Federalist #2


The subject of the second Federalist Paper is: "Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence" and it addressed in particular to the people of New York. It is worth noting that some of Hamilton's policies in the past had made him something of a persona non-grata in New York and one of the primary reasons for the anonymity of the papers was that Hamilton's name would have alienated some New Yorkers from any impartial consideration of the Constitution.

The subject of these next few papers is fairly basic: 'Publius' is endeavoring to persuade the people that a unified Federal government is preferable to breaking the colonies up into a group of regions or confederations, an idea that had a lot of support throughout the colonies. He approached this in a number of ways but in Federalist #2, his appeal to Union was based largely on their common roots, an appeal that would have far more limited success today.

'Publius' (Hamilton) argues that all the colonies consist of people who share a common language, a common religion, and a common national heritage. While even then, these were not 100%, there is no question the country was far more homogenous than it is today. Uniting a population which had already reached 3.5 million by 1787 was hard to do, especially when it took days or weeks to transmit information from one colony to another. Appealing to common ground is a natural appeal.

In contrast, today we cannot call out a common language, a common religion, or a common national origin. While some may ignorantly wish that we could, the reality is that the United States is much richer for its tradition of openness and welcoming those outside any strictly defined group. This does not mean, of course, that Unity is any less valuable. In fact, in the wake of an extremely divisive election, both parties are calling for Unity in very loud voices. I suspect that the hard-liners in both parties are actually calling for the country to be unified only if they support their particular ideology, but I don't want to sound too cynical. I think there are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle sincerely calling for unity for the common good of our nation and I pin my hopes on that sentiment, as hard as it may be to feel confident.

Arguably, Hamilton's most significant and convincing argument for national unity is one that we should all hear very loudly right now. He said, "Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with the requisite powers."

The country, and indeed the entire world, has changed dramatically in the 229 years since these words were written and government; especially a government intended to be of, by, and for the people it governs, has to adapt to changes in the populace, in the environment, and even in technology. One of the hurdles 'Publius' faced was that citizens had certain rights under the Articles of Confederation that had to be limited or even removed if the nation were to be united. This was a hard sell. It's just as hard today. Certain rights written into the Constitution in 1787 must be viewed with modern eyes and judged once again. It is unreasonable to suggest that every line is sacrosanct and unalterable. In 229 years, the needs of the people and the nature of what constitutes the common good have changed. The Constitution was intended to be a living document that could and would be changed as the definition of those things changed. At the same time, it is very good that those things demand much effort and careful consideration to change. The whims and volatility of humans must never be allowed to re-write this document unchecked. Such changes must always require careful review and approval from the people.

It is this very changeability that makes the US Constitution such an incredible document! It is often criticized for not openly banning slavery at the outset. Realistically, this couldn't happen. The Articles of Confederation made it clear that 2/3ds of the colonies had to approve a constitution. That is 9 of 13. There were five colonies; Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, that would never have approved the constitution with a slavery ban written into it. It simply would not have passed under any circumstances. Likewise, a constitution that explicitly allowed slavery would never have passed the New England colonies. The only hope of ever passing the Constitution was to say NOTHING about slavery and hope both pro and anti-slavery coalitions would accept that. Wisely, the authors built into the constitution the ability to be amended and while it took almost 80 years, slavery was eventually made unconstitutional. Change will always be a necessity over the course of time and it is fortunate that our central document of government has the ability to change with the times, though sometimes that change is painfully; even tragically, slow.

So, the actual question of 'dangers from foreign force and influence' was not directly addressed in Federalist #2, despite the title. But never fear: Publius continues the discussion in #3. And as we all know, dangers from foreign force and influence are still with us and need to be addressed. The danger of terrorist attack, rogue states like North Korea, and even subversive influence by hackers in Russia or China present a real threat and are similar in nature to the dangers facing a fledgling United States.

There's your teaser for the next installment.