Essay on Federalist No. 6

Introduction

Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 6, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements made by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 6. They are as follows.

1. Hamilton has a pretty pessimistic view of human nature. He says “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.” History would seem to bear this out. Maybe I am too idealistic, but I still hold out hope that humanity will come to see that peace and harmony with one another is the most beneficial way to live. As a counterpoint to the point that Hamilton is trying to make, forcing all the states to live under a single national government caused grievous bloodshed. During the Civil War, southern states tried to form their own confederacy. Had they been allowed to do so at least 600,000 lives would have been spared. However, the northern states wanted to keep them in the Union and a horrible war ensued. In this case, the fact that all states were forced to obey a single government caused a terrifying loss of life.

2. In an illuminating passage, Hamilton says there are many wars “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. 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.” Indeed, what many members of any society fail to realize is that there are powerful, private, forces behind the scenes lobbying for wars. An example of this was J.P. Morgan lobbying Woodrow Wilson to intervene in World War One. Morgan had sold the government bonds of the Allies to rich investors in the United States. At one point it looked as if the Allies were going to lose the war. Had this happened, the Allies would have defaulted on their debt and the value of their bonds would have plummeted. Morgan’s investors would have lost their money and Morgan would have been ruined. J.P. Morgan lobbied hard to get the U.S. into the war so the Allies would win and the bonds would be repaid. Another example of private interests pushing for war is our current, so-called, War on Terror. Under the pretense of fighting terrorism, the military occupies countries with oil so that private oil companies can secure the rights to drill for oil. The nation is embroiled in deadly and costly wars for the benefit of private individuals. There are, of course, many more examples.

3. Hamilton summarizes the position of those statesmen who thought the various states could get along as follows “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. Commercial republics, like ours, will never be 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.” I agree with those statesmen, but with one change. The genius of individuals is pacific. Republics or any other type of  government in general are not pacific. When individuals trade with one another, mutual interest governs their relationships and peace results. Whenever governments get involved, war and power politics is sure to follow. The solution, then, is to keep the government out of human relationships as far as possible.

4. Hamilton asks “Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by MEN as well as the latter? Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships, and desires of unjust acquisitions, that affect nations as well as kings? Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities?” In response I must ask, why are republics so much better than monarchies then? Why even have a constitution? We might as well have a king if its all the same. This follows from Hamilton’s reasoning. In a way, I agree. All governments will be susceptible to abuses of power. That is why all government power, be it vested in a monarchy or republic, must be strictly and severely limited.

5. Hamilton recalls that “The provinces of Holland, till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes, took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe.” Debt and taxes are what usually put an end to government operations.

6. In describing Britain’s history of fighting wars, Hamilton says “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.” There is an important philosophical point that should be discussed here. When Hamilton says that “in numerous instances, proceeded from the people” he most likely means to say that the wars were supported by a majority of the people. We must ask ourselves, is it just to take resources from the minority who were against the war to fight a war supported by the majority? If we are to consistently protect property rights, we must answer in the negative. This leads to the conclusion that those who wish to fight a war must fight that war with resources voluntarily contributed by those who support it. Those who are against the war must be allowed to withhold their resources from the war effort. This highlights one of the most dangerous aspects of democracy: the majority’s power to vote on how to spend the resources of the minority.

7. Hamilton states that “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.” The wars that he is describing were not fought by individual merchants sinking each others’ ships and killing each other to take over markets. The wars were fought by government militaries carrying out misguided, mercantilist policies. They were operating under the notion that the only way their nations could become richer was to impoverish other nations through military victories. Individual merchants would surely have understood that all parties benefit under free trade. When two people voluntarily give up one item in exchange for another item, there are two winners and no losers. Mercantilist governments believed that sellers were always winners and buyers were always losers. Even though that is clearly not the case, they fought wars to always be sellers and never be buyers.

8. Hamilton quotes Vide “Principes des Negociations” par 1’Abbe de Mably as saying “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.” Are Canada, the United States and Mexico natural enemies? What about Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama? How about Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia? How about Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia? I must reject the 1’Abbe de Mably reasoning.

Summary

Alexander Hamilton begins Federalist No. 6 by noting that the previous three papers were focused on the dangers of attack by a foreign enemy. Specifically, the dangers investigated were those that would be caused by the lack of a strong union between the states. In this paper, Hamilton decided to focus on a danger that he considered even more troublesome: quarrels between states and conflicts caused by domestic factions.

According to Hamilton, “a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations” to believe that the states would not get into violent confrontations with each other if they didn’t all live together under a single national government. Regardless of whether they had thirteen separate state governments or only a handful of confederate governments, wars were sure to break out. It would be in vain to argue that the various states would have no motivation to go to war with each other because man is, by nature, “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” It is impossible for independent countries, living in close proximity to each other, to live in peace an harmony. To think any differently would be ignore human history.

There are a lot of reasons why countries go to war, including many reasons that affect every single country. Some of these motivations are “love of power or the desire of pre-eminence and dominion–the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety.” Some causes for war are specific to each individual country. Specific causes include souring commercial relationships, competition in commercial relationships, ambition of political leaders, protection of the commercial interests of important members of society. It has been quite common for countries to go to war to protect the interests of rich and influential members of society. It is a shame that influential members of society sacrifice the peace of the nation to advance their own private interests.

