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: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_04.html
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.