Mini-Federalist #9 – The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

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 #9, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 21, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It is clear that the best course of action is Union. The ancient history of the tiny states within Greece and Italy prove this. Having spent centuries squabbling with each other, expending great effort and going through a lot of pain, they finally collapsed. We should be wary of their lesson.

Since those countries also operated as republics, critics will say that it is the republican form of government which is inherently flawed – even going so far at times as to say the same about freedom itself. We are lucky to have numerous historical examples on our side of great deeds that were brought about by free people, and if we can continue on course, America will surely provide many examples itself in the future.

These critics are really looking at a caricature of a real republican government, though. I mean, if this system was really so flawed, no one would bother to defend it. We’ve also come up with a lot of improvements since the ancient times, too: separation of power between branches (and even within the legislature), independent courts, and representatives elected by the people themselves, just to name a few. All of these further refine our system of government into a more perfect one. I’d like to add one more (and the one we are concerned about when debating the new Constitution): the expansion of the scope of a republican government to a size never before tried.

The idea of allying with others to increase your security isn’t new – countless countries have done it in the past, and political scholars agree that it is a good idea. Even so, in their arguments critics of our new Constitution cherry-pick a line from Montesquieu about the need for republics to be small. They fail to really think this idea through, and of course leave out some critical points.

The countries Montesquieu was talking about were even smaller than most of our States (think Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York – all larger than what the Greeks were dealing with). So if we go with his ideas as being authoritative, we’d have to not only dissolve the Union, but break up most of our States into smaller ones – this would of course lead to more of the petty squabbling and inefficient leadership distribution that we talked about in previous papers. Or maybe we should just have a king!

Of course when you really think about it, what Montesquieu actually argued was that the size (or power) of the larger states should be decreased, not that they can’t all be formed into one Union. In fact, he argued that a confederation like ours is the solution to increasing the geographical size of a republic – even using many of the arguments we’ve already talked about in previous papers. Rather than believing one cherry-picked line, readers should consider the whole work.

Some will try to tell you that there’s a difference between a “confederacy” and a “consolidation” in that a confederate government can’t tell the states how to handle their own internal business, but only handles affairs that affect the whole. They also insist that all the states need to have an equal say in a confederacy. No confederacy has ever actually operated this way. You’ll also see that anytime people have tried to make these items the goal of the government in the past, it has caused serious problems.

In reality, there is no distinction here. The only real definition of a “confederacy” is a combination of two or more states. This definition doesn’t speak at all to specifics of how their governments should work, except to say that the states’ individual governments should also be preserved. This is exactly what our proposed Constitution does – the states even get their own branch of the legislature, the Senate.

Of course the real kicker is that the critics’ chosen authority (Montesquieu) didn’t subscribe to their ideal definition either. When he talked about a model confederacy, he pointed to Lycia. The Lycians not only gave more votes to the larger states, but allowed the confederate government to select many of the officers in the city-states. It’s clear that the critics of the Constitution have built their case on a poor reading of the history.

Mini-Federalist #8 – The Consequences of Hostilities 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 #8, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 20, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

So let’s assume that the Union breaks up. The individual States would have all the same feelings and tendencies that other nations do – they may go to war at some times, and be at peace in others. What would that situation look like?

At least initially, wars between the States would be much worse than we are used to. Most of the countries of Europe have large (and oppressive, and expensive) militaries that have been around for years. They’ve also surrounded their countries with forts. A potential invader expends an awful lot of effort to capture small forts and towns of little long-term military value.

Here, we have no such forts. We are also wary of the idea of standing armies. It wouldn’t take much preparation (and would not encounter much resistance) for the larger States to simply take over the smaller ones. Looting would be pervasive in such conflicts. Safety from this kind of lawless behavior would be a powerful political influence. It would be no time at all before the people willingly trade in some of their freedom in order to have secure borders.

Some people will tell you that the Constitution doesn’t prohibit standing armies (so it must therefore allow them). In truth, they would be very hard to keep up under the proposed government. Once we dissolve the Union though, standing armies would become commonplace and necessary – the threat of war would be too high for them not to be. The smaller States will be hit by this defensive build-up the hardest – they may even give their executives more power making them almost king-like in the process. This could even make the small States a threat to the larger ones. An arms race would inevitably begin, turning our fresh start into a carbon-copy of Europe.

