Hamilton takes up Jay’s theme of security in this essay but he focuses on security against neighboring states rather than foreign countries. I see why modern statists love Hamilton and love to take his writings from the Federalist Papers out of their proper context to achieve their goal of a welfare state, but more on this later.
In the first part of the essay Hamilton uses plainness of speech to convey his thoughts on human nature: “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” It is from this understanding of man that leads not only Hamilton but the other authors of these papers and the framers of the constitution to create and defend a system that assumes the worst about leaders and power. The constitution and the subsequent defense of it (Federalist Papers) legitimize distrust of men and power through the mechanics of the constitution; checks and balances, separation of powers, etc. They cast men in an unfavorable light in order to protect the rights and liberty of the people. Hamilton, Madison and Jay were not ready, as many moderns are, to trust government to be paternally wise and dutifully caring in the discharge of its ever-growing duties.
In fact Hamilton casts the anti-federalist writers in such a light when they claimed that neighboring states, if left completely sovereign would not harm one another because, among other things, commerce and trade would render independent republics pacific. Hamilton calls this line of reasoning “Utopian speculations” and that the persons who think and promote such a view should “awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age”. Americans in the 21st century should also wake up and realize that the War on poverty, drugs, illiteracy and any other scheme that smacks of a “Great Society” or a “New Deal” are dreams of a fictional golden age and that our best course of action is “to adopt as a practical maxim” for our political affairs the fact that we and all other people under heaven “are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue.” In other words, government cannot “cure” poverty or drug addiction or save the environment or any of the myriad of “just” causes because history has shown that it tends to restrict liberty, thus making things worse by its unintended consequences.
Hamilton also brings up an important point in his discussion of the contentions that have risen between republics of the past. The very fact that all wars have not been perpetrated by monarchs but that there have been “almost as many popular as royal wars.” For, as Hamilton asked rhetorically, “Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and other irregular and violent propensities?” Yet we in the present age have thought democracy a panacea for all that ails mankind. The framers intended that by creating a federal union, the best men would be chosen from a pool of the states and that among those men chosen some would come from the states, thus providing a check against the passions and interests of those elected by the people. But this important check was removed by the 17th amendment and as we have opened up our political system, which many esteemed writers have applauded, we have also multiplied our contentions. According to Hamilton, the federal union under the constitution was to prevent such contentions as were experienced by past nations and republics but we have all but dismantled the machines of prevention. It is as if we have substituted the problems of squabbling states with the problems of squabbling personal interests under a system of unitary democracy; while simultaneously circumscribing liberty. The fruits of my labor are stolen from me by a rapacious government because someone’s personal interests have won out in the halls of Congress by representatives all chosen by personal interests.
There is no doubt Hamilton wanted a strong and energetic federal government but one in which the states’ interests were provided for and popular passions were controlled. He never envisioned the unitary democracy we have today which has been and will yet be the cause of many wars at home and abroad. Hamilton thought our country would be ruined under a loose confederacy of thirteen nation-states, and as Shays Rebellion showed he was right but he should have stopped to consider the problems of a unitary state, in which all power is concentrated in the federal government and within the federal government in the executive branch. A system in which paradoxically democracy has expanded. To convince New Yorkers to adopt the new constitution he would “Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit have sunk, let the inconveniences felt everywhere from a lax and ill administration of government” speak to the need for such adoption. Are we not in the same place today? Let the facts of the manifold problems we face today be our tocsin that we need to reform our current government and restore the federalism as originally laid out by Hamilton, Madison and Jay.