reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”

  • “…to the people of this country…”, “…reserved…”
    • Though he doesn’t use the word, he surely makes reference here to “Providence,” a favorite theme of the “Founders.”
  • “…by their conduct and example…”
    • Presumably the Revolution and the principles thereof. Otherwise, what can he mean by conduct and example?
  • “…capable…of establishing good government from reflection and choice…”
    • He presents the situation as unique and unprecedented, as I read it; though whether this is true is debatable. Though direct democracy on the Athenian model was not much in favor, they did seem to have a reverence for the Roman Republic.  Was this, at least for a time, not “good government from reflection and choice?”
  • “…on accident and force.”
    • Force is obvious. Of what he has in mind by accident, I am less certain.  Though I might hazard to guess: The chance or accident of having a good king or bad.  But this is not quite the “question” of the constitution.

He concludes the first paragraph with strong words indeed:

  • “…a wrong election…may…deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”
    • In other words, the scope of the choice goes far beyond the borders of the state (i.e. New York), or even the country.

 

The second paragraph sets up the questions of interest and motive as well as the way in which the question ought to be approached.

  • “This will add to the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism…”
    • In other words, don’t just do this for your country, but for all humanity!
  • “…unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good…more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.
    • A dose of realism.

He then proceeds to a bit of warning, noting that “The plan…affects too many interests,” among which may be counted:

  • “…innovations upon too many local institutions…”
    • This is an older usage of innovate, which here means: to “make changes to anything established.”2
  • “…not to involve…a variety a variety of objects foreign to its merits…”
    • Introducing the question of interest, to be dealt with more fully in the next paragraph.
  • “…and the vices, passions and prejudices3 little favorable to the discovery of truth.”
    • Hamilton’s truth, surely.
    • Introducing the notion that the question should be dealt with rationally and not emotionally (to be dealt with fully in paragraph four).

 

Paragraph three, then, address interest and motive.  Indeed, he argues that “Among the most formidable of the obstacles [will be] the interests of:

  • “…a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument and consequence of the offices they hold under the State-establishments…”
    • For H., there always was and always will be an entrenched class who seek to preserve, or even grow, their own power/wealth at the expense of the state; an argument which I find no less true today. That he speaks here of emolument, is striking, to say the least.
  • “…and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country…”
    • Some things never change…
  • “…or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies, than from its union under one government.”
    • Frighteningly prescient, especially with regard to his choice of the word confederacies – though perhaps this word was not so freighted in 1787. But more on this later.
    • Empire But here it seems fairly innocuous and hardly seems as though it should be taken with the modern usage; however striking it might have seemed in paragraph one.  Perhaps it is best to read it as a simple 1:1 translation of Latin imperium.4  Still, it will be interesting to note if/how Madison &/or Jay use this word.  And also to remember that some would later see H. as having ambition of becoming an “American Napoleon,” due in large part to his desire for (and to lead) a standing army.5

 

In paragraph four, he calls for an enlightened and rational debate on the subject:

  • “…it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition…will spring rom sources, blameless at least, if not respectable, the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears.”
    • An admirable – if merely rhetorical – show of respect for the opposition; and sorely lacking from today’s discourse, I might add.
  • “…that we upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as the right side of questions, of the first magnitude to society.”
    • A fair bit of caution…
  • “And a further reason for caution…we are not always sure, that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives, not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as upon those who oppose the right side of a question.”
    • At first, this seems reasonable and moderate. Yet he never actually admits that his position might be the wrong one.  Note the use of truth and the right side of a question.
  • “Were there not even these inducements to moderation…”
    • The second time he uses the word moderation. seeks moderation as the mode of discourse, but not that it might lead to an opposing conclusion.  Only as a strategy, only as the best way to convince people of the truth, as we see in the closing of the paragraph:
  • “Nothing could be more ill judged than that intolerant spirit, which has, at all times, characterized political parties.”
  • “For, in politics as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”
    • Man, this guy can write! But we might add that in politics as in religion, for H. as for so many others throughout history, there is only one truth.  All that remains is how to convert people from wrong to right; the question of wrong and right having already been decided.