This is the clear lesson of history. I’m not sitting here distorting the meaning of our new Constitution (which puts the people in charge).

The historians among us may ask why ancient Greece never developed standing armies. There are a few points here: First, the Greek people were by and large all soldiers – today we concentrate on commercial pursuits and don’t have time for that. Second, we have a lot more money now and complex financial systems that allow the growth of professional standing armies.

Realize also that if a country is not threatened with invasion frequently, even if it has an army, it doesn’t need to be very large or used often, so the citizenry has little to fear from it. A small army can put down an occasional angry mob, but can’t suppress the whole country. The opposite is also true – if security threats are constant, the military needs to be on alert at all times. The power of the army increases as the rights of the people decrease. It doesn’t take long for such a place to turn into a police state.

Think of Britain: being an island with a great navy, it doesn’t face constant threats. Since no huge standing army is needed, none exists. Their army is large enough only to delay an attack for enough time for the militia to organize. This has led to a great deal of freedom for British citizens. We are far away from Europe – only a few relatively weak British and Spanish colonies are near us. We’re in an even better situation than the British isles. If we can remain unified, we can enjoy the same liberty. If we split up, it won’t take long for us to start re-living the bloody history of continental Europe.

If any reasonable person gives this issue serious thought, he’ll surely come to the conclusion that the petty objections to the Constitution are out-weighed by the harsh reality of separation. If we let that happen, the imagined “catastrophes” some think the Constitution will cause, would be almost instantly replaced by a much scarier reality.

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:

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.

Mini-Federalist #6 – 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 #6, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 14, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We spent the last three papers talking about danger from foreign governments. Now, we turn our attention to the dangers of disagreements between the states, or from insurrections of factions of the people.

As we discussed earlier, the States (or the proposed confederacies) would certainly have conflicts if left dis-united. Some people might say that there’s no reason for any trouble to crop up, but they forget that human nature inclines men toward greed and ambition. There are a million reasons why hostilities would be inevitable: desire for power, competition in trade, a need for security (even if unwarranted), or just plain fear of others.

You know that history is filled with examples: think of the Peloponnesian War, or of Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, or the more recent case of Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. I could go on and on.

Even though history is against them, some will still argue that the commercial interests of each State or confederacy will keep them on friendly terms with each other. But if this is true, wouldn’t it be true for all the other countries of the world, too? Isn’t it more likely that temporary passions and selfish motives will rule the day?

Proponents may reply that those things happen with kings – not commercial republics like ours – but aren’t both monarchies AND republics led by MEN? The republics of Rome, Sparta, Athens and Carthage all went to war regularly. The commercial republic of Holland has been embroiled in wars with France and Britain (itself highly engaged in commerce, and with some republican elements in her government, is certainly no stranger to war). The same impulses of greed, rage, and resentment exist in both types of governments if left unchecked. Sometimes these impulses are brought on by the people themselves (even when it is against their own best interests). In reality, the expansion of commerce hasn’t led to less conflict – countries merely fight about different things now (like maintaining their own commercial standing, for one).

So how much confidence can we have in those who claim that commercial interests will keep the States or proposed confederacies from fighting with each other? We have to take off the rose-colored glasses and step back into reality!

We’ve already seen unrest in North Carolina, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. We’ve witnessed our credit and dignity diminish. Don’t fall victim to the false sense of security that is being sold by those who tell you that somehow it would all be OK if the States went it alone. Consider this thought from a wise author:

“NEIGHBORING NATIONS are naturally 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 all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.”

In this one sentence, we get both the PROBLEM and the SOLUTION.

Mini-Federalist #5 – The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

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 #5, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 10, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

As Queen Anne wrote back in 1706 (in reference to the alliance between England and Scotland): “An entire and perfect union will be the solid foundation of lasting peace: It will secure your religion, liberty, and property; remove the animosities amongst yourselves, and the jealousies and differences betwixt our two kingdoms. It must increase 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….We most earnestly recommend to you calmness and unanimity in this great and weighty affair, that the union may be brought to a happy conclusion, being the only EFFECTUAL way to secure our present and future happiness, and disappoint the designs of our and your enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, USE THEIR UTMOST ENDEAVORS TO PREVENT OR DELAY THIS UNION.”

Weakness invites threats from other nations. Strength prevents such threats. We can learn a lot from the British history we all know. Yes: Britain survived as three nations for centuries, but those three nations constantly fought amongst themselves.

