May 5, 2010 – Federalist No. 6 – Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States, for the Indpendent Journal (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: W. B. Allen, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Essay number five closed with recognition that what is decisive in human communities is the political distinction, the political identity. That settles the question of what is “near and dear.” That distinction lies at the root of warfare. It follows accordingly that one lessens the chance of war by setting thins up so that people will call the same things “near and dear.” This means, at a minimum of course, that when people seek to resolve their most important questions they will all expect the authoritative answer to come from the same source. They will all appeal to the same Solomon.
None of this means that Publius envisions a human landscape from which all war has been eliminated. He described controlling war within the precise political environment of the United States by means of constructing a political identity for these people called Americans. This is made clear in essay number six, in which Publius speaks explicitly against utopian speculation.
Men, he argues, are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. They are so because they differ regarding the things that are near and dear to them. One reacts to those things which are not one’s own more under the influence of those passions of ambition, vindictiveness, or rapaciousness than with in respect to what is one’s own. The founding seeks to insulate this characteristic in human beings by teaching some set of human beings to hold the same things “near and dear.”
Note, too, that the statement about human character does not add the familiar phrase, “by nature.” It is not necessary to conclude that human nature is evil in order to see that certain evil (fallenness) is attached to human nature. There is another view that human nature itself is evil, that is sometimes falsely attributed to Publius. This very negative portrait of constitutionalism makes it appear that the whole purpose of the constitution is to prevent Americans from doing all the evil they can to one another.
The first essays in The Federalist Papers convey exactly the opposite picture: it is admitted that evil is possible; it is admitted that government is necessary; it is admitted that people do violence; it is admitted that there are causes of war rooted in human nature; but there is still the positive endeavor, which is the real driving force of this founding, and that is the endeavor to build a nation of one people who call the same things near and dear.
This emerges clearly in the third paragraph of essay number six:
The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. There are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society: 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. There are others which have a more circumscribed, though an equally operative influence, within their spheres: Such are the rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations. And there are others not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin intirely [sic] in private passions: in the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes, and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members.
These separate categories that Publius has listed all relate to one another, but the most important thing about them is that they are distinct, separate. The love of power, to take an example, is different from the private passions. The rivalries and competitions of commerce also differ from private passions. In a manner of speaking, these factors may not be passions at all, they may be perfectly rational. If by passions, we mean what is not rational, then we cannot call all these things “passions.” That means that the causes of war are not necessarily irrational.
To imagine that wars come about only because of failures of reason is probably one of the greatest mistakes. Some wars are thoroughly rational. Above all, ina case wehre people palce themselves ina situation to invite war. Let’s remember essays three and four: “the nation must place itself in such a situation that it will not invite war.” It will invite friendly intercourse, not war; which is why prosperity is a precondition for peace rather than a consequence of peace.
Having made that distinction, and having distinguished the private passions from other conceivable causes of war, we now note that the private passions are not less interesting because they are arational. For they bear upon the question of public opinion, and the preceding discussion turns almost entirely upon the question of public opinion.
In paragraph seven of essay six Publius again discussed the general clauses and examples of wars, now focused on the United States. He remarked that great national events sometimes are produced by petty personal matters, and he described Daniel Shays of Massachusetts as a desperate debtor. Then he added that it is much to be doubted whether there had bee a rebellion had Shays not been a desperate debtor. Thus, Publius wonders out loud whether the brief civil war was caused because a desperate person was carried away or because a person of enormous capacity for leadership was desperate. Accordingly, private passion must be taken into account no less than rational opportunities. If Shays with his talent had not been made desperate, he had not organized thousands of debtors and farmers.
In the next two paragraph Publius set up a measure of the distance what he called visionary or designing men, on the hand, and the hardheaded realists of political life on the other hand:
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 humours which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will never e disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord.
