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 #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.