If we go the same route (by dividing into 3 or 4 confederacies), don’t you think the same thing would happen here? The different confederacies would grow jealous of each other, and not easily work for the benefit of all, but only of themselves. Even if we set the confederacies up to be more-or-less equal, how long can we expect that equality to last? At the very least, one may develop better leaders than the others. As soon as one confederacy is stronger than the others, the whole system would collapse. The others would try to find ways to restore the balance, and that may very well lead to war.

As it stands, the north is more powerful than the south right now. What if a northern confederacy tries to take advantage of a southern one? These confederacies would cease to be neighbors and would become merely borderers. They would be distinct nations, each with its own economic interests that may not always be compatible with the others’. What if one relied on trade with a foreign power that the other was at war with? Don’t be deceived – Europe would love to see us constantly fighting amongst ourselves. Anyone who thinks this wouldn’t happen is fooling himself. Just think: when is the last time that Britain and Spain united in defense of each other?

If we take this European route, we’d almost certainly end up on different sides of wars, and since Europe is so far away, we’d naturally fight against each other in such wars. We would be inclined to look to foreign nations to protect us from our own neighbors – and they won’t just leave once we’ve let them in! Look at what the Romans did to their “allies”!

So ask yourself: would uniting or dividing provide more protection from foreign hostilities and interference?

Mini-Federalist #4 – The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

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 #4, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 7, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

In the last article, we explored how one national government would be better at preventing legitimate wars than several smaller governments would be. What about wars that are caused by less-honorable means?

Surely, any time a country thinks it has something to gain by it, that country will go to war. Kings are known to go to war over personal insults and other petty things, even; with no regard for what is best for their people. We should be wary of such disgraceful causes, so let’s explore them further.

First, economics. We do a great deal of business in fishing, and compete with Britain and France in this area (frankly, we’re better at it than they are). We have a fleet of trading vessels that we send not only to Europe, but to China and India as well. We compete with all the European nations in this area and do a very good job, too – we’re well-positioned geographically for such trade.

We’re so good at commerce that other countries are jealous and try to do things to shut us down. It’s obvious that the better we get at trading and commerce, the more our competitors will try to interfere. It’s not a great leap to think that this could lead to war in the future. A strong Union is our best defense against these tensions flaring into violence.

Why one government, as opposed to many? A single government would be able to draw the best and brightest from the entire country to run it. It can make sure that no one section of the country has too much power, or is overlooked. A Union can bring together the resources of the whole to defend a small part, if needed; centrally-coordinating the efforts of the military in a way that 13 smaller independent states could never hope to. Think of this example: the British Army doesn’t operate as separate English, Scottish and Welsh units – they fight as one nation. The same is true of the British Navy (and it’s no coincidence that they have the most powerful navy in the world). Why wouldn’t we follow the same model if we hope to achieve that same level of success?

Not only would smaller states be weaker (and thus more apt to give up the fight early) but they may actively work to undermine and get ahead of their neighbors for selfish reasons. Look no further than the history of the Greek states for examples of this destructive behavior. Even if the other states come to the aid of the threatened ones, how much help should they give? Who will be in charge when they do? Who decides when to call off the fighting? None of these questions are on the table when a single government is responsible for defense of the whole country.

Whatever we decide to do, the rest of the world will take notice. If we have a strong national government taking care of our defense and trade, the rest of the world will be more likely to be friendly. If they see a bunch of smaller, weaker confederacies or States, they may try to play us off each other and create chaos among us. That would be a terrible tragedy! As we know, when a family divides, it is usually divided against itself in the end.

Mini-Federalist #3 – The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

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 #3, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 3, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

It is obvious that the people love the Union – otherwise the idea of it would not have stuck around as long as it has. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Union for these States is the way to go.

The chief concern of the people is their SAFETY. Now, SAFETY can mean a lot of things – what I’m talking about is the continuation of peace (both in respect to foreign affairs, and potential home-grown disturbances). For now, let’s look at how the Union best provides for security from foreign threats.

Countries generally go to war for a reason (whether those reasons are legitimate or not is a different story). Regardless, doesn’t it make sense that having 1 large country (rather than 3 or 4 – or even 13 – smaller ones) would lead to fewer conflicts with other nations? Legitimate wars start usually because of acts of physical violence, or because of broken promises.

