The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 7: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning Dangers from Dissensions between the States)

Hamilton next carries his concern for the establishment of a single government for the Union to consideration of other areas where discord and warfare might erupt in the case of fragmented governments or small confederacies. These areas include territorial claims of unsettled regions in the West, commercial competition and regulation, and squabbles over the public debt of the Union. Hamilton takes up each area in detail, discussing particular conflicts that have either already occurred or are likely to occur.

Essay 8: The Consequences of Hostilities between the States

Among the most pernicious effects of any dissolution of the Union, according to Hamilton, would be those of war between the states. Larger, more powerful states, he declares, would easily overrun smaller ones. To ensure public safety, the issue of standing armies would then arise. States will have recourse to the preeminence of a military rather than a civil regime, and liberty will suffer accordingly. "To be more safe," as Hamilton says, "they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free." Standing armies, in Hamilton's view, are malignant bodies, but widespread war and fear of war will inevitably produce them, and America will become subject to "the same engines of despotism which have been the scourge of the Old World." Hamilton warns his readers that such predictions are not "vague inferences" but rather "solid conclusions."

Essay 9: The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

In this essay, Hamilton advances his claim for the advantages of a single Union government by asserting that such a framework will help to prevent domestic uprising and discord. Hamilton's argument turns largely on the reasoning of Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755), the French political theorist who was often cited by the Founding Fathers. In his classic work The Spirit of the Laws (1748), Montesquieu commends the virtues of a "confederate republic." Some critics of the new Constitution have wrongly interpreted Montesquieu to mean confederate republics must be small in size in order to succeed. Other objectors, says Hamilton, have failed to apply correctly the distinction between a confederacy and a consolidation. The new Constitution, Hamilton declares, does not establish a consolidation, in which state governments would cease to exist (being absorbed by the federal government) but rather a confederacy, in which two levels of government operate concurrently. Hamilton concludes the essay with remarks on the ancient Lycian Confederacy in Asia Minor, which was lauded as a model by Montesquieu.

Analysis

In connection with Essay 7, conflicts regarding the Western territory in the United States formed a thematic strand of American history starting almost as soon as the revolution ended. The Northwest Ordinances by Congress in 1784, 1785, and 1787 involved the issue of orderly procedures for the settlement and administration of territory. In mentioning the subject of the American midwest, Hamilton gives voice to a highly topical concern. At the close of Essay 7, Hamilton cites an ancient Roman proverb that many of his readers would have recognized immediately: divide et impera ("divide and conquer"). Hamilton is here envisioning a situation in which American involvement in the "pernicious labyrinths" of European politics would expose the United States to exploitation and fragmentation. The proverb "divide and conquer" was associated with the great ancient Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (102–44 BCE), but historians have also traced it as far back as northern Greek King Philip II of Macedon (382–36 BCE), the father of Greek king Alexander the Great. In his Farewell Address of 1796, President George Washington warned Americans to steer clear of all foreign involvements and entanglements.

In Essay 8, Hamilton's urgent concern with citizens' safety and standing armies continues to have a timely application. A leading criticism of the Patriot Act of 2001, enacted by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was that, by the expansion of search and surveillance powers, liberty was being encroached upon for the sake of security.

The final paragraph in Essay 8 furnishes a good example of Hamilton's characteristic prose style, as well as the cast of his thought. In the brief opening sentence, Hamilton employs antithesis—or a pointed, balanced contrast ("not superficial nor futile, but solid and weighty"). In the succeeding, much lengthier sentence, the two introductory clauses balance each other ("If such men will make ... if they will contemplate") and then culminate in a forceful independent clause ("they will not hesitate to part with trivial objections"). For good measure, Hamilton adds a final thunderclap, when he says that the rejection of the Constitution will likely "put a final period to the Union." This is an example of "either/or" argumentation, in which only two clashing positions are presented for readers' consideration. To be fair, the ratification issue was essentially an "up-or-down vote": citizens were not given the chance, for example, to approve some sections of the new Constitution and to reject others. Finally, in Hamilton's final sentence in this paragraph, note the charged language he uses for his opponents, who are said to suffer from "airy phantoms" that "flit" in "distempered imaginations." These stylistic devices help Hamilton to make his prose both pointed and persuasive.

Essay 9 anticipates the far more celebrated Essay 10 to some degree, since both papers are concerned with domestic faction. The reader will find, though, that Madison argues his case far more meticulously in Essay 10, while Hamilton is content in Essay 9 with blunt assertion rather than with logical argumentation.

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