Federalist #3

Once again, Publius (Hamilton) addresses this paper to the people of New York, seen as a necessary but reluctant ratifier of the constitution. He also titles it, "The Same Subject Continued" which means he is continuing the discussion of national security from foreign conflict and influence.

The paper starts out with a little bit of personal flattery in which Publius commends the American people as being among the most intelligent and well-informed in the world. Whether this is still true is debatable, but the US does have one of the populations with the most access to information, whether they use this access or not. Suffice to say, the population is somewhat intelligent and somewhat well-informed, though no doubt many Americans fail to exemplify this.

What follows is a gradual building up of the case for a national government with regard to security from foreign threats. Publius reasons that the causes of war may be real or imagined, but in the 18 century, they are usually either failure to honor a treaty or direct attack. Then he points out that the fledgling United States already have treaties with several nations, most of which have navies which means they are in a position to harass the US. These treaties are agreements that are mutually beneficial to both sides which is the security that they will continue to be honored. Publius then reasons that if thirteen separate colonies or three or four confederations of colonies could all negotiate separately, there could be inconsistencies that would result in part of the US being at war with a nation and the rest technically at peace - a state that would necessarily embroil all states in war, whether they liked it or not. In short, he is saying the states are already de facto united in the eyes of the world, whether they really feel they are or not.

In the most recent election, one argument I heard against the incumbent administration is that they have been too accommodating in their foreign policy. While bargaining from a position of strength has some advantages, so does conciliation. The previous eight years have seen a reduction in terrorist attacks and at the same time, improvement in many key economic indicators. By a purely statistical analysis, this more accommodating foreign policy has produced a more peaceful and more profitable eight years. Whether this degree of conciliation has laid the groundwork for attacks or increasing demands from foreign entities remains to be seen. Accommodation certainly has its limits. Nonetheless, in the near term, it appears to have been successful.

In one section, Publius paints an interesting picture that not only describes a contemporary problem, but is a precursor to one that will linger for at least 100 years to come:

"Because such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than the whole; of one or two states than of the Union. Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by the aggressions of the present federal government, feeble as it is; but there are several instances of Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual States, who, either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offenses, have give occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.

Eighty years later, the Grant administration would bargain generously and in good faith with many Native American groups, but the westward migration of settlers and railroads continuously ignored the treaties and precepts of Grant's efforts. It would take days for news of a treaty violation to reach Washington and in many cases, the telegraph report was colored to make the Natives the aggressors when, in fact, it was settlers or railroad owners. In the vacuum of accurate information and under the pressure of America's most powerful businesses, many of Grant's well-intentioned efforts were destroyed by swift retaliation by US Army officers in the field who had an obligation to protect citizens.

So, in that respect, despite Publius' well-reasoned argument regarding bargaining as a whole versus acting on behalf of a part of the nation, things still resulted in conflict. Even today, as we face the conflict over Standing Rock, we see similar issues occur as business interests and national obligations come into conflict. History and the present both seem to suggest that the Constitution is not enough without some degree of altruistic support from the citizenry.

Next up: Publius continues on this subject, turning his attention away from facing the just causes of war, to facing those that are unjust.