 

H. begins paragraph five with a few more words against passion:

  • “…it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torment of angry and malignant passions will be let loose…”
    • At no time, apparently, did (popular) politics not bring out the worst in people.
  • “…hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives.”
    • One might be tempted to see here a parallel with right wing talk radio, &c.

The rest of the paragraph is largely an (elegant) warning against δημηγορία, demagoguery.  But first follows a defense of “energetic” and “efficient” government in a very abstract way.  And even then, it is more of a defense – or even a counterattack – against the sorts of arguments to be encountered, rather than a defense of the thing per se:

  • “An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized, as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty.”
  • “It will be forgotten…that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust.”
  • “…it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty…”
    • Though this argument can surely be used to defend nearly any position, the Trump DoJ comes to mind in 2017. Though this could just as easily be used, I suppose, to defend Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration, &c.  On the flip side, the New Deal/Great Society readings are self-evident.
  • “…a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.
    • This can only be read, I think, as an attack on populism. However, I doubt he ever had in mind the sort of populism which calls for, among other things, universal health care; surely an example of “energetic” government.  In any case, with this, he transitions to his warning against δημηγορία.
  • “History will teach us, that the former [i.e. zeal for the rights of the people] has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter [i.e. zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government], and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants.”
    • For H. and the “Founders,” presumably Caesar was most prominent; but also surely Cleon, inter alia. Reading this today, I think first of Erdogan, but also of Putin, Hitler, Stalin…and not a little bit of Trump.
    • “By paying an obsequious court to the people” stands out to me as a particularly sharp turn of phrase.

 

In paragraph six, H. urges caution against all arguments but those “which may result from the evidence of truth.”   But here, finally, he openly admits that he has already made up his mind:

  • “I am convinced, that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.”6
    • Liberty and happiness, yes. But dignity is an interesting choice, and I must confess I’m not entirely clear what he means by it here, except perhaps that he sees the proposed form of government as the most “dignified” yet proposed by man.  But that is, at present, only speculation.
  • “I effect not reserves, which I do not feel.” “The consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity.”
    • This is how you say, “I know I’m right,” with class and eloquence.
  • “My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast: My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all.”
    • On keeping his own motives private: On the one hand, he warns against all foul manner of motivation on both sides of the question. Should we not know his, that we need not fear he will personally profit by adoption?  On the other, he has made clear that motivation is not at issue – the only thing that matters is getting to the “truth.”
    • I love the construction: “something may be judged of by somebody.” It’s archaic, but it’s also kind of gorgeous.

 

In paragraph seven, he simply lists the topics that he plans to address in the course of the Federalist.  By the very names of the topics, he gives indication that they are all to the good and by the very merits of their names, argue for adoption from a position of already having been decided [i.e. being self-evidently “true”].

If this [i.e. paragraph seven] is not enough, he will also seek to “answer all the objections…that may seem to have any claim to your attention” in paragraph eight.  He does seem to recognize that simply laying out his own arguments, no matter how elegant and exact (and “true”), may not be enough.  I personally doubt that H. thinks there can be any objection that might fairly have a claim to anyone’s attention.  Nevertheless, he knows that such objections are out there and will, apparently, meet them head on.

