John Jay remarks in Federalist Number 3 that “[t]he safety of the people doubtless has relation to a great variety of circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively (Jay, 1787).” By this he means that the new government has the ability to define and defend the people against all threats. Jay also discusses wars. He says that “[t]he number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world will always be found to be n proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether real or pretend (Jay, 1787).”
His solution against the threat of war from foreign powers is to have a United America versus a disunited America. He also feels that it is in the best interests of all concerned to have a national government that will collectively “observe the laws of nations towards all these powers (Jay 1787).” Under a national government, treaties would be created and observed, because states can be arbitrary and capricious. Jay carries over his logic for a federal government because he states that “such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than of the whole; of one or two States than of the Union.
Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of the present federal government (Jay, 1787).” Jay says in Federalist Number 4 that we should not invite hostilities, but in order to assure that hostilities are not invited, we should stand together as a nation. As he puts it, [a]s the safety of the whole is the interest of the whole, and cannot be provided for without government, either one or more or many, let us inquire whether one good government is not, relative to the object in question, more competent than any other given number whenever (Jay, 1787).
Jay also intimates that a strong central government will be able to stand up to the long-established powers of Britain, Spain and France. He also says in Federalist Number 5 that as a united nation, we would be free of all “jealousies” and we would be “joined in affection (Jay, 1787).
It is at this point that Alexander Hamilton takes over the argument to discuss “dangers and dissentions between the states (Hamilton, 1787).” The first problem he sees is the problem of possible territorial disputes. By having a strong national government, the prospect of having this kind of dissention is diminished.
Another source of dissention would be commerce. According to Hamilton, “[t]he states less favorably circumstanced would be desirous of escaping from the disadvantages of local situation, and of sharing in the advantages of their more fortunate neighbors (Hamilton, 1787).” With independent states, there lies the threat of some states holding power over others that have less means. There would be various duties that would have to be paid among the different states, and would negatively affect the buying power of the receiving state. By having a unified national government, he argues, these fears would be allayed.
Next, Hamilton discusses the public debt of the union. He discusses the reapportionment of the debt, and how, under a weak federal government it would be impossible to determine each state’s individual liability. By having a national government, would allow the debt to be paid collectively or discharged collectively, with no one or two states bearing the burden of repayment.
Hamilton next addresses the “union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection (Hamilton, 1787).” He starts out in Federalist Number 9 with a strong statement—“a firm union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection (Hamilton 1787).”
By having a strong union, there is less likely to be internal strife or problems. This is not a new idea, according to Hamilton. This goes back to the days of Montesquieu, and his theories, however, Montesquieu recommended a small republic rather than an expanded one such as the United States. If we were to go by his theory, according to Hamilton, we would “be driven to the alternative either of taking refuge at once in the arms of monarchy, or of splitting ourselves into an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths (Hamilton 1787).” He also says that a larger body of smaller states “arrive to such a degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of the united body (Hamilton, 1787).”
He also states that “[s]hould a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty (Hamilton, 1787).”
In Federalist Number 10, James Madison takes up the fight. He argues that factions are bad for the country because the majority forces its will on the minority with no consideration for their ideas or thoughts. He argues affectively that a national government can control factions because the effects can be controlled.
The administration of democracy effectively deals with the effects from factions and quells minority dissent. In a republic, Madison says, “the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose (Hamilton, 1787).” He also notes that in a smaller society, there are fewer factions than in a larger society. That makes it more probable that fewer people will dominate the society and the will of a few will rule the many. In a larger society, there is more of a chance that the will of all the parties will be heard and at some level be represented.
Hamilton takes over at this point to talk about state connections and common ties that motivate the adoption of the new United States Constitution. In Federalist Number 11, Hamilton talks about the “utility of the union in respect to commercial relations and a Navy (Hamilton, 1787).” He notes that the government is best able to handle the large amount of farming and beginning manufacturing interests. Additionally, the union will benefit from a navy, and having a national navy will perpetuate the idea of the United States as a player on the world stage. He also takes on revenue. He notes that “[t]he ability of a country to pay taxes must always be proportioned, in great degree, to the quantity of money in circulation (Hamilton, 1787).”
Hamilton takes on economy in government next. This has to do with saving money and spending it wisely. He talks of territory, stating that “at the natural limit of a democracy is that distance from the central point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand (Hamilton, 1787).” He notes finally that “nothing can be more evident that the thirteen States will be able to support a national government (Hamilton, 1787).”
In many ways, there is a dichotomy in what the Framers had to say about the new constitution. They discuss many issues, from foreign and domestic threats to the threat of faction to how the new government will help facilitate the fledgling democracy. The union is also meant to safeguard against domestic faction, help form a Navy, facilitate commerce and trade, and help maintain that democracy over the vast territory of the country. The Framers had it right, that is, the new form of government was destined to be more complete and beneficial to the new country than the old Articles of Confederation.
The Federalist Papers give us a new way to look at our Constitution and see it as a living document and not as a static display of old values and charm. We must do our part to understand not only the document, but the fundamental readings that surround it, so that we are better able to make this Constitution OUR Constitution, and forever see it as an amazingly crafted document that will live in perpetuity.
Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Number 6.” The Federalist Papers. 2007. Founding
Fathers.org. 10 Mar 2009 <http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/>.
Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Number 7.” The Federalist Papers. 2007. Founding
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