DISCLAIMER: I am not a historian nor a political scientist. I do have a fascination and interest in the Constitution and so I started reading the Federalist Papers and posting my interpretation on my own blog. I thought it might be of some interest here. Your interpretations and thoughts are greatly appreciated in the comments!
You can find the Federalist Papers in their entirety at The Library of Congress website.
Federalist No. 6 and links to the previous diaries below the fold and previously posted at LiveJournal
Federalist No. 6 was written by Alexander Hamilton regarding the dangers of internal dissent in a loose confederation of the states.
Hamilton begins be reminding the reader that the previous three papers concerned threats from external forces. He then goes on to state that this paper deals with the dangers of internal dissension - something he fears is much greater than the threat from foreign powers. This theme was touched upon by Jay in the previous papers, but Hamilton finds it of such importance to go into it in more detail in this and the following paper.
Hamilton says right off that one "must be far gone in Utopian speculations" to think that the young nation divided would not fall quickly to the ambition of differing factions in the confederation. He says that this is the nature of men.
To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that 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.
He then says the the causes of these hostilities are numerous and varying in nature, but all seem to stem from some sort of personal ambition for power or greed. Hamilton lays out multiple examples from ancient times right up to colonial days.
- Pericles, who built Athens into a great empire was driven by personal ambition, revenge, and perhaps paranoia into the Peloponnesian War which led to the fall of Athens as a great empire and ultimately to his own death.
- Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, driven to gain such high personal favor with King Henry VIII that he convinced the King to go to war with France.
- Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's second wife; Duchess of Marlborough, confidante of Queen Anne; and Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress were all examples that had been much talked about and not discussed further here.
Hamilton says that to continue on with such examples would be a waste of time, but then gives a contemporary example to emphasize his point.
Perhaps, however, a reference, tending to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves. If Shays had not been a DESPERATE DEBTOR, it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.
This of course refers to Shays Rebellion which occurred in Massachusetts shortly after the end of the American Revolution. The end of the war brought a short-lived economic burst to Massachusetts, but within a year, it turned into recession. Taxes were high, the governor was paid handsomely, and the state refused to print more money - a policy favored by the poor farmers. These economically depressed farmers rallied around Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran and hero. Shays and approximately a thousand farmers led an attack against the state of Massachusetts in hopes of preventing the assembly of the state supreme court. They feared that the court would take action against farmers who were in arrears. Several skirmishes occurred and the rebellion was put down after a year.
Next, Hamilton states the position of those against his view:
But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular, there are still to be found visionary or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the States, though dismembered and alienated from each other. 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.
He then goes into a series of rhetorical questions, the answers which refute all of the arguments of his opposition. Hamilton once again returns to Classical times and uses the republics of Rome, Sparta, Athens, and Carthage as examples of countries finding themselves at war often. He also uses European examples of countries engaged in many wars, among them Britain.
The paper is then closed with the argument that our young nation will NOT be different than the many examples given above:
From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation? Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape? 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?
In fact, Hamilton then uses the examples of revolt in North Carolina, disturbances in Pennsylvania, and the Shays Rebellion to emphasize that the young nation was already exhibiting behaviors that favored his position of a strong federal government.
Hamilton closes out this paper with a quote from Abbé de Mably:
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.
stating that in this quote is both the statement of the problem and the remedy - a strong federal government.