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The Federalist Papers: No. 3

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 3 was published. Eventually, 85 papers would be written in defense of the new Constitution . . . 85 essays! Just think about that.


The American people were so interested and so involved in the creation of their new government that there was an audience for 85 long essays in the newspapers of the time. Modern Americans really seem to have a relatively short attention span, comparatively speaking.

This Federalist Paper was written by John Jay. In it, he continued to lay the foundation for the papers to follow. Why was any Union necessary? Why not break up into several smaller confederacies or simply remain a loose coalition of states?


Jay’s answer: The Union is necessary to keep Americans safe from foreign powers: A “UNITED AMERICA” can face challenges and avoid wars better than a “DISUNITED America.”


First, treaties are better handled by one national government: Unity allows them to “always be expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner.”. By contrast, a loose coalition of 13 states would adjudicate questions in ways that are inconsistent with each other. Worse, states might be tempted to act in their own interests and against the interest of the other states. A national government could be more impartial for this purpose. The temptations felt by the states “will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved.” War will be less likely.


Second, direct violence along the bordering states can be better handled by a unified America. At that time, Americans had disputes with the Indians, British, and Spanish territories along their borders. In any of these cases, Jay noted, the “bordering States” could fall prey to “the impulse of sudden irritation, and a quick sense of apparent interest or injury.” In other words, they could act too quickly and too emotionally, in response to something that had just happened. A national government, with leaders from all parts of the country, could instead act with “wisdom and prudence [that] will not be diminished by the passions which actuate the parties immediately interested.” In other words, national leaders would be in a position to act more rationally and less emotionally. Again, war will be less likely.


Throughout Jay’s essay, he assumes that the country will be a republic, electing leaders admired for their wisdom and good character. Thus, he postulates that “the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage” the national government. Unfortunately, THAT idea really seems to have fallen by the wayside. How many problems could we overcome if we actually took time to know our candidates, rather than simply accepting their commercials and media sound bites at face value?

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