Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Federalist #6
Posted on 03/22/2010 7:55:06 AM PDT by Publius
The classical educations of the era provided a thorough grounding in history, both recent and ancient. Alexander Hamilton, like his colleague and friend James Madison, was a keen student of history, and here he shows off his erudition in a brilliant display of historical facts, a genuine tour de force.
1 To the People of the State of New York:
2 The three last numbers of this paper have been dedicated to an enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations.
3 I shall now proceed to delineate dangers of a different and perhaps still more alarming kind those which will in all probability flow from dissensions between the states themselves and from domestic factions and convulsions.
4 These have been already in some instances slightly anticipated, but they deserve a more particular and more full investigation.
5 A man must be far gone in utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that, if these states should either be wholly disunited or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other.
6 To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious.
7 To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood would be to disregard the uniform course of human events and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.
8 The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable.
9 There are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society.
10 Of this description are the love of power, or the desire of pre-eminence and dominion the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety.
11 There are others which have a more circumscribed though an equally operative influence within their spheres.
12 Such are the [rivalries] and competitions of commerce between commercial nations.
13 And there are others, not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin entirely in private passions; in the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members.
14 Men of this class, whether the favorites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed, and assuming the pretext of some public motive have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquillity to personal advantage or personal gratification.
15 The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentment of a prostitute1, at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished and destroyed the city of the Samnians.
16 The same man, stimulated by private pique against the Megarensians2, another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an accomplice of a supposed theft of the statuary Phidias3, or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be brought against him for dissipating the funds of the state in the purchase of popularity4, or from a combination of all these causes, was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war distinguished in the Grecian annals by the name of the Peloponnesian War, which after various vicissitudes, intermissions and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.
17 The ambitious cardinal, who was prime minister to Henry VIII, permitting his vanity to aspire to the triple crown5, entertained hopes of succeeding in the acquisition of that splendid prize by the influence of the Emperor Charles V.
18 To secure the favor and interest of this enterprising and powerful monarch, he precipitated England into a war with France, contrary to the plainest dictates of policy, and at the hazard of the safety and independence, as well of the kingdom over which he presided by his counsels, as of Europe in general.
19 For if there ever was a sovereign who bid fair to realize the project of universal monarchy, it was the Emperor Charles V, of whose intrigues Wolsey was at once the instrument and the dupe.
20 The influence which the bigotry of one female6, the petulance of another7, and the cabals of a third8, had in the contemporary policy, ferments and [pacification] of a considerable part of Europe, are topics that have been too often descanted upon not to be generally known.
21 To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the production of great national events, either foreign or domestic, according to their direction, would be an unnecessary waste of time.
22 Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from which they are to be drawn will themselves recollect a variety of instances, and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will not stand in need of such lights to form their opinion either of the reality or extent of that agency.
23 Perhaps, however, a reference tending to illustrate the general principle may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves.
24 If Shays had not been a desperate debtor, it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.
25 But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular there are still to be found visionary or designing men who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the states, though dismembered and alienated from each other.
26 The genius of republics, say they, is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars.
27 Commercial republics like ours will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other.
28 They will be governed by mutual interest and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord.
29 Is it not we may ask these projectors in politics the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit?
30 If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it?
31 Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions and immediate interest have a more active and imperious control over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice?
32 Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies?
33 Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter?
34 Are there not aversions, predilections, [rivalries] and desires of unjust acquisitions that affect nations as well as kings?
35 Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice and of other irregular and violent propensities?
36 Is it not well known that their determinations are often governed by a few individuals in whom they place confidence and are of course liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals?
37 Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war?
38 Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory?
39 Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion?
40 Has not the spirit of commerce, in many instances, administered new incentives to the appetite, both for the one and for the other?
41 Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.
42 Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were all republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind.
43 Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighboring monarchies of the same times.
44 Sparta was little better than a well regulated camp, and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.
45 Carthage, though a commercial republic, was the aggressor in the very war that ended in her destruction.
46 Hannibal had carried her arms into the heart of Italy and to the gates of Rome before Scipio in turn gave him an overthrow in the territories of Carthage and made a conquest of the commonwealth.
47 Venice in later times figured more than once in wars of ambition till, becoming an object to the other Italian states, Pope Julius II found means to accomplish that formidable league9 which gave a deadly blow to the power and pride of this haughty republic.