What a lovely, visionary portrait of the modern dispensation! But Publius rejects it, no matter how close it comes to the view that prosperity is a precondition for peace. Publius says that it is not enough to form a republic and to practice commerce. In fact, he responds to both issues, when he wonders whether “it is not the true interest of all nations, whether republics or not, to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit.” Commerce may well soften manners, but it equally well provides new occasions for jealousies, new occasions for conflict. In short, Publius rejects the new and modern principles of the enlightenment, that greater human understanding will eliminate causes for war.
Publius’s argument is particular to the political organization of the untied States. Our discussion emerged from considering domestic violence. Publius examined commerce among the states, but noted that the commerce would not disappear because of Union. The only difference is a difference in practice or habitude. The various states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, say) would experience the same necessities. But under the Union they would all turn to the same source for help when problems arise. They would call the same thing near and dear by turning to a single Solomon. IT is the act of agreeing upon a single Solomon that predisposes men to be more peaceful with one another, more like brothers than enemies.
W. B. Allen
Dean and Professor of Emeritus
Michigan State University
27 Responses to “May 5, 2010 – Federalist No. 6 – Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States, for the Indpendent Journal (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: W. B. Allen, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University”
I found it very striking that he brought up the jealousies that can and will occur between states due to successes. Is this not what is happening today with our jealousy of corporate America? We want the fruit of other’s successes.
I was also moved by this paper because, to me, it seems to reflect upon the current unrest and calls for dissension by a few states. We look to each other (as states) and want what others have or don’t worry about other’s problems because we don’t see them as our own. Hamilton knew so many years ago that this could be an issue.
Susan Craig says:
The first five papers argue for the primary reason for government defense of the people. Now in six it is posited that the next reason for a national government arbitration between the sovereign states to peaceably resolve differences. They do not start from the belief that man is inherently good, argue from the knowledge that man is inherently flawed and sinful and will often act from any of the seven deadly sins (greed, lust, etc.)
B. Franklin once said, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.” I believe the life of every American citizen and or state was and is impacted by the whole, ie. one nation. Relinquishing a liberty for the short term forsakes longterm security. “We must indeed all hang together or most assuredly, we shall hang separately.” This famous quotation by Benjamin Franklin is a principle our Founding Fathers agreed to not only as a nation but personally by pledging their fortunes, families, and honor. Who today would be willing to take such an oath as this?
Susan I really like how you brought a central theme for the first 5 papers. Good thought!
Hamilton’s sentences are long and more involved than John Jay’s, and take more concentration on my part. The essays and commentaries on each Paper condenses the information, bringing out the highlights. I am so enjoying this series.
Samantha Curtis says:
None of this means that Publius envisions a human landscape from which all war has been eliminated. He described controlling war within the precise political environment of the United States by means of constructing a political identity for these people called Americans.
— So he is saying that America is not prefect that we are always going to have wars. But we need to control the war in a political way?
Carolyn Attaway says:
After reading Alexander Hamilton on #6, I realize how much I miss John Jay’s writings. John Jay was very concise, whereas I find Hamilton’s words very flowery. It reminds me of when Abigail Adams told her husband “John, people know you are highly educated, you don’t have to remind them in your speeches.” I guess I am going to be an unhappy camper for awhile
That being said, there were 2 phrases that jumped out at me: “A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that,” and “There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars”.
One definition of Utopian is an ardent but impractical political or social reformer; visionary; idealist. I believe we are experiencing this mindset today regarding our national security. Many believe we only need to discuss our differences with those that oppose us and we can solve all our problems. This is unrealistic for many reasons, and as Hamilton explains, this logic forgets that some men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious for no other reason than human nature. Hamilton realizes that most people strive for a Utopia, but he writes that because of the many causes of hostility between nations, this place is seldom, if ever found.
The second phrase regarding popular versus royal wars, reminded me of when the majority of Americans supported the IRAQ war, when their passions ran high and demanded action for the horrendous crime committed on our soil. The outcome of this war has split our Nation after several years because of many reasons, and now many question why we entered the war in the first place.
