The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)
Federalist Essays No.1 - No.5
Because of the failures of the current federal government, you are being asked to consider a new system of government. There are reasons both philanthropic and patriotic that should cause you to support it, but I know that support will not come easily. As in all prior cases of great national discussion, the different opinions and angry passions will get loose.
The supporters of the new document will be accused of favoring despotism and being hostile to liberty. It will be forgotten that the energy of the government is crucial to the security of liberty. You should be on guard, my fellow countrymen, for citizens that try to persuade you in your decision in any way other than through the evidence of truth. I will provide for you in these essays the reasons to support the new constitution, and will attempt to give you responses to all the objections to the new government.
It is worth mentioning that the importance of the union is being questioned. There are critics that believe no single system can manage all 13 states. The only alternative to adopting this Constitution is to disband the union.
Nothing is more agreed upon than the importance of government, and the necessity of giving up personal liberty to sustain that government. The question is will the people be willing to give up some of their liberty for a federal government or insist upon a government of separate confederacies?
The success and happiness of the American people up until this point has depended on unity, and luck has provided Americans with a unified country to inhabit. Before European settlement, America was one wide and connected country- -different in soil and climate, but connected by waterways to bind it together. The people in this country are descended from a single set of ancestors; share a single language, religion, and customs. The success of the American Revolution stems from this unity, and fate seems to indicate a future in which American brothers continue to join together.
This sense of unity made the colonists join together to fight a war and establish their first American government, but that plan was not done in calm times. It has been found to be greatly deficient, and the same intelligent people have called for a change. The most respected men have come together and out of a love for their country to develop this new plan. As they have the most experience and have been involved in decisions about the nation before, their work should be trusted. They share with all citizens a belief in the importance of the union.
There are many reasons that Americans remain true to the idea that unity is important, but safety and security has always been the most important reason. Let us analyze the assumption of whether unity provides the best safety against external and internal threats.
The number of wars is proportional to the number of causes of wars. One united nation would be therefore be involved in fewer wars than many states or confederacies. Trade agreements and treaties need to be honored and followed consistently to avoid war. The inconsistent actions of many different states are more likely to instigate war, than the consistent actions of one. Individual states may act on their own selfish interests for gain or in reaction to loss. This will hurt the relationship of the whole with foreign nations. A united nation is more powerful to settle dispute and negotiate terms. It will be taken more seriously in world affairs than a confederation.
The safety of a nation also relies on not inviting hostility or insult from other nations. There are rivalries with France and Britain over trade routes, fisheries and navigation. The economic progress of the United States will not make these rivals happy for us, but eager to see us weakened.
There is territorial conflict with Spain and England over the navigation of the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence Rivers. These tensions could lead to war. A united national government provides the best possible state of defense and will not invite war. A united national government does this by combining the talents of the best men, acting on a uniform policy towards foreign nations, protecting several parts at once, and having an interest in the advantages of the whole when devising treaties.
A divided nation does not have the same capacity for a united army and navy to act on its defense. Lacking a unified military, will each section always come to the aid of the others? How would a uniform policy be decided? Foreign nations will view the disorganization and military weakness of a divided nation and act accordingly on its own interest. Foreign nations will view a strong and unified nation as one to cultivate a friendship with.
In the absence of unity amongst the states, the states would become competitive with each other resulting in a number of distinct nations, each competing for different commercial concerns, operating under different political attachments and cultivating different foreign relations. The competitive states would most likely form alliances with foreign countries in order to defend itself against its neighbors. Foreign wars would be fought in this continent, and there would be a great disruption to security and safety.
The first few federalist essays establish this document firmly in the American tradition of persuasive pamphleteering characteristic of the Revolutionary Period, and provide the historical context for the necessity of maintaining the union.
The most significant persuasive statements made during the American Revolution focused on the need of the colonies to break from Great Britain. Both Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine's Common Sense established strong arguments in favor of independence and significantly contributed to the swaying of public opinion in favor of independence.
However, the pamphleteers were noticeably quiet during the thirteen year period between the declaration of war and the publication of the U.S. Constitution. In particular, commentary and opinions about the passage of the Articles of Confederation are not a significant part of the series of American historical documents. While this could be the result of a consensus that the Articles were a failed experiment and one that need not be memorialized through the study of arguments in their favor, it could also be reflective of the political haste with which the Articles were designed and put into effect.
In contrast to the Articles, which basically codified what the Second Continental Congress was already doing, the Constitution provides a plan for an ideal form of government that can anticipate future changes and growth. Additionally, the Articles were not presented to the people for ratification, so no public justification was required to persuade them in favor of the document. The Articles were approved by the Congress that designed them and then sent to state legislatures for ratification. The public opinion, outside of the delegates to state legislatures, did not engage in the debate over acceptance of the Articles.
The Federalist sets out to persuade readers about the importance of their voice in ratifying the Constitution by appealing to their sense of patriotism and by reminding them of their own powers to judge upon the validity of the arguments. The authors do so by providing logical arguments based on historical evidence, the lived experience of Americans and by references to political philosophers.
The first few federalist essays lay the foundation for the rest of the argument by reminding the reader how important unity had been to the American people throughout all stages of its early history. The idea of a union formed for mutual defense began in 1643 with the founding of the first colonial union, called the New England Confederation, created to defend the New England colonies against the threat of Indian attacks and French invasion. The number of colonies protected by a union expanded during the French and Indian War through the Albany Congress, which was formed for the purpose of a uniform colonial defense strategy against the French and Indians.
The American colonies united to protect themselves from the usurpations of Parliament and the King, first in the form of boycotts and petitions and then in a concerted military effort. The strength of that union succeeded in winning the War for Independence and in establishing the first American government under the Articles of Confederation. The federalist essays seek to remind the reader of the importance of the union because they contend that anything other than a strong central government will mean the end of the union.
The Federalist is full of examples of the ways in which the union has already begun to crumble and of the detrimental outcome of trying to prosper without a union. In particular, tensions with the European nations of Spain and England are escalating over the navigation of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi Rivers. This tension has been accelerated because of the interests of individual states in violating the treaties arranged between the United States and the European countries. A strong union would have prevented individual states from seeking their own best interest. Furthermore, a strong union has the best chance of defending the United States in case the tensions escalated to war.
By reminding the reader both of the historical reasons for creating a union, as well as the alarming outcome of disbanding the union, Publius presents the foundation upon which the rest of the argument in favor of the Constitution will be built.