Essay on Federalist No. 5


Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 5, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements by John Jay in Federalist No. 5. They are as follows.

1. John Jay makes the point that without a Union, the various countries “Instead of their being ‘joined in affection’ and free from all apprehension of different ‘interests,’ envy and jealousy would soon extinguish confidence and affection, and the partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America, would be the only objects of their policy and pursuits.” I cannot argue with John Jay here. This may happen. However, I’d like to point out a couple of things. First, people have a right to think and act in their own best interest, as long as they don’t impede others from doing the same. There is nothing inherently wrong in pursuing the “partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America”, as long as the various confederacies didn’t start wars and infringe on the property rights of other confederacies. Second, Jay’s philosophy, taken to its logical conclusion, leads us to a single world government. Surely, all the countries of the world share common interests. Each country is sure to pursue their own best interests instead of thinking about the general interest of the entire world. Shouldn’t there really be a single world wide union? Wouldn’t that end all wars across the world? It would harmonize interests across the globe, wouldn’t it? Probably not. People on a local level have knowledge that the central government does not have. Top down edicts are sure to cause inefficiencies and will certainly infringe on the property rights of the people.

2. Jays say that if “one of these nations or confederacies should rise on the scale of political importance much above the degree of her neighbors, that moment would those neighbors behold her with envy and with fear. Both those passions would lead them to countenance, if not to promote, whatever might promise to diminish her importance; and would also restrain them from measures calculated to advance or even to secure her prosperity.” Politicians and ardent nationalists might act in this way but regular citizens probably wouldn’t care one way or the other. The vast majority of regular, everyday people care mostly about the well being of their family and local community. The “political importance” of their country or other countries is usually a remote concern. It only starts to seem like an important issue to regular folks when politicians or powerful people who have something to lose start to use fear mongering tactics to get make them afraid of their neighbors. Unless the powerful country is arming itself to invade the lesser countries, or it is actively infringing on property rights, regular people will very little about the “political importance” of others.

3. Jay says that the people of American confederacies living next to each other would “neither love nor trust one another, but on the contrary would be a prey to discord, jealousy, and mutual injuries.” This is patent nonsense. Maybe scheming politicians would act this way but regular citizens would have absolutely no motivation to act in such a way. People who have to work hard for a living and provide for their families have every reason to cooperate with their neighbors regardless of whether they live on the other side of an imaginary line called a border.

4. Jay says that “those gentlemen are greatly mistaken who suppose that alliances offensive and defensive might be formed between these confederacies, and would produce that combination and union of wills of arms and of resources, which would be necessary to put and keep them in a formidable state of defense against foreign enemies.” The colonies had just fought and won a war against the strongest empire on the earth with the types of alliances that Jay said wouldn’t work. When the threat is real and not just a hyped threat created by politicians, people come together and fight without coercion.

5. Jay gives the following example: “Different commercial concerns must create different interests, and of course different degrees of political attachment to and connection with different foreign nations. Hence it might and probably would happen that the foreign nation with whom the SOUTHERN confederacy might be at war would be the one with whom the NORTHERN confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.” To Jay this seems like a really bad thing. To me it seems like a striking improvement to the alternative of having the North join the war. First, it is clear that the people of the North having nothing whatsoever to do with the conflict. Why should they be forced to fight a war against their best interests? Just because politicians say they should? Terminating commercial operations and relationships to go fight a war would be harmful to the merchants and regular people in both the northern confederacy and the foreign nation. Second, by maintaining their commercial interests with the foreign nation, the North would have the opportunity to exert pressure on the foreign nation through peaceful means. They could use the spirit of friendship and compromise to bring both sides to an agreement. Whereas, if the North joined the war outright it would lead to nothing but impoverishment and increased bloodshed.

6. Jay gives us the following advice “let us not forget how much more easy it is to receive foreign fleets into our ports, and foreign armies into our country, than it is to persuade or compel them to depart.” This is actually very good advice. Let us avoid foreign alliances and let us not invite other countries to station their militaries within our borders. I bet there are a lot of countries that wish they’d taken this advice before allowing the American military to visit their lands.