@Bache Today, only about 50% of the American population if you take in consideration that about 47% now receive some form of government entitlement.
@Carolyn, I so totally agree with you on the styles of the two writers. Hamilton requires my complete attention. That being said, I am so impressed with how the Founding Fathers have anticipated all these problems in the future.
Roger Jett says:
The Federalist Papers , as other commenters have pointed out, were directed toward a New York readership in hopes of bringing them into the camp that was arguing for a strong national government. Hamilton in particular wrote from a point of view that didn’t play as well in other parts of the country. This I think was particularly true of Paper #6 as some perception has been (both past and present) that he trivalized and mocked the plight of a very large portion of the citizenry when he labeled their protests as disturbances, revolts and rebellions. These people who had been made destitute by the war and by subsequent economic depressions, felt severely oppressed by their government. Those in position of power demanded payment of obligations in gold or silver. Many soldiers, farmers and other contributors to the war effort found themselves after the war undercompensated or even unpaid entirely for their sacrifices. The continental notes at that point in time were devalued to the point that they were widely considered of little or no value. The courts confiscated property to settle debts and many found themselves in debtor’s prison. A few protestors found themselves hung for treason! In this paper Hamilton mentions situations in three of the states ….North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachuetts. In his commentary Professor Allen identifies for us Shay’s Rebellion as the Masssachuetts’ incidence. I believe the disturbance in Pennsylvania that Hamilton alludes to would be the “Fries Rebellion” which is were the people were being assessed taxes for the number of windows they had in their homes (this was way before they had tanning beds). I presume, but may be doing so wrongly that the reference to North Carolina was referring to the establishment of the temporary and unrecognized State of Franklin which was located at what is today eastern Tennessee, but which was at that time considered a part of western North Carolina. The Federalist Party took political hits from their opponents due to the perception they were often against the common people in these various events and others. In saying all of this, I have no intentions of taking away or minimizing the enormous contribution that Hamilton made in leading our country to a magnificient republic with a constitution that is enequaled and has long endured the test of time. Hamilton is certainly deserving of the great honor bestowed upon him as a ” Founding Father.”
Andy Sparks says:
Hamilton speaks directly to the weakness of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation in this essay: “Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit have sunk,…from a lax and ill administration of government.” The loose confederation under the AOC is causing the new found freedom established by the Declaration of Independence to be threatened both without and within. Only under a new government such as proposed by the as yet ratified Constitution can prevent the discord among the states (such as Shay’s Rebellion) from ruination.
I too need assistance with Hamilton’s writings, so I want to thank professor Allen for his helpful comments. I was struck by his use of what is “near and dear” to us as a nation, our political identity, what truly holds us together as Americans. That identity has been under such terrible attack by so many for so long, that it has undermined our unity as a people. Now we are being pushed into groups, not so much warring states, except for Arizona, but isn’t that really a group identity issue, too. It is not the states at war so much as the political groups we are being made to identify with and to feel are more important than anything else. Aren’t people thinking of their political identity with their group, rather than with America as a whole? Aren’t we being set up here with the shift to think of what is “near and dear” to our group, rather than to our country?
Constituting America says:
Howdy from Texas! I thank y’all for joining us! Federalist No. 6 is yet another fascinating reading. Yes? I want to thank our Constitutional scholar, W.B. Allen, for breaking down Federalist Paper No. 6 with such superb detail.
Thanks Mr. Allen!
The complexity of this particular paper is mesmerizing.
I am enthralled by the examples of former empires, the rise and fall of these republics, and the reasons why. The relevancies in today’s reading are many but the warnings are simple and the question singular. How to we keep the United States of America from failing? The warnings from history provide wisdom. The republics of Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were ruined by wars and greed, Holland was overwhelmed in debt and taxes and England and France were beleaguered by antipathy toward one another.
