Federalist No.3

The Same Subject Continued

(Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence)

Saturday, November 3, 1787

John Jay


John Jay wrote four of the first five Federalist Papers. In this, his second in the series, he begins to discuss the subject of this paper, foreign force and influence, which he barely touched upon in his opening paper. Now, however, the word ‘safe’ or ‘safety’ appears several times in this instalment. He defines this, for the purposes of his argument, to mean safety against “foreign arms and influence” rather than the “dangers of the like kind arising from domestic issues.” Naturally, his position is that a government formed as a union of States is more likely to achieve peace and security than separate states pursuing their own interests, or several confederations of States.


Jay asks whether so many just causes of war are likely to be given by United America as by a disunited America. The rhetorical device reveals a logical truth; the more vested interests that exist, the greater number of opportunities exist to slip into war. Since the Union has already formed alliances and trading agreements with six foreign nations, respecting the laws of those nations and keeping a peace would be more easily achieved by a Federal government.


Jay also argues that a national government would more likely concentrate talent, resulting in better government, while treaties and laws would be more consistently applied.


Ratifying the Constitution would also enhance the power of the Federal government because it would make it more difficult for individual states to exert undue influence on policy and decisions, especially for those issues of a more localised nature.


He argues, also, that State governments would be more partial to conflict when attempting to resolve disputes within their own spheres than a Federal government under the new constitution.


For all these reasons, a Federal government would be the source of greater stability, consistency, and concomitantly, a reduced chance for war with other nations.


Jay uses the example of America’s own internal Indian Wars to make his argument. He points out that all Indian Wars have been the result of State actions; none have been instigated by the Federal Government. Given that American territories were occupied by other nations like Spain and Britain, the likelihood that a State government might become embroiled in a war in a disunited America was deemed by Jay as greater than under the proposed Federal system.


This likelihood is heightened by the pride of states, meaning that states would act in the worst manner of individuals facing disagreement under the anti-Federalist model, especially when faced with matters affecting their States directly. Jay’s argument portrays a Federal government, on the other hand, as a neutral arbiter in disputes, which would not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and candour to consider and decide on the means most proper to extricate them from the difficulties which threaten them.


Jay’s portrayal of a Federal government as a kind of Socratic leader has already been anticipated, first in Hamilton’s paper where he envisages a government established from reflection and choice, and Jay’s own first paper, in which he characterises the members of the Constitutional Convention as men who have grown old acquiring political information; thinkers and philosophers, not hot-headed men in partisan competition.


Jay finishes by suggesting that safety is also more assured under a united government because nations have greater bargaining power when dealing with other countries. He gives the example of Genoa in 1685, which had to submit to the demands of France in order to placate the greater nation. Jay argues that this would not happened to a more powerful nation like Britain or Spain.

7 February 2018