Mini-Federalist #11 – The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #11, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_11.html

Originally published November 24, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

The economic benefits of the Union are the most obvious – both in domestic and international trade.

Our commercial abilities are so great, they make Europe very nervous. Many European nations have a foothold in the new world with small colonies, and they are worried about what our future economic dominance will do to their place in the world. They would LOVE to see us wasting time, fighting amongst ourselves (and consequently) not becoming a threat to them. I could even tell you which countries would like it the most!

There’s a lot that we can do to prevent these foreign desires from happening, if we stick together. We can have uniform taxes on imports – forcing foreign countries to fight with each other for the right to sell their manufactured goods here in our giant market. We can also use that power to get better terms in the foreigners’ markets, too. Sure, excluded countries (say, Great Britain) could still trade with us through a third party (say, the Dutch) but at a much greater expense than if they traded with us directly. Foreign countries would be crazy to let that happen, and in this case their gain would be our gain.

It gets even better for us if the Union can create a navy. Imagine how powerful it could be with the resources of all the States together! We have to be able to protect our trading interests – especially in this hemisphere, and particularly in the Caribbean. When a war breaks out between the European powers, it will spill over into the Caribbean. Even if we didn’t have a huge navy, we could have enough ships to tip the balance of power to one side or the other if we were to join in the fight – that threat could be enough to keep our neutrality (and thus, our profitable trade) alive.

As individual States, we’d have no chance of doing this. The warring powers would prey upon our shipping as they see fit. Who would stop them? When you’re weak, you can’t even be neutral – you become easy cannon fodder.

As a united country, Europe wouldn’t even try to mess with our trading ships. As individual States, foreign powers would dictate the terms of trade to us, and may even be able to dismantle our trade entirely, making us dependent upon their shipping. We would have snuffed out our potential to become the greatest country in the world.

If we dissolved the Union, how would we deal with the Mississippi? With the Great Lakes? Britain and Spain would like to see us flounder there, so that they could take possession of those resources for themselves.

And let’s not forget – maritime trade benefits the whole country, not just the parts with ports. A national navy will have the same benefits. While most of our experienced sailors are in the north, the south has the best shipbuilding wood available. The south also has readily available tar, pitch, and turpentine. Along with the south, the middle states produce good-quality iron needed for shipbuilding and naval guns. It will take the contributions of all the States to make a world-class navy. We simply couldn’t do it as individual States, or even as small confederacies.

Along with foreign trade, we should also keep trade free amongst ourselves. This will calm the effects of disasters like local crop failures, as replacements can be easily brought in from a neighbor, and will also ensure that this country always has something to export. We need a diversified market to make sure our economy functions well. Obviously, this is much easier with the Union than with any smaller combinations we could come up with.

Even with an assumption of “friendly” relations between the States with regard to trade, I’ve already explained in previous papers how quickly those arrangements can fall apart. Only a united government gives us hope of free interstate trade.

Like it or not, the reality is that Europe has considerable power in the world. To some extent, they control (or like to think they control) the rest of the planet. Asia, Africa and the Americas have all fallen victim to their influence. The Europeans think that they are super-human and that we lowly Americans are nowhere near as capable, powerful, or intelligent as they are. To their eyes, it’s an established fact. Let’s show them how wrong they are. We have to stay united and powerful enough to control our own destiny!

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