In Number 2, John Jay, who later became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, starts off with a proposition that today has more than its share of defenders: government is an indispensable necessity. I know of very few who would argue this point but just how much government becomes the point of contention. The current administration, many within Congress and many citizens believe that government is necessary for the sole purpose of providing security–from the cradle to the grave. Hence government must save car companies, the whales, the homeless and run healthcare (all in that order). Very few others believe, as the authors of the Federalist Papers argue that government is necessary to protect and preserve liberty and those natural rights given by God. Jay sets forth the social contract theory in the beginning of this essay, that is that we give up some rights in order to give the government sufficient power to preserve and protect. But the authors of this essay would be appalled at people today using these words to promote overarching federal control, a control that seeks to burden states with unfounded mandates and destroy the federal structure of the Republic. Those who would read Federalist No. 9 at a battle site in Texas proclaiming federal authority in complete control over the states should ponder the title of the essays they are reading–they are the Federalist Papers, not the Unitary Essays: In Defense of Collectivism! The federalism set up and eloquently defended in these essays is all but destroyed when the federal government can with impunity set a national drunk driving limit or direct state education or tell Idaho it will take wolves regardless of the overwhelming protests of the citizens of that state.
I digress. The rest of Jay’s essay turns on the proposition that the “prosperity of the people of America depended on their continuing firmly united.” Jay argues that we must be one federal union in order to prosper in all fields. To make his case Jay points out that at this time Americans were generally from the same lands and had a similar linage of thought, language and religion. How true this is today is hard to know. Many demographers state that by 2050 or 2060 this European heritage will be officially in the minority and in any event, with the rise of multiculturalism immigrants are encourage in many circles to keep their traditions and form ethnic and cultural enclaves throughout the United States, thus providing a stumbling block to Jay’s argument that we are one people culturally and hence should be one federal union.
But we still have geography linking us–right? Jay writes, “A succession of navigable waters forms a kind 0f chain round its borders, as if to bind it together.” Those linking rivers don’t link the entire country any more, we are too big. We have the Rockies and the Great Plains. Culturally, instead of these areas being great assets in the geography argument they tend to be areas of isolation from the political power of American government. What did Mr. Obama say about people in the Midwest, those who are not connected by the rivers? In a speech in San Fransisco (a liberal port city): “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” So are we connected as a people anymore? Those in power seem to be doing their level best to destroy the unity of the nation.
Jay also argues that the value of union is the protection such unity provides. No doubt this would have been an important claim after having vanquished, with the help of France the greatest naval power at that time. Throughout America’s history it has proven of great advantage in war for America to be one federal union. But as America has stepped out of its isolationist shoes and put on those of an interventionist, going to war has proven more divisive than unifying. Starting with Vietnam and continuing up to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are major debates about our foreign policy and whether we are not taking too activist a role in foreign affairs which are costly in terms of lives and money.
Lastly, to urge New York to adopt the new constitution Jay cites the credentials of the framers of it. These were wise and experienced men, “who have been since tried and justly approved for patriotism and abilities.” Jay urges the people of New York to trust these men and adopt the constitution because they have “grown old in acquiring political information.” Can we say the same of our current crop of political leaders? In a Center for Constitutional Studies publication it was found that the framers were “all remarkably well read and mostly from the same books. Although the level of their training varied…the debates in the Constitutional Convention and the writings of the founders reflect a far broader knowledge of religion, politics, historical and economic and philosophical studies then would be found in any cross section of leaders today.” Can we trust our leaders to be the most widely and deeply read in the world? Have they grown old in acquiring political information or just in getting reelected and getting money? You decide.
Before I close this analysis of Federalist No. 2, I couldn’t help but notice in the essay Jay uses the term Providence three times. I was taught by my university professors not to worry about that term because it simply implies fortune or luck in the course of events. Call me a heretic but I think I disagree with my professors! Jay claims that Providence has blessed us, it has given to us and that it designed the whole Europeans immigrating to America thing. If this is blind luck or an impersonal force of nature Jay sure chooses his words unwisely here. But Jay rarely uses poor word choice; instead he appears to be relating the goodness of God in establishing America. How pre-20th Century! How proto-post modern. But nevertheless it is there. The Oxford English Dictionary states that Providence is a noun and is the protective care of God, which fits well with the sense in which Jay uses the word three times in the essay.
You can plainly see how far from the apple tree we apples have fallen. Jay’s argument, which made sense in the past and was quite convincing, appears a bit of a stretch today. But that is our fault. We have forgotten or stopped understanding or never knew what the founders had laid out for future generations. Many agree we have lost our way; and the way we get back to Federalist No. 2 making sense again is by reading, understanding and living the principles and values put forth by the founding generation. When our government reflects the essays in the Federalist Papers we can be assured we are on the right path to liberty, but until then we must be vigilant; and then ever after. As has been stated, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”