We are already heavily engaged in trade, and have made treaties with several nations. Wouldn’t it be easier to keep up those international relations as one country, rather than a bunch of smaller ones – all negotiating with the same foreign powers? Under one Union, we can have the best diplomatic minds in this whole country negotiate for all of us, rather than just for their own small section. And those small sections might not always get along in terms of trade – a few small conflicts (or personal greed of a few State leaders or locally-influential citizens) may jeopardize things for the rest of us. Petty local concerns can escalate quickly – look at all the conflicts with the Native-Americans that have been started by a State government messing up. Having one united, dispassionate voice will prevent these kinds of situations.

Another concern is that we currently share borders with Britain and Spain. Should we break off into separate confederacies, those states on the border have a higher risk of being engulfed in war with either of those powers. A national government can act to calm these tensions before they erupt – not only because they are dispassionately disconnected from them, but because a larger, stronger government will always have a better hand in negotiations than a smaller, weaker one. That much is clear from history.

Mini-Federalist #2 – Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

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 #2, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published October 31, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

I’ll begin by reiterating how important it is to make the right decision about ratifying the Constitution.

Any government is going to require the people to give up a certain amount of freedom. Is it better to give that freedom up to one big government, or to a series of smaller ones?

It has always been the consensus that a single Union of the States was the best course of action for America. Only now have people begun to suggest that we’d be better off as a group of smaller countries. We can’t ignore this thought completely, but we should be careful until we know whether this is actually a good idea.

We have an amazing country – and it is great that it is a single country – almost as if that was God’s plan all along. The land is fertile and productive, and we have good rivers to transport our goods. Similarly, the people who inhabit this country are all united with the same culture, language, and religion. These people fought together to obtain their freedom and firmly believe in self-government. That united government has already conducted a lot of business and done a lot of good. These people, this land, and this government seem to have been made for each other. It would be a shame to break this all up.

From the beginning, the people have agreed. The first government they created was a federal one. The fact that it isn’t perfect is clear and totally understandable as it was instituted in a time of war and under great stress. Because the people still want a united government – just a better one – the recent convention in Philadelphia met to figure out what to do. The best and brightest minds came together and were able to take their time in designing a government this time. The Constitution is the result of these careful deliberations.

To be fair, the Constitution is only one suggestion for fixing our government. But we should consider it carefully. Remember how many people thought it was a bad idea for us to declare our independence from Britain? That turned out OK. We had a lot of smart guys in Congress from all across the country back then. Many of them are still in Congress and even participated in the Constitutional convention – they haven’t done us wrong before, and they have always believed in a united America.

It was the mandate of the convention to keep the Union together, and that’s what their plan – this Constitution – does. Why are there now people who think that Union is a bad idea? The majority of the people have never thought that dissolving the Union was the way to go, and if we were to follow through with it, I’m sure our best days would be behind us.

Mini-Federalist #1 – General Introduction

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 #1, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published October 27, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We have all experienced how terrible the current federal government is. Thanks to the recent convention in Philadelphia, there is a new proposal on the table to consider – the Constitution of the United States. America has a unique chance to show that a free society can work, and that we need to take this opportunity seriously and ask whether this new government would be best for society as a whole, and not look for the advancement of our own selfish interests in it.

At the same time, we must not to make the argument personal. People will have different and varied motives for their support and opposition to the Constitution, and we should hear each other out and give the benefit of the doubt, as both sides can have evil motives dressed in the clothing of “the public good”. For this reason, we should try to judge the different arguments as dispassionately as possible. My own view is that the Constitution is a good solution to our governmental problems, and I will write a series of articles to lay out the reasons why. My papers will include discussion of:

  • The benefits of having a Union of all the States (as opposed to breaking up into smaller, regional confederacies, as some have proposed).
  • The fact that the Articles of Confederation don’t do a good job of creating such a Union.
  • No matter what government we come up with, it needs to be at least as strong as the one proposed in the Constitution.
  • How the government that is created by the Constitution matches up with what a true republic should look like.
  • How the Constitution is like the pre-existing State Constitutions.
  • Other aspects of the Constitution that will lead to better government, freedom, and protection of property for all.

Further, I will try to provide answers to arguments brought up by the other side in opposition to the Constitution.

Simply put, the argument is one between keeping the Union intact, or breaking off into smaller confederacies – an option that I don’t think is palatable at all, and the next paper will begin to explain why.