48 The provinces of Holland, till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes, took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe.
49 They had furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea and were among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Louis XIV.
50 In the government of Britain the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature.
51 Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country.
52 Few nations, nevertheless, have been more frequently engaged in war, and the wars in which that kingdom has been engaged have in numerous instances proceeded from the people.
53 There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars.
54 The cries of the nation and the importunities of their representatives have upon various occasions dragged their monarchs into war or continued them in it, contrary to their inclinations and sometimes contrary to the real interests of the state.
55 In that memorable struggle for superiority between the rival houses of Austria and Bourbon which so long kept Europe in a flame, it is well known that the antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition, or rather the avarice, of a favorite leader10, protracted the war beyond the limits marked out by sound policy and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the court.
56 The wars of these two last mentioned nations have in a great measure grown out of commercial considerations the desire of supplanting and the fear of being supplanted, either in particular branches of traffic or in the general advantages of trade and navigation.
57 From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy in a state of separation?
58 Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?
59 Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?
60 Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit have sunk, let the inconveniences felt everywhere from a lax and ill administration of government, let the revolt of a part of the state of North Carolina, the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania, and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts declare!
61 So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the tenets of those who endeavor to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord and hostility between the states in the event of disunion, that it has from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom in politics that vicinity or nearness of situation constitutes nations natural enemies.
62 An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect: Neighboring nations, says he, 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.''11
63 This passage at the same time points out the evil and suggests the remedy.
 Aspasia, vide Plutarch's Life of Pericles.
 Ibid. Phidias was supposed to have stolen some public gold with the connivance of Pericles for the embellishment of the statue of Minerva.
 Worn by the popes.
 Madame de Maintenon.
 Duchess of Marlborough.
 Madame de Pompadour.
 The League of Cambray, comprehending the Emperor, the King of France, the King of Aragon and most of the Italian princes and states.
 The Duke of Marlborough.
 Vide Principes des Negociations par l'Abbe de Mably.
Shorn of historical erudition, Hamiltons case here is a very simple one: that an America made up of regional governments was likely to find itself engulfed in internal war, the more so for an America made up of individual states.
5 if these states should either be wholly disunited or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other.
7 To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood would be to disregard the uniform course of human events and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.
Hamilton now gives the reader a fireworks show of the causes for war in history. Some of these are a jealousy of power (10), a desire for pre-eminence, commercial rivalries and competition (12), and the private passions of those in whose hands the government resides (13).
There is a subtle suggestion that the forms of government of the sundry regions may or may not continue to be republican as they were when Hamilton wrote, else why dwell on the excesses of individual rulers? Yet these rulers could hold sway even within the most classical democracy of all, Athens. Hamiltons blaming of Pericles relations with the accused hetaera Aspasia for the prosecution of the Samian War was more a function of popular history read from both Plutarch and the anti-Periclean comic poets that served as propagandists of the day, than it was of any particular historical accuracy. It should be noted that both Donald Kagan and Anthony Podlecki have called into question Plutarchs sourcing, which was some 400 years after the events he chronicled. But the point is made: such wars could arise out of personal matters even in a democracy.
Hamilton now turns his scrutiny toward monarchy, citing court favorites whose influence served to initiate wars for reasons not entirely within the realm of national interests, from Henry VIIIs Cardinal Wolsey to Louis XVs Madame Pompadour. These cases, he states, are so well-known to the contemporary reader that he scarcely bothers to mention them by name, and so they were, for Hamiltons litany takes him well within the lifetimes of his readers. Indeed, Pompadour died only five years before Hamiltons own birth, and her influence was legendary, if not perhaps as malign as Hamilton is implying. Even the notoriously anti-royal Voltaire mourned her tenderly.
Like Jay before him, Hamilton is sounding a warning against any repetition of European history that might come from a disunited America. That history, from the end of the English Civil Wars to the French Revolution, was a dizzying panorama of conflict involving Marlborough, to whom Hamilton alludes in 55, and his friend Eugene of Savoy staving off the Turks before Vienna, the War of Spanish Succession that pitted Bourbon against Habsburg which so kept Europe in flame, and the Seven Years War that pitted Prussias Frederick the Great against the remarkable Maria Theresa of Austria, whose daughter, Marie Antoinette, was soon to lose her head in France. This was contemporary history Washington and a number of other figures of the American War of Independence were veterans of that phase of the Seven Years War that was named the French and Indian War in the New World.
