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The Federalist Papers: No. 6

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 6 is published. Publius is STILL defending the proposition that a formal Union is needed; the then-existing loose coalition of states will not suffice. Five long essays, and he is still going on this point! Publius was nothing if not detailed, huh?!


This particular essay argues that a formal Union will help to protect Americans from the problem of domestic insurrections. Two notable points:

First, Publius relies heavily on the experiences of other, past republics and monarchies in making his arguments. Such appeals to history carried weight with his readers because they were, by and large, more educated in history than we are today. Can you imagine a modern newspaper editorialist trying to build his argument on the experiences of ancient Greece? Or the Holy Roman Empire? Or the experiences of Henry VIII? Of course not. Such arguments would fall flat because those stories are unfamiliar to us.


Really too bad! Those who do not know history, as the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it. The founding generation struggled not to make such mistakes.


Second, much of Publius’s argument is simply a reminder: Humans are fallible. Even “commercial republics” are not immune to the dangers of human nature, as some men of his time hoped. “Have republics,” Publius asked, “been less addicted to war than monarchies?” Of course not! In the end, the failings of human nature, “momentary passions,” “immediate interest,” “aversions, predilections, rivalships, and desires of unjust acquisitions” will cause conflicts.


Publius concludes: “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 short: No one is perfect. Let’s set up political structures that help us to overcome our selfishness and imperfections. Publius believes that a formal union is part of the answer.


Alexander Hamilton wrote this essay, continuing where John Jay left off.

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