It is interesting to reflect upon the fact that one of the reasons Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison could make such brilliant observations is because of their superb education. Alexander Hamilton should be an inspiration to many who believe that one has to be born into wealth to receive such an education. I wrote about Alexander Hamilton’s mother in my book, “Holding Her Head High.” Alexander was raised by his single mother, who by example, taught him at an early age the art of business and the spirit of tenacity. Yet, he was very poor. When his mother died he was in desperate need of a new pair of shoes. He may have had no shoes but he had spirit, determination and true grit.
Are these not qualities that Americans hold “Near and Dear” – spirit, determination and true grit. These American characteristics were why we won the Revolutionary war and these are the qualities that keep America great today. We are a country, a republic, where one may dare to dream. We are a country where, according to our Constitution, no one may receive titles of Nobility. We are a country where a boy born in a single room log cabin becomes President, where men raised by single mother’s become President, to name a few examples. We are a country where vision, perseverance and willingness to work hard can nurture the seeds of talent, in any man or woman, to fruition. In this respect we are all equal. In this respect we must hold “Near and Dear” our free enterprise, which yields the vast fruits of commerce, industry and personal ingenuity keeping America vibrant, solvent and safe.
@ Carolyn…….You have a way of putting into words exactly what I am thinking after reading these papers. I can’t thank you enough for your contributions here.
Laurie stated “Aren’t people thinking of their political identity with their group, rather than with America as a whole?”……and I couldn’t agree more. We need to stop thinking about issues on a “Right” or “Left” (or Republican vs Democrat) basis and get back to doing what is right for America.
David Hathaway says:
I personally enjoy Hamilton’s writing style. He uses difficult but valuable words that an earlier reader would have understood quicker than us. I am reminded of the difference between Spanish and English. Spanish tends to use more, easier, words while English uses longer, meatier words. The net result is that Romance language writings take more space. Just imagine how long this Paper would have been if Jay had written it!
I find it interesting that Hamilton invokes Shay’s Rebellion. Again, I find it timely. DESPERATE DEBTOR Daniel Shay was largely desperate and in debt because his government had levied such high taxes. Massachusetts levied high taxes to pay off their war debt. So crushing was the tax burden that citizens insurrected against their own government!
The experience was fresh in Hamilton’s mind as he became the first Secretary of the Treasury. It spurred him to address the National debt (not independent State debts), ultimately forming the First Bank of the United States.
I think the rebellion is timely, because our present government is likewise saddling us with debt. How long will it be before we are inflicted with crushing tax rates? How long will it be before Tea Parties become Shay’s Rebellions? Well, at least to the mainstream media!
I mentioned before the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Andrew Chernow. It’s very readable, as you’d want while straining the Federalist Paper soup. If you read the few chapters on Hamilton circa the post-Revolution and pre-Constitution, you might have even more insights.
Carolyn Attaway says:
@ Maggie . . . Thank you so much for your kind words. I, too, enjoy everyone’s contributions to this site. I have learned so much already!
Chuck Plano, Tx says:
I totally agree with getting back to doing what is right for America but remember we must think in terms of the Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government and not what has become today a total Federal System that has usurped the power of the States and the People.
After completion of the Federalist (and possibly Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution), I would recommend reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton. He had one of the most fascinating careers in American Politics. Unfortunately, he has been cast as the “villian” of the Founding Fathers, but our political, economic, and governmental system is more in line with his vision than that of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers with little editing, making the finished product all the more impressive. (When he grew tired of writing, his wife recorded his dictation). He was also instrumental in creating the initial cabinet departments (he was the first Secretary of the Treasury), and in establishing the Presidency as a powerful policy-making branch of government, rather than simply an adminsitrator for Congress. Evidently, Jefferson and Madison envisioned a British-style Parliamentary system, where the leader of Congress would also be the leader (i.e., Prime Minster) of the US Government.
Alexander Hamilton is probably the most misunderstood of our Founding Fathers.