Thus Hamiltons notion that it is needless to cite these figures and the events surrounding them. He does, however, remind the reader that these were not solely the sins of monarchy: Sparta, Rome, Carthage and Venice were all nominally republican after one fashion or another. Nor were they exclusively the sins of vanity, as Hamiltons citation of the commercial differences that led Britain to war with Holland, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch war having concluded only three years before the writing. To bring the point home, he mentions Shays Rebellion and:
60 the revolt of a part of the state of North Carolina, the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania, and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts
In short, it could happen even was happening here.
Hamiltons case is that a unified federal government was the only thing that would keep the near future of the new nation from resembling that of Europe within itself. Indeed, it would take three-quarters of a century before regional differences would plunge the United States into fratricidal tragedy.
One notes that Hamiltons case does not exempt the unified government from precisely these failings with regard to its own relations with Europe, as the War of 1812 would demonstrate. Nor is it intended to suggest that the proposed Constitution was necessarily the only option, but a sense of urgency comes through that reminds that Hamilton considered it the only practical option before centrifugal tendencies of politics threw a disunited America into the fractious European mold. Hamilton himself had a recent experience of those tendencies.
The Philadelphia Mutiny of 1783
While Shays Rebellion in 1787 stole the headlines of the day and terrified the political class, there were other problems as the war ended and the Continental Army remained unpaid. One of those incidents happened in Philadelphia, and Hamilton himself had been involved, much to his detriment. In The Young Hamilton. James Thomas Flexner tells how the young congressman from New York turned a minor crisis into a major disaster.
While Washington was using his personal example to thwart a budding fascist movement at the Newburgh camp, some 80 frontiersmen who had enlisted in the Continental Army abandoned their officers in Lancaster and marched to Philadelphia, where both the Pennsylvania state government and Confederation Congress were meeting, to demand their pay. Compounding this was a letter from other soldiers in the Philadelphia barracks, who had defied their officers, demanding to be paid and threatening Congress in the process. Congress refused to respond, and the soldiers took no action. But with reinforcements from Lancaster arriving, Hamilton was asked to head a committee to defuse the situation. That turned out to be a mistake.
The committee tried to persuade the mutineers to go back to Lancaster, but instead the contingent joined the Philadelphia troops and took control of the artillery and powder magazines. The next day, 500 troops repudiated the command of their officers and marched to the State House, surrounding Congress, which was holding a rare Saturday session, and waved their muskets and bayonets at the assembled congressmen. Hamilton and the few men in attendance as usual, there was no quorum wanted to call in federal forces to quell the rebellion, but the only federal forces in town were the men outside the State House.
The Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania was meeting upstairs, and Hamilton thought that surely it would call out the militia to stop the mutiny, but no militiamen appeared. It would have been easy for Hamilton to go upstairs, knock on the door and ask if the state government were going to act, but he feared that doing so would lower the prestige of Congress. Finally, John Dickenson, president of Pennsylvania, came downstairs to notify Congress that the mutineers had asked the state government to permit them to choose their own officers; of course, only Congress could honor such a request from federal troops. In spite of a threat from the soldiers to storm the building, the state government had refused their offer. But no one moved against either governing body. Reasoning that the threat had abated, Congress agreed to permit the mutineers to choose officers to present their case.
Congress then awaited the withdrawal of the troops, but after three hours, with the military force still in place, Hamilton decided to lead the assembled congressmen out of the building. He expected to be attacked, but instead he was ignored, which was the ultimate insult. The men returned to their barracks with artillery and powder magazines under their control. Congress sent a message to General Washington asking for troops to be sent to Philadelphia, lest Congress be taken hostage.
That night, Congress met quietly at Carpenters Hall. Hamilton introduced resolutions stating that the authority of the United States had been insulted, demanding that Pennsylvania take immediate action to address the situation, and recommending that Congress flee Philadelphia and move to Trenton or Princeton. All resolutions passed.
