Reading Project

Federalist Paper No.6

Concerning Dangers From Dissensions Between The States

Wednesday, November 14, 1787

Alexander Hamilton


Hamilton builds upon Jay’s arguments, that a failure to ratify the Constitution and place American states under the rule of a stronger Federal government risks conflict with other nations and between states. Hamilton’s objective in this paper is to discredit the anti-Federalist argument that common interests, especially those based upon common commercial interests, are enough to counter the possibility of serious open conflict between American states in the future.


It is an argument that has been raised even in modern times. For instance, with the fall of the USSR many American companies took the opportunity to establish their businesses in Russia. I remember TIME magazine, which has strong American biases, suggested that by forming strong commercial links within Russia, commerce would play its part in ameliorating future aggression and conflicts between the two powers. This, it seemed, was the confirmation of the capitalist ideology, and I sensed, to some degree, an implied justification for opposing Communism in places like Vietnam. Of course, Russia hasn’t turned out to be quite as compliant to American ideology as those Utopian dreams about the potential of commerce may have first suggested.


Utopian is a term Hamilton also uses in his paper to describe the anti-Federalist position. Hamilton argues that separate States would inevitably fall into conflict because men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. This is the crux of Hamilton’s argument; that despite whatever commons interests, such as trade, might exist between States, human nature will nullify the interest each State has in peace to the exigencies of conflict, captive to the needs of human nature.


Hamilton goes beyond elucidating the human foibles that make it so – love of power, jealousy of power, rivalry of commerce etc – to provide numerous historical examples that support his position. A few examples include:



Pericles was a good choice because he is usually represented favourably in history. He died too early in the Peloponnesian War to be associated with its long struggle, but appears statesmanlike, instead, in Thucydides’s rendition of his funeral oration in the first years of the war. Pericles is usually associated more with the consolidation of Athenian greatness rather than its destruction. So, Hamilton’s critical evaluation of his part in the conflict – actions taken for personal considerations for instance, such as the accusation that he drove the state towards war as a means to distract from criticisms over the misuse of state funds to buy personal popularity – is a clever example that deconstructs the myth of Pericles and shows how, without a common constitution, two Greek states could be driven towards war, despite their common interests.



Whose personal ambitions to become Pope caused him to seek the support of Emperor Charles V. As Henry VIII’s prime minister his duty was to protect English interests, but he precipitated a war with France in order to gain Charles’s influence for himself.

Daniel Shays


Hamilton cleverly draws the argument back to a more recent and relevant example of Daniel Shays. Shays was a former militia commander, now a farmer, who, like many farmers were burdened by debt. Shays led a rebellion against rising taxes and land foreclosures, partly affected by the huge debt held by the Federal government after the war with England. America was almost powerless to re-pay the debt, since the federal government’s ability to raise revenue was limited. Hamilton here not only shows that personal interests can outweigh the abstract association between citizenry and the State, but, by extension, between one State and another. The example also underlines the effect a weak central government is having not only on the economy, but American stability.


Hamilton’s point is clear: it is not only monarchies that begin wars, but also Republics governed by commercial interests as well, since they are subject to the same human foibles and pressures. Through a series of rhetorical questions, Hamilton not only makes this point, but also shows that commercial interests have been the catalyst for many wars, despite the anti-Federalists ideological position.


Hamilton cites uprisings in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, along with the ever-increasing debt of the nation, as indicators of conflicts to come, without the remedy of the new Constitution.

12 February 2018

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