Ron Meier says:
Two phrases struck me in Prof. Allen’s post. First, “prosperity is a precondition for peace rather than a consequence of peace.” Second, “IT is the act of agreeing upon a single Solomon that predisposes men to be more peaceful with one another, more like brothers than enemies.”
As I mentioned a couple days ago, with respect to the first phrase, conflict is normal & peace is abnormal. Where properity doesn’t exist in the world, nations are run by dictators and seem to be in a state of constant civil war. Increasing prosperity does seem to have helped us avoid civil war for the past 150 years. Now, though, it seems that some of our countrymen are setting up prosperity as a straw man to be attacked and vilified and drawn and quartered in the name of peace through equal outcomes. Instead we should praise God for the prosperity that has enabled us to be the most generous nation on the face of the earth and the nation that other nations call upon to bring them peace.
As to the second phrase, I wonder, what is the SINGLE SOLOMON upon which we might all, left and right, agree upon today that might nullify the internal conflict that is beginning to tear us apart? Troops in combat have that single Solomon, which is that they shed their blood and endure personal hardships for their comrades; that makes them a Band of Brothers. We don’t seem to have that single thing that makes all Americans feel like a Band of Brothers; we don’t endure much hardship together and we certainly don’t have each other’s backs to watch out for. Remember Curly from City Slickers who said the secret to life is ONE THING; Mitch asked what the one thing was and Curly’s response was “that’s what you’ve got to figure out.” We’ve got to figure out what our one thing is. While we might all agree on the qualities that Janine mentioned as those American hold near and dear, they appear important, but not sufficient, today to be our single Solomon. It seems that we, collectively, need to agree upon that before we can overcome our current internal conflicts. Anyone have any ideas on that Single Solomon? Or, as Curly might say, that one thing?
Andy Sparks says:
David, Hamilton addressd both the national AND the state debt. His assumption plan incorporated all the individual state debts with the national debt. The federal government would assume all the debt and pay off the interest only at a guaranteed rate. This would establish good credit with the rest of the world and insure that the wealthiest classes of America would be heavily vested in the success of the United States federal government: a very shrewd plan that worked wonders at putting the new nation on solid financial ground.
But you are right about early hints at his eventual policy in Federalist #6. I think he was saying that if the debt crises created by individual states financially at odds with one another were replaced by a government that did something like assume all of their debt, perhaps Shays would not have had a reason to rebel.
Roger Jett says:
Would like to make a correction to a tidbit in my earlier post this afternoon. I had speculated that Hamilton was referring to the “Fries Rebellion” when he alluded to a late menacing disburbance in Pennsylvania. Well that was wrong since this rebellion took place about twelve years after the ” Federalist Papers” were written. It’s a small matter, but does anyone know what event Hamilton was referring to ? My initial thought had been the “Whiskey Rebellion” of western Pennsylvania, but that took place later also.
Andy Sparks says:
Roger, Hamilton was referring to an incident in the Wyoming region of Pennsylvania where a group of people were trying to separate with other local regions to form their own state. It was serious enough that the Pennsylvania legislature resolved to call out the militia if things had gotten worse. See the minutes of the the legislature below:
Bringing up previous regions and unions that have experienced internal conflict… What is it with the federalist papers authors and the idea of an imminent civil war? This subject was touched upon in all of the federalist papers so far, and it was mentioned in the Constitution. It’s like they are psychic or something… just kidding, but I do find it strange.
Roger Jett, if your previous assumptions about the rebellion were wrong, which one is it referring to? Any further insights?
Jim Sykes says:
In response to Ron Meier. There is no “one thing” for all individuals and that is what I believe Curly was trying to tell Mitch. The reference to Solomon to me refers to the Solomon of the Bible. To answer Ron’s question about “my one thing” is my belief in God and His power to heal our nation if we will simply pray for Him to do so. I ask each person who reads this to do exactly that tomorrow at your local meeting to observe our National Day of Prayer. A special thank you to Janine and Cathy and may God bless you all for participating here and for trying to return our great nation to it’s rightful place as our Creator intended.