For example, Pericles initiated the conquest of the city of the Samnians based on his personal relationship with a prostitute. The same Pericles started the Peloponnesian war which resulted in the downfall of the Athenians. Personal reasons were behind the Peloponnesian war. Pericles hated the Megarensians. “Phidias was supposed to have stolen some public gold, with the connivance of Pericles, for the embellishment of the statue of Minerva.” Also, Pericles was accused of using government money to buy popularity.

Another example of a private individual taking a country to war for personal gain was the “ambitious cardinal, who was prime minister to Henry VIII.” The cardinal, Wolsey, wanted to rule England and pursued the support of Emperor Charles V to achieve his goal. In order to be in the good graces of the Emperor, the Cardinal took England to war against France. This went completely against the best interests of the people of England and threatened peace across all of Europe. Charles V was as ambitious an emperor as ever lived and by participating in the emperor’s designs, Wolsey did a great deal of damage.

Hamilton blamed the intrigues of Madame de Maintenon, the Duchess of Marlborough, Madame de Pompadour for many of the problems that had befallen Europe during their time.

There was no need to give any more examples of individuals abusing the power of the state for their own gain. Anybody who followed politics in even a superficial way could think of a number of such examples on their own. Those who had an understanding of human nature would easily see the truth in the proposition that people abuse the power of government to achieve their personal goals. However, Hamilton considered it useful to give one more example that had recently occurred. Hamilton contends that if Shay had not been so far in debt, the civil war in Massachusetts would have never been started.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, there were still a lot of people who argued that there could be peace between the states, even if they were not all ruled by a single, national government. These men argued that republics are peaceful by nature. They contended that commercial relationships would engender peace and remove motivations for war. Since the various states were commercial republics, they were not likely to waste their time and precious resources fighting wars against each other. The states would be influenced strictly by mutual interest and operate with only the best of intentions.

To these men, Hamilton asked “Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit? If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it?” To the contrary, Hamilton points out, nations have always tended to act based on immediate considerations and quick gain rather long term benefits and justice. In addition, republics are just as susceptible as monarchies to the weaknesses inherent in men. After all, republics are ruled by men and so are monarchies. Republics had fought just as many wars as monarchies. Throughout history, whenever large bodies of men have gathered to consider issues of importance, they’ve had the tendency to be influenced by completely irrational sentiments. It was also quite common for these bodies of men to be manipulated by just a few powerful individuals, who abused the trust placed in them in order to pursue their own selfish ends. Commerce hasn’t stopped any wars but rather has only changed the objectives of the wars. Getting rich is just as powerful a motivation for war as national glory. Indeed, there had been as many wars fought for strictly commercial reasons as there had been wars fought for extending territory. Commercial considerations had, in fact, encouraged the fighting of even more wars because governments could see the commercial value in conquering new territories. Hamliton urged focusing on experience and not feelings in the consideration of these issues.

Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage all had republican governments. Athens and Carthage were commercial republics. These countries fought just as many wars as the monarchies of their times. Sparta was essentially a military nation. Rome continually fought wars of conquest.

Even though Carthage was a commercial nation, it still started a war that ultimately ended in its own demise. Hannibal tried to invade Rome, but Scipio fought back the attack and ended up conquering all of Carthage.

Much later, Venice tried to conquer her neighbors through offensive wars. This came to end though, when Pope Julius II formed the League of Cambray which consisted of the Emperor, the King of France, the King of Aragon, and most of the Italian princes and states.

The various localities of Holland took active roles in the wars of Europe until debt and taxes put a cease to their military operations. They fought numerous wars against England for control of the seas and were staunch rivals of Louis XIV.

The legislature of Britain was composed of popularly elected representatives. It was also the most commercial nation on the face of the earth.  However, there was no nation that had been engaged in more wars the Britain. In many cases the wars were supported by the people themselves.

In fact, there have been just as many popularly supported wars as their have been wars started by kings. There have even been cases when the people, through their representatives, have forced kings to go to war or continue a war. In such cases the kings did not want to go to war because they could see clearly that such a move went against their own personal interests and the best interests of their nations.  In the long-lasting European war between the houses of Austria and Bourbon, it was the animosity between between the French and English people that allowed the The Duke of Marlborough to continue with the war. He was able to keep the war going long after it ceased to be worthwhile and even long after the courts opposed it.

The last two wars mentioned above, the war between Holland and Britain, and the war between the houses of Austria and Bourbon, were fought over commercial interests. Such wars were fought to maintain a position or take over another nation’s position in particular industries. Those wars were also fought to gain general advantages in trade and shipping.

After taking a look at the history of other countries that closely resembled the United States, Hamilton ardently rejected the views of those who “would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation.” There was no reason to even consider any theory that was based on people living together harmoniously. Only theories that take into account “imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape” should be considered. It was high time to stop dreaming of a utopia. All political considerations should be based on the practical assumption that human beings are far from reaching perfection.

Hamilton called upon the people of the United States to look upon the terrible state of the economy, the inefficient administration of the government, the recent uprisings in the states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and the rebellion in the State of Massachusetts as examples of human imperfection.

The nature of humanity made it nearly impossible for the various states to be governed separately without conflict, even though some commentators thought it was possible. In fact, political observers had developed a rule that when independent nations live near each other they are very likely to become enemies.  Hamilton then quotes a writer that he respects who says that neighboring countries are natural enemies unless they join together and form a confederacy under a single government. By joining together as a single nation, the neighbors will stop trying to gain at the expense of one another. For Hamilton, this quote highlights the problem and suggests the solution.

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