Thursday, October 22, 2020

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - A Commitment to Deep Thinking About our Political Origins in the Presence of Noise (Paper No. 7)


A link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers.

Avoiding internecine conflict between states continues to occupy Hamilton's attention in Paper No. 7.  He cites particularly, the likelihood of territorial disputes, given the "vast tract of unsettled territory within the boundaries of the United States," and the prevailing practice at that time of asking states to make concessions to the union that then existed in 1787 "for the benefit of the whole." However, he cautions, disuniting the states would mean that each could apply different principles,leading to more potential hostility without a "common judge to interpose between" the parties. 

 The same difficulty could apply to commercial disputes, and he imagines that significant objections are likely to raised by neighboring states if duties were levied by one against another.  Settling the public debt of the existing Union was a particular concern as states could disagree not only to the rules governing what portion of the debt each would be responsible for, but also to policy regarding the discharging of a debt in general.  

There is perhaps nothing more likely to disturb the tranquility of nations, than their being bound to mutual contributions for any common object, which does not yield an equal and coincident benefit. For it is an observation as true, as it is trite, that there is nothing men differ so readily about as the payment of money. 

Apparently Hamilton had it right on the money. Even living under the ratified federal constitution here in question, 233 years later, the American president is arguing the value of our contribution to NATO and the United Nations. Hamilton concludes:

America, if not connected at all, or only by the feeble tie of a simple league offensive and defensive, would by the operation of such opposite and jarring alliances be gradually entangled in all the pernicious labyrinths of European politics and wars; and by the destructive contentions of the part, into which she was divided would be likely to become a prey to the artifices and machinations of powers equally the enemies of them all. 

It saddens me as I read repeatedly about the power Publius saw vested in the Constitution.  To them, it was a guarantor of a bond between Americans strong enough to encourage sacrifice of personal, party, or local advantage to the greater good of the whole.  Clearly that power has dwindled and personal or party advantage reign supreme.

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