Essay on Federalist No. 2

Introduction

Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 2, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements by John Jay in Federalist No. 2. They are as follows.

1. Jay states that: “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable
necessity of government”. There are many things more certain. For example: The sun comes out during the day, the moon comes out at night, humans need oxygen to live, one plus one equals two, etc. The state of Pennsylvania lived in near anarchy for a long time during the colonial period and yet Philidelphia came to be one the largest and most prosperous early American cities. I wholeheartedly disagree that government is an “indispensable” necessity.

2. In talking about government, John Jay states that “people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with
requisite powers”. Note that John Jay speaks about natural rights. He states that government only has power because individuals voluntarily cede some of their natural rights to it. This whole line of reasoning implies that natural rights precede the existence of government. A free people should rightfully have a way to reclaim their natural rights.

3. Jay mentions that “politicians now appear, who insist that this opinion is erroneous, and that instead of looking for safety and happiness in union, we ought to seek it in a division of the States into distinct confederacies or sovereignties.” This argument, which appears over and over again in Federalist No. 2, implies that the people of various states couldn’t interact with each other unless they all lived under a signle government. People can obviously be unified without living under the same government. I married a Peruvian woman. Her family consists entirely of Peruvian citizens and my family is all American citizens. Yet, somehow, we all manage to form our own little Union. Amazing!

4. It seems crazy to assert the people were “still continuing no less attached to union than enamored of liberty, they observed the danger which immediately threatened the former and more remotely the latter”. The people could not possibly have loved the Union as much as they loved liberty. The Union was and is a means to an end. The purpose of the Union was and is to help the states become more prosperous and secure liberty. Nobody loves the mean as much as they love the end. That’s like saying that people love spending the money as much as they love what they buy. If they loved the act of spending the money so much, they’d spend it without taking what they purchased in exchange.

5.  Jay states that the representatives to the Constitutional Convention deliberated “without having been awed by power, or influenced by any passions except love for their country, they presented and recommended to the people the plan produced by their joint and very unanimous councils”. Give me a break. This is pure propoganda. What politician do you know of that isn’t “influenced by any passions except love for their country”?

6. Jay states “that whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim, in the words of the poet: ‘FAREWELL! A LONG FAREWELL TO ALL MY GREATNESS.'” My disagreement goes back to the point I made above in point number 3. I strongly disagree that the end of a single, far-reaching, national government would mean the end of American greatness. As of late, “the Union” is certainly responsible for more harm than good. 

Summary

John Jay starts off Federalist No. 2 by warning his readers that they faced a momentous decision. For that reason it was of the utmost importance that Americans reflect upon the facts with extreme seriousness.  

According to Jay, “nothing is more certain than the indispensable
necessity of government.” In order for a government to be able to properly govern, it is necessary for individuals to surrender some of their power and rights to the government. Since people have to surrender some of their rights to the government, it is essential for them to decide what type of government is most beneficial to their interests. Specifically, Americans had to decide whether they preferred to live under a sigle national government that ruled over all of the states or under a multitude of governments, each state having their own government. Whichever type of government they were to choose, they would have to surrender some power to it.  

Jay claims that for a long time it was uncontested common opinion among Americans that the success of the new nation was due to the existence of a union among the states. All of the most capable leaders had worked very hard to make sure that such unity existed. However, there had recently arisen a competing view of the matter. Some public figures believed that the states would be better off if no unity government existed and each state governed themselves alone. Even though Jay found it hard to believe that anyone could take such a position, there were indeed a lot of people who felt that way. The number of people who felt that way was actually growing. Jay issued a warning to the public at large that they had better be quite sure before taking such a dengerous stance.  

It pleased Jay to observe that the states were not “composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country” formed the new nation. God had blessed Americans with a variety of fertile lands, crops, lakes, rivers, and a bounty of other natural gifts. They were surrounded by a number of rivers that seemed divnely placed to keep the states close together. These rivers connected the states and were easy travel upon, which facilitated communication, liesure, and commerce.