Ron Meier says:
That may be the “one thing” we’re lacking as a nation, Jim. “One nation, Under God.” It is being undermined every day.
Constituting America says:
Hi everyone – thank you to Professor Allen for your enlightening essay! And thank you to everyone for your comments today.
I love the realism of Alexander Hamilton: “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. 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.”
We are fortunate our founding fathers were well read students of history, philosophy and political systems. They understood that we, as humans, are imperfect, and that civilizations through the ages have fallen victim to the character flaws of their leaders and citizens, time and time again. The Constitution they proposed, with its delicate checks and balances, was designed to take man’s nature into account.
My favorite line from this essay was “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?”
Over 200 years later, we, and the rest of the world, are still “remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue”-a state humans will most likely never attain. As we consider how we deal with Iran and other terrorist nations, we should remember Alexander Hamilton’s words, and not assume we can simply talk things out. These nations have not had the benefit of freedom. Oppression breads violence, and reinforces man’s darker side.
The United States of America, though, is one of the greatest humanitarian and charitable nations on the planet. How is that possible, given the nature of man as described by Hamilton? Our founders – we the people – designed a government based on Godly principles, ceding only enough power to the government to keep man’s darker side in check, but allowing the freedom necessary for our better qualities to flourish, and be brought to bear upon the problems facing our Nation and the world.
PS – We are working to consolidate all blog comments onto the Daily Guest Bloggers page, and Janine and I will be posting our daily essasy on the Guest Blogger’s Post as “Comments” as well as the usual standalone posts. Please post all your blog comments on the Guest Bloggers Page so its easy to see all the great comments in one place! Thank you!
Jesse Stewart says:
Many of you have commented in a similar way to mine today. My initial reaction to this paper was that Hamilton’s argument made sense, but upon reflection realized that even the holding the same “near and dear” can’t always keep the states together – we had a Civil War after all! From disagreements over land in the early days of our nation to today when states and other governmental entities are fighting Arizona over its own state law and states taking sides on the constitutionality of health care reform, we will never get rid of the personal and “momentary passions” that afflict man.
We’ve come through disagreements before and united in times of crisis – I hope we will do so this time!
Tim Shey says:
The nature of life is antagonism. Life is war; war is life. Why? Because of our fallen nature. As long as there is Christ and Satan at work in human endeavor, there will always be conflict. Alexander Hamilton knew this. We need limited government to protect the innocent and powerless from those that would abuse their power.
As a Christian, my life is governed by the Lord. If I abide in Christ (or if I am strong in Christ), then it is very hard for Satan to tempt me or influence me. If I am an unbeliever or weak in Christ, it is much easier for Satan to disrupt my life.
If a nation is morally weak, this invites attack from other nations. The Marxist remedy is to concentrate on education (liberal propaganda) and redistribution of wealth and a mega government that solves all of our problems and everything will be fine and dandy because there is no such thing as Original Sin. The Christian remedy is to repent of our sin, seek God and the Lord will heal our land–and then the Lord will raise up righteous men to govern the nation.
When the Israelites were in sin, they wanted a king to govern them just like the nations around them. But this is being conformed to the world. Mosaic Law and to be ruled by the judges were what the Lord wanted for the Israelites. But sin breeds more selfishness and more blindness, and so they wanted a worldly king (King Saul). The Lord told Samuel that Israel did not reject Samuel, but they had rejected the Lord and the Lord’s plan for their lives. King Saul ended up being one of the worst kings in the history of Israel.
This Obama Administration is another King Saul. If the United States turns back to God, the Lord will raise up another King David, so that we can get rid of demonic strongholds in high places.
Obeying the Lord is internal government; the U.S. Constitution is external government. The internal must come first before the external can be effective.