• tara

The Federalist Papers: No. 7

On this day in 1787, Alexander Hamilton churns out yet another Federalist Paper. One had just been published the day before! These papers argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

Let’s stop to think for a second about the decision facing the new nation at this moment in time. They could see that the weak Congress created by the Articles of Confederation was not working. Yet many also feared the creation of a new, stronger national government. Separating into three or four smaller confederacies seemed like a pretty good idea: Perhaps Americans could avoid the creation of a strong centralized government. On the other hand, the 13 states had been used to operating together for decades (albeit in a relatively loose coalition). Separating the states now could create all sorts of logistical problems.

Thus, this Federalist Paper turns to a discussion of the many practical issues that could arise if the states tried to separate from each other: They would face territorial disputes, competition in commerce, and problems in apportioning the public debt that had been accrued during the war.

First, Publius addressed territorial disputes, “one of the most fertile sources of hostility among nations.” America, he noted, has a “vast tract of unsettled territory” and there “still are discordant and undecided claims” about much of this land. If the states were to separate, resolving these competing claims would be problematic. “Different principles would be set up by different States” and there would be no “umpire or common judge to interpose between the contending parties.”

Second, separated states will face problems in commerce. Without a Union, each state would be motivated to “pursue a system of commercial policy peculiar to itself.” The states would seek to “secure exclusive benefits to their own citizens.” Problems would ensue among a people used to trading freely among the colonies.

Third, if the states were to separate, the apportionment of the public debt would be “productive of ill-humor and animosity.” No solution makes everyone happy. The creditors, too, would be looking for a good outcome. Publius summarizes the situation: “The citizens of the States interested would clamour; foreign powers would urge for the satisfaction of their just demands, and the peace of the States would be hazarded to the double contingency of external invasion and internal contention.”

My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, here).