Mini-Federalist #7 – The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States

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 #7, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_07.html

Originally published November 15, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

There are people who ask, “What reason would the States ever have to go to war with each other?” Well, why do ANY countries go to war with each other? There are, of course, a number of reasons, but lets consider some that are specific to our case.

One of the biggest reasons throughout history has been disputes over territory. This cause certainly applies to us. We have a great amount of land to the west that is in dispute – some States believe it is theirs, other people believe that it is the property of all the States since it was won from Britain in the Revolution. If the Federal Union dissolves, is there any hope that this situation would be peaceably resolved? There is obviously fertile ground for conflict here. We’ve already seen a few of these disputes resolved by the Federal courts (Connecticut v. Pennsylvania, and Vermont gaining independence from New York), but what about when there are no Federal courts, as is proposed?

Another source of conflict will surely be competition in trade. The states that aren’t doing so well will become jealous of those that are. Each State or confederacy would obviously create its own economic policy that benefits it. That alone could cause trouble, especially if those new policies upset the status quo. Think of the situation of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey: New York imports goods that end up being sold in New Jersey and Connecticut. New York needs to tax those goods in order to raise money for its government. How long will New Jersey and Connecticut put up with paying extra money (that goes for the exclusive benefit of the citizens of New York) for imported goods?

For another thing, the United States already has a debt from fighting the Revolution. How will we divide that debt among the new confederacies? Some States don’t think they should have to pay it at all – what happens when they don’t make their payments? Even if we settle these questions, and all the States go in willingly, some States may fall behind in payments in the future because of various political and economic troubles within those States. We may face threats from foreign powers AND the other States that are unhappy with the deadbeats.

Yet another potential source of conflict is in private contract disputes across State lines. If the citizens of one State feel particularly cheated by one or more citizens of another, who would resolve that conflict in absence of the Federal courts? This could very easily lead to war.

We already discussed how the several States could enter into conflicting alliances and commercial arrangements with competing foreign powers. If we move to this kind of system – away from the Union – we will become more embroiled in the politics and petty conflicts of Europe. Any nation that hates or fears America will do their best to divide and subsequently conquer us.

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