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The Federalist Papers: No. 5

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 5 is published. In this paper, “Publius” was John Jay. It’s the last essay that Jay will write for a while. Instead, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton will take over most of the rest of the series.


Remember: Eventually, there were 85 papers. They were lengthy articles, by modern standards. (Federalist Paper No. 5, for instance, is about twice the length of an average newspaper editorial today.) Moreover, the essays were well-organized and took Americans through the argument for the Constitution one logical step at a time. They were not simply slapped together.

Federalist Paper No. 5 turns, once more, to a discussion of why a formal Union is best for America. Publius is arguing against the idea that the thirteen states could break up into 3 or 4 different confederacies. To make his point, Publius turns to the history of Great Britain. That country, he noted, has been stronger as a union than it was when divided into independent states (e.g., England and Scotland). When it was divided, it was “constantly embroiled in quarrels and wars with one another” despite the fact that their “interest with respect to the [other] continental nations was really the same.”


“Should the people of America divide themselves into three or four nations,” Publius asks, “would not the same thing happen?” The people would be so focused on “the partial interests of each confederacy” that they would fail to focus on “the general interests of all America.” Moreover, it cannot be expected that these separate confederacies would remain on equal footing for very long. Instead, one or more would “rise on the scale of political importance much above the degree of her neighbors.” The result would be bad feelings, jealousies, and lost confidence among America’s confederacies. “[T]hey would neither love nor trust one another,” Publius concludes, “but on the contrary would be a prey to discord, jealousy, and mutual injuries.”


Isn’t that exactly the kind of weak position in which other nations would like to see America?

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