THE FEDERALIST PAPERS
Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States
For the Independent Journal
Wednesday, November 14, 1787
To the People of the State of New York:
THE three last numbers of this paper have been dedicated to an
enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of
disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations. I shall now proceed
to delineate dangers of a different and, perhaps, still more alarming
kind -- those which will in all probability flow from dissensions
between the States themselves, and from domestic factions and
convulsions. These have been already in some instances slightly
anticipated; but they deserve a more particular and more full
A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt
that, if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united
in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be
thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To
presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their
existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and
rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of
independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would
be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at
defiance the accumulated experience of ages.
The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. There are some
which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective
bodies of society. Of this description are the love of power or the
desire of pre-eminence and dominion -- the jealousy of power, or the
desire of equality and safety. There are others which have a more
circumscribed though an equally operative influence within their
spheres. Such are the rivalships and competitions of commerce between
commercial nations. And there are others, not less numerous than either
of the former, which take their origin entirely in private passions; in
the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes, and fears of leading
individuals in the communities of which they are members. Men of this
class, whether the favorites of a king or of a people, have in too many
instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext
of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national
tranquillity to personal advantage or personal gratification.
The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentment of a
prostitute, at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his
countrymen, attacked, vanquished, and destroyed the city of the
SAMNIANS. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the
MEGARENSIANS, another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution
with which he was threatened as an accomplice of a supposed theft of the
statuary Phidias, or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be
brought against him for dissipating the funds of the state in the
purchase of popularity, or from a combination of all these causes,
was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war, distinguished in
the Grecian annals by the name of the PELOPONNESIAN war; which, after
various vicissitudes, intermissions, and renewals, terminated in the
ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.
The ambitious cardinal, who was prime minister to Henry VIII.,
permitting his vanity to aspire to the triple crown, entertained
hopes of succeeding in the acquisition of that splendid prize by the
influence of the Emperor Charles V. To secure the favor and interest of
this enterprising and powerful monarch, he precipitated England into a
war with France, contrary to the plainest dictates of policy, and at the
hazard of the safety and independence, as well of the kingdom over which
he presided by his counsels, as of Europe in general. For if there ever
was a sovereign who bid fair to realize the project of universal
monarchy, it was the Emperor Charles V., of whose intrigues Wolsey was
at once the instrument and the dupe.
The influence which the bigotry of one female, the petulance of
another, and the cabals of a third, had in the contemporary
policy, ferments, and pacifications, of a considerable part of Europe,
are topics that have been too often descanted upon not to be generally
To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the
production of great national events, either foreign or domestic,
according to their direction, would be an unnecessary waste of time.
Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from
which they are to be drawn, will themselves recollect a variety of
instances; and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will
not stand in need of such lights to form their opinion either of the
reality or extent of that agency. Perhaps, however, a reference, tending
to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a
case which has lately happened among ourselves. If Shays had not been a
DESPERATE DEBTOR, it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would
have been plunged into a civil war.
But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this
particular, there are still to be found visionary or designing men, who
stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the
States, though dismembered and alienated from each other. The genius of
republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency
to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors
which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours,
will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with
each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate
a spirit of mutual amity and concord.
Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of
all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit? If
this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not,
on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions, and
immediate interest, have a more active and imperious control over human
conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or
justice? Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than
monarchies? Are not the former administered by MEN as well as the
latter? Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships, and desires
of unjust acquisitions, that affect nations as well as kings? Are not
popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage,
resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent
propensities? Is it not well known that their determinations are often
governed by a few individuals in whom they place confidence, and are, of
course, liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those
individuals? Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the
objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and
enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as
many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the
prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity
of territory or dominion? Has not the spirit of commerce, in many
instances, administered new incentives to the appetite, both for the one
and for the other? Let experience, the least fallible guide of human
opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.
Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage were all republics; two of them,
Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often
engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighboring monarchies
of the same times. Sparta was little better than a wellregulated camp;
and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.
Carthage, though a commercial republic, was the aggressor in the very
war that ended in her destruction. Hannibal had carried her arms into
the heart of Italy and to the gates of Rome, before Scipio, in turn,
gave him an overthrow in the territories of Carthage, and made a
conquest of the commonwealth.
Venice, in later times, figured more than once in wars of ambition,
till, becoming an object to the other Italian states, Pope Julius II.
found means to accomplish that formidable league, which gave a deadly
blow to the power and pride of this haughty republic.
The provinces of Holland, till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes,
took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe. They had
furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea, and were
among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Louis
In the government of Britain the representatives of the people compose
one branch of the national legislature. Commerce has been for ages the
predominant pursuit of that country. Few nations, nevertheless, have
been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars in which that kingdom
has been engaged have, in numerous instances, proceeded from the people.
There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal
wars. The cries of the nation and the importunities of their
representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchs
into war, or continued them in it, contrary to their inclinations, and
sometimes contrary to the real interests of the State. In that memorable
struggle for superiority between the rival houses of AUSTRIA and
BOURBON, which so long kept Europe in a flame, it is well known that the
antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition,
or rather the avarice, of a favorite leader, protracted the war beyond
the limits marked out by sound policy, and for a considerable time in
opposition to the views of the court.
The wars of these two last-mentioned nations have in a great measure
grown out of commercial considerations, -- the desire of supplanting and
the fear of being supplanted, either in particular branches of traffic
or in the general advantages of trade and navigation, and sometimes even
the more culpable desire of sharing in the commerce of other nations
without their consent.
The last war but between Britain and Spain sprang from the attempts of
the British merchants to prosecute an illicit trade with the Spanish
main. These unjustifiable practices on their part produced severity on
the part of the Spaniards toward the subjects of Great Britain which
were not more justifiable, because they exceeded the bounds of a just
retaliation and were chargeable with inhumanity and cruelty. Many of the
English who were taken on the Spanish coast were sent to dig in the
mines of Potosi; and by the usual progress of a spirit of resentment,
the innocent were, after a while, confounded with the guilty in
indiscriminate punishment. The complaints of the merchants kindled a
violent flame throughout the nation, which soon after broke out in the
House of Commons, and was communicated from that body to the ministry.
Letters of reprisal were granted, and a war ensued, which in its
consequences overthrew all the alliances that but twenty years before
had been formed with sanguine expectations of the most beneficial
From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose
situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason
can we have to confide in those reveries which would seduce us into an
expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present
confederacy, in a state of separation? Have we not already seen enough
of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused
us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and
evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from
the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim
for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other
inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of
perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?
Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and
credit have sunk, let the inconveniences felt everywhere from a lax and
ill administration of government, let the revolt of a part of the State
of North Carolina, the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania, and
the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts, declare -- !
So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the
tenets of those who endeavor to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord
and hostility between the States, in the event of disunion, that it has
from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom
in politics, that vicinity or nearness of situation, constitutes nations
natural enemies. An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject
to this effect: "NEIGHBORING NATIONS (says he) are naturally enemies of
each other unless their common weakness forces them to league in a
CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences
that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy which
disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their
neighbors." This passage, at the same time, points out the EVIL and
suggests the REMEDY.
1. Aspasia, vide "Plutarch's Life of Pericles."
4. Ibid. Phidias was supposed to have stolen some public gold, with the
connivance of Pericles, for the embellishment of the statue of Minerva.
5. Worn by the popes.
6. Madame de Maintenon.
7. Duchess of Marlborough.
8. Madame de Pompadour.
9. The League of Cambray, comprehending the Emperor, the King of France,
the King of Aragon, and most of the Italian princes and states.
10. The Duke of Marlborough.
11. Vide "Principes des Negociations" par l'Abbé de Mably.