John Jay begins Federalist No. 5 by quoting a letter that Queen Anne wrote to the  Scottish Parliament  in 1706.  The letter expressed the importance of the union between England and Scotland. Queen Anne believed that the union formed by the two countries would ensure peace between neighbors. She thought that it would protect religion, liberty, and property. The Queen predicted that a union would remove all bad feelings toward one another. The union would improve their respective economies by promoting trade. A union between Scotland and England would provide for a better defense of their island against attacks by enemies. She goes on to strongly recommend to the Scottish government that it agree to form a union with England. Such an arrangement would make everybody involved happy and “disappoint the designs of our and your enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, USE THEIR UTMOST ENDEAVORS TO PREVENT OR DELAY THIS UNION.”

Queen Anne’s letter makes it clear that “divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad.” To keep a country safe from its enemies, solidarity and a strong union are necessary. This point is of the utmost importance.

Most Americans knew the history of Great Britain very well. This was good because there were many lessons to be learned from her history.  Even though it was illogical, people living on a single island were divided, for a long period of time, into three different countries. These three countries were constantly at war with one another, which was ridiculous. All three countries, living so close together, shared many common interests.  However, due to political intrigue, the people of the three countries harbored serious animosity towards each other. This led to state of conflict instead of a state of mutual assistance.

If the people of America were to divide themselves into three or four nations, the exact same thing would happen. The same types of conflicts were sure to occur. Without a union harmonizing their interests, the people of the various confederacies would become resentful of their neighbors. Affection between communities would disintegrate. Governments of the various countries would only think of their own interests. Care for the well being of the entire nation would disappear. This would lead to a constant state either war or fear of war.

In Jay’s opinion, it was naive to think that three or four confederacies could strike something resembling a long lasting balance of power. It may have been possible for a short period of time, but it surely couldn’t last. Aside from the local issues that would affect the progress of each confederacy, the efficacy of their governments also needs to be considered. If one confederacy were to have a superior government, it would clearly come to be more powerful than the other confederacies.

As soon as one of the nations became more powerful and prosperous than the others, the other nations would become jealous and fearful of it. They would do whatever they could to limit the wealth and influence of their powerful neighbor. Of course, the powerful confederacy would realize that it was being schemed against. It would start to develop harsh feelings towards the lesser confederacies and look for ways to thwart their progress. Souring relationships between the various confederacies would create a downward cycle with the relationships getting worse and worse.

The North was by nature the most powerful region in America. Therefor, it was likely that the northern confederacy would become the wealthiest and most influential confederacy.  When this happened, the people in the southern confederacies would look upon those in the north with desirous eyes. American southerners would aim to invade their northern neighbors and steal their riches, much in the same way southern Europeans invaded their northern neighbors.

A study of history showed that confederacies living next each other wouldn’t even consider each other neighbors but rather “borderers.” They would not wish the best for one another. Quite the contrary, they would look to screw each other over every chance they got. This would play right into the hands of America’s enemies who sought to see the various states divided and fighting amongst themselves.

The reasoning above makes it highly unlikely that the various confederacies would be able to form military alliances that would provide sufficient resources and unity of spirit to be able to protect them from strong, foreign enemies.

During the time that Britain and Spain were composed of separate confederacies, they were never able to come together in times of war. Indeed, the various American confederacies would in reality be independent nations. Each would be able to conduct commerce with foreign countries as they saw fit. In light of the fact that each confederacy would specialize in providing different goods for different markets, each confederacy would have different treaties and different terms of trade. Increased trade with various countries would strengthen political attachments to those foreign partners. It was probable that, for example, the South would end up fighting a war against a country that the North had extensive commercial relationships with. The North wouldn’t want to come to the aid of the South because it would endanger their commerce. As a result of such interests, it is unlikely that military alliances would be formed and maintained between the various confederacies.

If America ended up forming itself into a number of divided confederacies it would probably end up like Europe, “acting under the impulse of opposite interests and unfriendly passions.” Since Europe was so far away, it was likely that the states would look upon each other as presenting the most immediate threats. This would lead to each state or confederacy looking to make alliances with foreign countries to bolster themselves against internal dangers. It should always be remembered that it is much easier to invite a foreign military into our country than it is to get them to leave.  The Romans commonly conquered countries that allowed Romans troops to be stationed within their borders under the name of protection and alliance.

In conclusion, Jay urged all sensible men to reject the notion that dividing the country into a number of separate confederacies would “tend to secure us against the hostilities and improper interference of foreign nations.”


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