The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 4–6 | Summary



Essay 4: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence)

In this essay, John Jay probes the links between the growing commercial activity of the United States and the task of coordinating defensive measures against hostilities from a foreign country such as Great Britain, France, or Spain. Trade, commerce, and rivalry, he asserts, provoke envy and greed for profit. Human nature is such that, even when there is no prospect of gain, wars may result from thirst for glory, revenge, ambition, or self-aggrandizement.

At that time Spain had already shown its hostile attitude by excluding American commerce from the Mississippi River, while in the east Britain had done likewise along the Saint Lawrence. In the future, Jay maintains, Americans cannot expect other nations to welcome the power and success of the United States.

These considerations argue that America must shape for itself the best defense possible. This objective is far more easily achieved by a single government than by 13 separate governments, or even by three or four fragmented confederacies. Mutual aid in case of attack from abroad would be hard to come by in such a situation. From the foreign perspective a single, unified government would be far more likely to attract friendship rather than resentment. Conversely, a fragmented government will make America a pitiful sight in foreign eyes.

Essay 5: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence)

Jay begins this essay by quoting from a letter written by Queen Anne to the Scotch Parliament in 1706 regarding the imminent union between England and Scotland. Jay comments that the history of Great Britain, with which Americans are highly familiar, offers a number of important lessons—among them that peace is jeopardized by fragmentation and division.

In addition, fragmentation might well breed inequality, which in turn would give rise to envy, fear, and distrust. The differences between the northern and southern United States might come to the fore in dangerous aggression. Different American nations might, according to their interests, form various alliances with different foreign countries, thus giving rise to a chaotic situation in which one American nation might wage war against the ally of another.

Essay 6: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions between the States

Hamilton's dark tone in this essay springs from his conviction that republics, no less than monarchies, are devoted to war. This predilection arises from human nature: men are "ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious," says Hamilton. He surveys the "innumerable" causes of hostility among nations, remarking on the frequent wars embarked on by ancient Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage—all of them republics. Commerce and war have joined hands particularly in Britain, with its long history of wars. In conclusion, Hamilton dismisses what he calls "the deceitful dream of a golden age" as a mere reverie, quoting instead the historian and international jurist Abbé de Mably: "Neighboring nations ... are naturally enemies of each other."


These essays display a broad realism on the part of both John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. From evidence in Essays 4 and 6, it is reasonable to conclude that both men saw self-interest as the guiding force in human nature. Jay asserts in Essay 4 that men will make war "whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it," and in Essay 6 Hamilton dubs men as "ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious." Although Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke (1632–1704) and David Hume (1711–76) exerted a substantial influence on the Founding Fathers, it is safe to say the authors of The Federalist Papers were under no illusions about "the better angels of our nature"; in fact, Madison declares flatly in Essay 51 that "if men were angels, no government would be necessary."

These three essays are also heavily laden with historical allusions, from both ancient Greece and Rome and modern Europe. All three authors of The Federalist Papers had benefited from an outstanding education (Hamilton and Jay at King's College, now Columbia University, and Madison at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University). History was an essential university subject, and the authors use historical events and trends abundantly in order to bolster their contention that "experience" is one of the best possible guides for shaping a framework of government.

Toward the end of Essay 6, Hamilton buttresses his comments on the dangers of disunion by referring to recent American conflicts, especially the discord between west and east in the states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. He regards these conflicts as warning signals that Americans would be wise to take seriously.

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