Friday, October 30, 2020

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - A Commitment to Deep Thinking About our Political Origins in the Presence of Noise (Paper No. 11)


THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - Part 10.    A link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers.

Alexander Hamilton is less concerned in Federalist Paper No. 11 with the philosophy of governance than with strategy.  It comes down to a question of size: a state of disunion... It would be in the power of the maritime nations, availing themselves of our universal impotence, to prescribe the conditions of our political existence...they would combine to embarrass our navigation...and confine us to a passive commerce.

Hamilton has an eye to the future.  In 1787 the America he spoke of consisted of 13 states occupying the eastern-most part of a much larger land mass. The balance of that land was colonized by Spain, France and Britain.  It held tremendous untapped resources, had excellent access to the Atlantic Ocean, and useful interior waterways for transport, like the Ohio, Mississippi, St. Lawrence, and Great Lakes. Hamilton could see that the European colonizers were wary of potential threats by this upstart to their commercial and navigational domination. He could envision the potential for a union of states to become a prosperous player through trade. 

The Constitution has become a document of ideas, a template for a kind of government, but here Hamilton sells what makes it a practical document. Unity is not some sort of feel-good rallying cry, it is a strategy that would give a start-up nation the capacity to become a partner in world trade. A united states collective population topping 3 million would be a sizable market, one worth bidding for the right to do trade with.  In 1787, Britain did not have commercial treaties with the American confederation. The ability to bar Britain from using American ports, would drive up the price of British goods. Of course, such prohibitive tactics would require a Navy to back them up. Another asset only attainable with the collective resources of multiple states.  

There is discipline involved in the collaboration that Hamilton, Madison and Jay are advising, involving the suppression of rivalries that afforded immediate benefits to persons reaping economic or strategic advantages of their present position. First of all:

An unrestrained intercourse between the States themselves will advance the trade of each, by an interchange of their respective productions, not only for the supply of reciprocal wants at home, but for exportation to foreign markets...Commercial enterprise will have much greater scope, from the diversity in the productions of different states...


Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources of the country, directed to a common interest, would baffle all the combinations of European jealousy to restrain our growth... An active commerce, an extensive navigation, and a flourishing marine would then be the inevitable offspring...  We might defy the little arts of little politicians to controul, or vary, the irresistible and unchangeable course of nature. 

Ah yes - the "little arts of little politicians," so influential still!  It is clear that the advantages to be won out of unity would take longer to produce, and that some personal profits of those who reaped rewards early and easily would have to be sacrificed to the greater good.  This has only been implied thus far, but we are talking of federal taxes.  Some people didn't like them then either despite the advantages they afforded all Americans collectively. 

Hamilton envisions opportunity for future gains from fishing and navigation rights to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River (not yet part of America). Individual states would offer little competition to the power of Spain, France, or Britain, he counsels, but the states united would.

Hamilton concludes with an interesting point:

The world may politically, as well as geographically, be divided into four parts, each having a distinct set of interests.  Unhappily for the other three, Europe by her arms and by her negociations, by force and by fraud, has, in different degrees, extended her dominion over them all. Africa, Asia, and America have successively felt her domination. The superiority, she has long maintained, has tempted her to plume herself as the Mistress of the World, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit. Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority; and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America...It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother moderation... Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! 

Hamilton says this in light of appropriating a land already occupied by established civilizations of Americans and then depriving African persons of their freedom in order to cultivate that land for their own gain. Vindicate the honor of the human race, indeed.

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