On Sunday, Hamilton met with the government of Pennsylvania and demanded the call-up of the militia. The Pennsylvania Council was in negotiations with the mutineers and seeking a non-violent solution, but Hamilton brushed that aside as cowardly. The Council pointed out that the militia would be more in sympathy with the mutineers than Congress and that the states powder was in the hands of the mutinous soldiers. Hamilton should have held his tongue, but he bragged that it would take him a mere fifteen minutes to collect enough private armaments to solve the problem. The Council decided to poll their militia commanders and report the next day.
When Monday morning came, Hamilton discovered that the Council would not reply in writing, lest that provoke the mutineers, and their verbal answers drove Hamilton to rage when they explained that the militia would stand with the soldiers if force were employed.
On Tuesday morning, Hamilton discovered that there was not enough ammunition available to make good on his boast, so he had to interrupt the meeting of the state government to retract his threat. Discovering that the state government would not call out the militia, Congress packed up and moved.
As soon as Congress opened for business in Princeton, the mutiny evaporated. When rumors were heard that the bank was to be robbed, armed citizens took over and patrolled the streets. The mutineers argued among themselves and scattered at the word that General Washington was sending troops. The Lancaster contingent marched right back home, and the whole sordid episode ended with a whimper.
When it was over, Alexander Hamilton looked like an ass, and he retired from Congress and public life or so he thought.
FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
5 Oct 1787, Centinel #1
6 Oct 1787, James Wilsons Speech at the State House
8 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #1
9 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #2
18 Oct 1787, Brutus #1
22 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #1
27 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #2
27 Oct 1787, Federalist #1
31 Oct 1787, Federalist #2
3 Nov 1787, Federalist #3
5 Nov 1787, John DeWitt #3
7 Nov 1787, Federalist #4
10 Nov 1787, Federalist #5
You and that beer maker are doing a helluva job!
was it the debt responsible for the unrest, or the government subjecting a certain population to be the main source of paying back that debt, to which everyone owed.
hamilton aknowledges that man is imperfect, therefore, the government will be imperfect, but that through the diligence of working together as a union, and not individually, more good, than not, will be done.
i believe hamilton’s observance of the rule of man in all governments, that human nature, and war, are all means to an end as man looks to his own benefits and interests. when backed to the wall, man will do what man needs to do to survive.
Actually, it was a bit of both. If you go back to one of the earliest threads, there is an explanation of the messy issue of money. Brutally put, there was no money that anyone would trust. Raising taxes on the people was a no-no considering that a war had just been fought on the subject, so states began taxing citizens of other states by import duty. It was a clever way of evading the issue, but it almost tore the country apart.
Add to this the fact that some states engaged in partial or total repudiation of their debts. Bottom line: the situation was a mess, and the confederation government didn't have the power to address it.
...when backed to the wall, man will do what man needs to do to survive.
That is true, and yesterday's events in Congress make me think the American people are going to be put to that test within a year's time.
the pressure of the state taxation and the federal pressure will surely bring something to bear soon... perhaps not a year, but soon... as the taxes ratchet up on the majority of the people...
look also for concerns from state gov’ts that know not how to cut spending and increase spending more and more...
but hamilton’s accusation of shay as a great debtor is perhaps just a passing of the buck, considering the country was so far in debt too.
i miss the constitutionality of each state being responsible for the spending deficit based on population... if we’re spending more than we take in... because our reps are not responsible... the states need to fork it up.
This throw away line is illustrative of the non-government under the Articles and further supports the cause for a new one.
That is very ironic given the events that occurred between 1860 and 1873. I suspect that we would have had FAR less trouble over time had we remained the confederation our founders laid out vs the mercantile empire we became after that time.
In the Constitution of 1787, the Founders believed they had provisions and protections, including those which protected the concept of Federalism, to prevent such "aggrandize(ment)" by some at the "expense" of others.
Tracing the history of how we have allowed the erosion of the principle of Federalism, combined with other violations of constitutional principle which have occurred over 200+ years, how does this "intelligent writer's" conclusion apply to states like California and others whose mismanagement now causes them "to aggrandize themselves at the expense of" other states who have been more prudent?
See an essay entitled, "Federalism - the Division of Powers Between the National and State Governments," Part V, pp 90 - 96, "Our Ageless Constitution," which closes with this powerful 1821 declaration by Thomas Jefferson:
". . . when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
The constitutional scholars who contributed to this volume's, powerful Part V essays traced the actions which have weakened the original protections and provisions of the Framers' Constitution over the 200 years from 1787 to its publication date in 1987.