He closes Federalist No.1 with this ninth and final paragraph, in which he argues for the “utility of the UNION”:

  • “…the utility of the UNION…which it may be imagined has no adversaries.”
    • It is not just a question, then, of the type of government, but of the very Union itself. In theory, one could support the Union as prescribed by the Articles of Confederation and still oppose the constitution.  And surely he means this to an extent.  But he goes further:
  • “But the fact is, that we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new constitution, that the Thirteen States are of too great extent for any general system…”
    • Interestingly, this is not an argument we ever hear today, even in the context of “states rights” or a too-powerful federal government. I’m not even sure it was still relevant by the time of the Civil War.  But it was certainly a concern at the time, even amongst the Founders.  He continues:
  • “…and that we must of necessity resort to separate confederacies of distinct portions of the whole.”
    • To the modern eye, the word “confederacies” is striking, if not outright alarming, and seems to lend a certain perspicacity to H.’s words. But I think it should not be so.  Small-“c” confederacy obviously predates The Confederacy.  Indeed, the nation was already operating under the Articles of Confederation.  And yet, this is exactly what would happen.  And while the reason would not be the size and power of the federal government per se, it is that which would underlie the question of slavery to a great degree; and from the Southern perspective, more so than any question of right/wrong vis-à-vis that awful institution.
  • “…the alternative of an adoption of the new Constitution, or a dismemberment of the Union.”
    • These, and nothing less, are the stakes.
  • “…begin by examining the advantages of that Union, the certain evils and the probable dangers, to which every State will be exposed by its dissolution.”
    • This will “constitute the subject of [his] next address.”

 

PUBLIUS: All essays are signed with this name.  H/M/J speak with one voice.  But whereas today we might take a dim view of anonymity in such writings, I think here the idea is, the arguments stand on their own merits and need not the endorsements of their authors’ names; though I think the authorship was no secret.7  But we should also remember that this was a common practice of the time, and on all sides; the opposition signing essays as “Cato” and the like.

 

The full text of Federalist No.1 may be found here.

  1. I preserve the original spellings and punctuation as reproduced in the Bantam edition of 1982, edited by Gary Wills. []
  2. dictionary.com []
  3. No fan of the Oxford Comma was Hamilton.  #myboy []
  4. Lewis & Short give the following: B.1: supreme power, sovereignty, sway, dominion, empire; b) dominion, government; (a). dominion, realm, empire; 3.(g). the government. []
  5. I’d dig through Chernow’s book for a better citation here, but alas, it is in NY. []
  6. Wait, now an Oxford Comma?  #wtf []
  7. I could be wrong about this. []

The Federalist Project

The Federalist Project
Introduction

For the usual readers of this blogue, who are accustomed to finding here either stories about my travels and experiences or the odd bit of silly fiction, a few words of explanation are probably in order.  The following will be the first in a series of short postings about a collection of documents generally referred to as The Federalist or The Federalist Papers, a group of essays written in the late 18th century to defend, and to argue for the ratification of, the United States constitution.  I shall give my reasons for embarking upon this new series of posts shortly.  Suffice it to say, this subject matter may not be for everybody.  If that should be you, do feel free to skip the rest of this post as well as any future posts with the word “Federalist” in the title.

Right.  So why do this at all?  Well, if you haven’t noticed, we Americans tend to be pretty proud of our constitution.  This despite the fact that no two people seem to have the same view as to what the constitution actually means.  Like the bible, people tend to find in it what they want.  The constitution itself is sparsely worded and really quite short.  And, generally, it must be taken together with its first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

And while today, the ratification of the constitution is generally seen as a fait accompli, back in 1789, it was no sure thing.  The people, or rather the several states, needed to be convinced of it.  After all, at the time of its drafting, the United States were operating under a different charter, the Articles of Confederation.  Indeed, there was no legal provision for ditching the Articles and starting over with a new constitution.  This made the constitution itself, if not an illegal charter, an extra-legal one.  That is, it was born outside of the existing body of laws.

The deal was, if any nine of the original thirteen states agreed to make the switch, then the Articles would become null and void and the new constitution would take effect.  But as I said, the states needed convincing, and some more than others.  None more so, apparently, than New York.  Because even back then, what’s America without New York?

