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.

Votes and Rifles


“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

No matter your political stripe, this election matters. But I don’t think it was ever intended to be like this.

Our system has been morphed into one where the Federal government can do virtually anything it wants. Between the expansion of the Commerce Clause, and the farce that is “rational basis” scrutiny, there are almost no substantive limits on government anymore. Society has decided that if there is a problem (no matter how small), the government should solve it.

There is NO Constitutional basis for this. Nothing in the Federalist Papers mentions this philosophical idea behind our founders’ actions.

The downside of this all-powerful government is that now we get to treat EVERY election like it is the apocalypse. As the experience of the current administration teaches us, the Patriot Act, torture, killing U.S. citizens without trial, and the TSA are all TERRIBLE ideas. That is unless “our guy” is in charge. Then they’re fine. But if that “other guy” wins, with ALL THIS POWER we gave “our guy”, well – it would be THE END OF THE WORLD!

We need a return to a proper role of government in our society.

One of the reasons that I love that quote from Teddy at the top of this post is that it has multiple levels to it. I think his main message is that a rifle is neither good nor bad – it’s just a tool. If a good person uses it, it can be life-saving. In the hands of a mad man, it can cause horrendous destruction. Clearly, Teddy thinks that the same is true of votes.

I would take it a step further: a rifle can solve A LOT of problems – I’m sure that you’d have fewer stupid little disagreements with co-workers if you walked around with one all the time, for example – but the rifle isn’t the FIRST tool that you should grab for in that situation, right? Aren’t there more civilized and advanced solutions than jumping to the use of coercive force?

A vote for an all-powerful government is a vote for the use of force. You just aren’t the one carrying the rifle around – you’ve outsourced the function.

When you go into the election booth, don’t think about what YOU as an individual stand to gain “for free” with your vote – think about what is the best way to run our country. Remember that “your guy” won’t always be in charge, and the “other guy” might not be as trustworthy with an unlimited “kill anyone we call a ‘terrorist’ with absolutely no trial or oversight” power. Don’t use your vote as the first tool to solve all your problems. Use it like a rifle should be used – as a purely defensive last resort.

And if you get upset after the election because the “other guy” won, remember this comforting thought from the brilliant Frederick Douglass:

“Nothing is settled that is not right.”

It’s not the end of the world.

Free Speech

For those who don’t know (or can’t tell from the links on the page), I’m a libertarian and I have a deep respect for the Constitution. Our system of government was brilliantly constructed to protect our rights.

The key word there is “protect”. The Constitution does not grant rights. The philosophy of the founders was one of natural rights – you are entitled to rights because you are human, not because a government has been nice enough to cede a privilege or two. You can see this clearly in the Declaration of Independence (emphasis mine):

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…

This is what America is built on. Our rights belong to us – we aren’t borrowing them from a government that is perfectly justified in taking them away if it thinks that’s best. That’s why stories like this one are so troubling.

When rights are left up to the will of the majority, or the government, or whoever happens to be in charge, they cease to be “rights”. If we are only being benevolently gifted a limited amount of freedom, what makes us think we can complain when that freedom is taken away? As long as the majority voted on it, that’s what has to be.

This is why democracy is a nightmare – and why the founders wisely gave us a republic with a Constitution.

Recent Reads

I wanted to do a quick set of mini reviews of some books that I’ve read lately. Due to my preparations for a reading party I hosted on Constitution Day, there’s an easily-detectable theme here. Enjoy!

Miracle At Philadelphia

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Miracle at Philadelphia
Miracle at Philadelphia

A few months ago, I read Bowen’s biography of Sir Edward Coke (the greatest lawyer of all time), The Lion and the Throne. While it wasn’t an easy read, and seemed to focus much more on the events around Coke than on Coke himself, I thought I’d give her take on the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention a shot. I’m glad that I did.

She does a good job of setting the stage quickly and getting right into the details of all the politics involved in the convention coming together. Some of the more prominent personalities – Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, and even lesser-known James Wilson – are the central characters. Madison gets his thoughts in as well, but since he kept copious notes on the convention proceedings, he ends up playing the role of narrator in Bowen’s telling.

Some of my favorite parts involved the struggles of the different personalities trying to get their way. Patrick Henry, as the leader of the Anti-Federalists, ends up looking like the “bad guy” in retrospect. I think we tend to forget that not everyone in the room agreed that the Constitution was a good idea – or even that creating a Constitution was a good idea. Some of the ideas that were floated, from having a 3-person committee act as the executive (because we were so freaked-out by the idea of monarchy), to the “revolutionary” idea that elected offices wouldn’t come with a religious or property-ownership requirement, seem really strange to us today but were all concepts that were experimental at the time. It’s good to remember how far we’ve come.

There is an odd section in the middle where she talks about the people and history of the different sections of the country at that time, including the western frontier. It was good info, but it really felt like it killed the flow of the book to me.

This is a solid history of the personalities and politics of the Convention. I really highly recommend it.


The Odd Clauses

Jay Wexler

The Odd Clauses
The Odd Clauses

This book came up in an article I read on one of the libertarian blogs I read frequently. You have to love the idea of investigating some of the stranger parts of the Constitution, and if the author is the kind of guy who would put Christy’s classic painting of the Convention (with the addition of a few random woodland creatures Photoshopped in) on his book’s cover, you know you’re in for a fun ride.

Wexler doesn’t disappoint. This is a great combination of serious Constitutional scholarship, fascinating historical trivia, and joking-around. It’s quite brilliant.

He does a good job of remaining neutral throughout the book, too. You can just barely detect his own liberal slant on issues in the writing. He does end up going a little nuts in the final chapter though – I suppose he can’t help but rip into the concept of Substantive Due Process (although he does admit that this mechanism also gave us Roe v. Wade).

One of my favorite passages is in the chapter about judicial powers. Wexler imagines the justices operating like a trial court, arguing about whether to let in a certain piece of evidence. Of course, the court splits 4 – 4, with everyone turning to Clarence Thomas for whether to uphold or overrule the objection. He just sits silently. Maybe that’s only funny to SCOTUS nerds.

Overall, if you can tolerate the occasional liberal outburst, this is a really fun book. And you’ll learn a ton in-between laughs.


A Sanctuary For The Wounded

Christ Lutheran Church – Gettysburg, PA

A Sanctuary For the Wounded
A Sanctuary For the Wounded

This one is not regularly published. The church self-published this collection of essays – I found it in a book shop in Gettysburg.

Christ Lutheran Church is an old historical church in Gettysburg just west of the center of town. It quickly became a field hospital the morning of July 1, 1863 when the fighting started on the ridges west of town. The church does a weekly program (on Saturday nights, I think) where they tell the story of the church as a hospital and they sing period music, and read period poetry. This book is basically the take-home version of that show.

As a collection of essays, its a little disjointed and scattered. While it begins with an overview of the history of Christ Lutheran itself, it doesn’t focus exclusively on the church, but tells the story of the wounded and those who cared for them in the downtown area. There’s also a collection of 19th century poetry at the end for character.

This was a really brief read. I’m no speed demon, but I finished in about 2 hours. While the information is good and somewhat interesting, this is hardly a deep treatment of the subject of the mess left behind after Gettysburg.