EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third in a series of articles giving an introduction to the Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.
In Federalist #2, John Jay makes the case that America should remain a single union and argues that failure to ratify the constitution would likely mean an end to a united America.
Jay builds on this idea in Federalist #3, asserting that Americans united under a strong national government will enjoy a greater degree of safety from foreign hostilities.
He introduces his case with a self-evident statement, pointing out that wars arise in proportion to the number of real or perceived causes that provoke them.
“If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire whether so many JUST causes of war are likely to be given by UNITED AMERICA as by DISUNITED America; for if it should turn out that United America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations.”
Jay proceeds to pinpoint two primary causes of foreign wars – violation of treaties and direct violence – and then argues that a united America will limit both more effectively than 13 separate states or several confederacies.
Jay focuses first on treaties, arguing that a single national government will represent America better to the world, and will likely do a superior job observing the “laws of nations.”
Because the federal government will attract better leaders.
Jay insinuates that men of the highest character and with the best qualifications don’t always end up in positions of authority at the state level, but insists the national government will not suffer from this same problem.
“The best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it.”
As a result, the national government “will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more SAFE with respect to us.”
Jay doesn’t provide any evidence to back up this premise and seems to believe his readers will accept it as a given.
His second point comes across as much less speculative. Jay observes that a single, unified government will provide a much greater level of consistency in its interactions with foreign nations. While different states or confederate governments might interpret the terms of a treaty and the laws of nations differently, a single government alleviates this problem. Jay points out that the under a federal government, treaties and laws “will always be expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner.”
Finally, Jay argues that the federal government will rise above local concerns, serving as both a check on unwarranted aggression should a state or two “swerve from good faith and justice,” and providing a coordinated defense should a local area need it while other states remain reluctant to assist.
“The national government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be induced to commit the wrong themselves, nor want power or inclination to prevent or punish its commission by others.”
Jay next shifts his attention to causes of war “which proceed from direct and unlawful violence.” Again, he insists a national government provides the greatest level of safety, asserting “such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than of the whole; of one or two States than of the Union.”
Jay points out that the “present federal government” had not instigated a single Indian war, but the conduct of individual States provoked numerous confrontations. He then points out the risk of war due to conflicts between states, and countries like France, Britain and Spain holding bordering territories.
“The bordering States, if any, will be those who, under the impulse of sudden irritation, and a quick sense of apparent interest or injury, will be most likely, by direct violence, to excite war with these nations; and nothing can so effectually obviate that danger as a national government, whose wisdom and prudence will not be diminished by the passions which actuate the parties immediately interested.”
Jay concludes Federalist #3 arguing that the federal government will not only create fewer causes for war than the individual states or confederacies, but will also be in a better position to end them amicably. Jay returns to an earlier theme – the superiority of federal actors. “They will be more temperate and cool, and in that respect,” he wrote. “The national government, in such cases, will not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and candor to consider and decide on the means most proper to extricate them from the difficulties which threaten them.”
And if all else fails, Jay notes a strong, united country can rely on its sheer power as opposed to “a State or confederacy of little consideration or power.”