Federalist No.4

The Same Subject Continued

(Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence)

Wednesday, November 7, 1789

John Jay


Jay’s argument in his previous paper had concentrated upon the greater likelihood that an America not governed by a central government would be more likely to give cause for a just war to other nations. In this paper, he focusses upon the realities of international relations. Wars arise not just from offence given, but more complicated reasons of personal motivation, trading competition and the enticement a weak and disorganised nation presents to its competitors. He even goes to far so to say that there are pretended as well as just causes of war.


Jay cleverly starts the argument with reference to Britain and monarchy, since America had fought a war against Britain for its independence. He suggests that monarchs may start wars for personal reasons. For, example:


Apart from that, Jay points out the reality, that American trade, which is obviously burgeoning at this time, is not politically neutral, but impinges upon the interests of other powerful nations like Britain, France, Spain, China and India. America, he argues, has several advantages which could be the source of conflict. America produces goods cheaply, is well situated to trade with other countries and has enterprising merchants and navigators.


Naturally, Jay argues that a centralised government is necessary to protect the interests of America’s trade. The advantages of a central government in organising defence are that:


A disunited government, on the other hand, faces several problems:


Jay attributes the history of Greece to three problems, and then uses the example of Britain to reinforce his point. Would Great Britain, he argues, be an effective power if its various parts, Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland, were to organise split: …it is easy to see how soon they would each dwindle into comparative insignificance. I wonder what Hamilton would make of the current Brexit mess.


A disunited country also faces the problems of leadership against foreign forces, even if they were willing to work in concert against the enemy. For instance:


Jay concludes by arguing that war is less likely in the first place under a united government that achieves all the advantages possible through central administration, whereas as series of disunited states or confederacies would not only be weaker individually. They would be unlikely to work to the advantage of each other, with the possibility that some States might make agreements with other nations that could impact on the agreements of other states, and therefore create situations more likely to bring about war. He ends with the metaphor of a divided family, which never fails to be against themselves.

9 February 2018