In any case, New York was iffy, at best, at the outset.  How then to convince the Empire State?  The answer came in the form of 85 essays, published between October 1787 and May 1788.  The essays would serve two main purposes.  The first was simply to allay fears that the new proposed federal government would be too powerful, at the expense of the states.1  The second was to explain the purpose and meaning of the constitution; something which the constitution itself noticeably does not do.

And who was behind this effort?  Well, it was primarily the work of two men.  One was the very “father of the constitution” himself, Virginian and fourth president, James Madison.  The other, of course, was that brilliant – and lately quite popular – New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton.  Of the 85 essays, Hamilton wrote fully 51 of them to Madison’s 29.  John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, also a New Yorker, wrote the remaining five.

Most American students will have at least learned of the Federalist in high school social studies class.  We learn, roughly, of the role they played in getting the constitution ratified.  We may also learn that they are still read today by constitutional scholars and lawyers, especially when the constitutionality of a given law comes before the Supreme Court.  We may even have read, perhaps in college, selected essays; or at least parts of essays.2  But I suspect that very few of us who do not go into careers as constitutional scholars or lawyers have read them in their entirety.

And yet, they are often in the news.  As I just mentioned, when a new law is argued in front of the Supreme Court, the relevant essay might be trotted out for public consumption.  When it is suggested that president Trump may be doing some thing (or, let’s face it, many things) that were never intended by “the Founders,”3 some or other Federalist argument is often presented to make the case.

Which brings me to this, my so-called Federalist Project.  My goal is to read each of the 85 essays in their turn and to publish a short blogue post in reaction.  I shall do my best not to bring any personal ideology to this project, to not inject my own opinions into these posts; though, on some level, that is surely impossible.  I simply wish to read them and to understand them.

To the extent that I am able, I wish to do this both diachronically and synchronically.  In other words, I wish to understand them as best I can both in terms of how they read today but also in the context of their own times.  In the case of the former, though I shall try my hardest, I suspect it will be impossible to leave my own views at the door.  As for the latter, I shall surely make errors in my knowledge of history.  I beg forgiveness in advance for both of these inevitable failings.

I set no specific timetable for the completion of this project.  That said, I will hope to tackle at least one or two essays each month.  Even at that pace, it will take me upwards of four years to finish this.  But what’s the rush.  These documents have been around for more than two-hundred years.  And I’ve so far gone thirty-six without reading them.  So it will take as much time as it takes.

As for the text, I will be working from the Bantam edition, published in 1982 with an introduction and commentary by Gary Wills.4  Direct quotations will be taken from this source.  That said, The Federalist Papers are obviously in the public domain.  And so, I will add a link in each post to the relevant essay in order that the interested reader (if he or she should exist) may read the document for themselves, stripped of my own opinions and necessarily cherry-picked quotations.

We Americans love our constitution.  Yet often, I fear we are over-proud and under-learned of it.  In the course of this endeavor, I hope to come to know our national charter more intimately, to better understand what is at the very heart of American political identity.  I hope, too, that some of you will choose to join me on this journey; will argue with me when you don’t agree; will set me right where I am wrong.  In these times of sound-bites and growing ignorance, we could all do with a little more learning, a little more thought.  Let this be a small step towards those ends.

  1. Remember, we had just revolted from monarchical England. []
  2. Madison’s discussion of ‘faction’ in No. 10, for example. []
  3. I’ve put “the Founders” in quotes because I think it’s ridiculous that we refer to them as one block of people, as if they all shared the same views and opinions.  They most certainly did not. []
  4. On a personal note, I ordered this book from Amazon way back in 2001, while I was studying early American history in college.  (I did my senior thesis – which was not at all good – on Hamilton, Adams and the Federalist party).  Anyway, years later, I was looking over my purchase history and discovered that I’d ordered the book on September 11, 2001.  I surely didn’t go shopping that day, so I can only assume it was sometime after midnight of the 10th.  Still, that’s always struck me as an eerie coincidence of history, as a serious dose of jingoistic patriotism was on the very verge of being ginned up… []