Also pleasing to Jay was that God had “been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion.” In addition, the people of the new nation shared the same philosophy on government and had common customs. Perhaps most importantly though, they had fought together in a grueling war together to earn their independence.

The people of the new nation appeared to be destined to live together as a single people. It was as if God himself determined that such a people should be a single country, with a single government, instead of a bunch of separate, bickering neighbors.

Tradition also dictated that the states should form a single nation. They had essentially been acting as a single nation. All individuals in the various states enjoyed the same freedoms. The states had made war and negotiated treaties collectively.

From very early on in the colonial days, the people had seen the benefits of forming a union. As soon as was politically feasible the Articles of Confederation were instituted. The passion for a single government was so strong amongst the people that it was formed in the midst of the Revolutionary War. It should not be surprising though, that a “government instituted in times so inauspicious, should on experiment
be found greatly deficient and inadequate to the purpose it was intended to answer.” The Articles were instituted during a time when people were fighting for their lives. Houses were being burnt to the ground and people were being shot to death. There was no time to calmly and productively deliberate on the proper formation of a new government.   

Americans were able to experience first hand just how deficient the new government was. However, they loved the Union as much as they loved liberty itself. The people realized that under the existing government, the Union was in extreme danger of being torn apart. In fact, in the opinion of most, both liberty and the Union would be lost unless a new national government was formed. For this reason, the Constitutional Convention met in Philidelphia to discuss the details of a new national government.

The men who attended the Constitutional Convention, according to Jay, “possessed the confidence of the people, and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom, in times which tried the minds and hearts of men, undertook the arduous task.” With the country at peace, and with no other pressing issues to concern themselves with, these men were able to give their full focus to the task of designing a national government fit for a free people. They made decisions based on their overwhelming love of country and gave no thought to power or their own personal gain.  

At this point the new constitution had only been recommended by Jay, it had not yet been enacted. Of course, he came to recommend it only after “sedate and candid consideration which the magnitude and importance of the subject demand, and which it certainly ought to receive.” It was not to be exptected, however, that everybody would give the proposal the serious contemplation it deserved. But all hope was not to be lost. After all, the people had acted wisely in 1774, in the midst of tulmutuos times, when they agreed to form the Congress of 1774. However, as soon as the congress was formed, many newspapers and pamphlets started to come out against it. As a result, many confused public figures, not to mention everyday people, lost sight of what was truly in the public interest. Perhaps they were influenced by a connection to the past. Perhaps they were swayed by their own personal greed. What’s certian though, is that many gave their full effort to undue the Congress. Happily, though, many were able to see through the propaganda and held strong in their suupport.

Those who supported the Congress understood that it was the work of many wise and honorable men. These men came from all over the country and therefore brought a variety of different prospectives to the proceedings. After long and penetrating discussions, they were able to understand the true nature of the problems facing the nation. Since their only interest was providing for the best interest of the public, they were able to provide undbiased suggestions.

The people understood that the Congress had been decided upon by wise, contemplative, and just men. Therefore, it was easy for the public to accept the proposals put forth by that Congress, despite the best efforts of those who hoped to prevent the Congress. If the men who deliberated during the Congress of 1774 could be trusted, how much more so those who recently convened to deliberate on the new constitution. In fact, some of the very same men who met to form the Congress of 1774 were recommending the new national government. However, by now they had passed through more tests, acquired more knowledge, and were more well-known.

Every single national congress that had met up to that point held the opinion that “the prosperity of America depended on its Union.” Likewise, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed that their number one objective was to preserve the Union. The proposed constitution reflected the delegates’ recognition of this goal. That being the case, it was pointless and unproductive for naysayers to continue to speaking out against the Union. It was ridiculous to think that a number different governments would be better than a single national government.

Jay believed that the the traditional view held by the majority of people on this matter was the correct one. Indeed, “their universal and uniform attachment to the cause of the Union rests on great and weighty reasons.” It was obvious to Jay that those who preferred many national governments to the constitution understood that such a plan would cause the end of the Union. If the Union were to break up, it would surely signal the end of America’s greatness.

 

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