Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence
Saturday, November 3, 1787
To the People of the State of New York:
IT IS not
a new observation that the people of any country (if, like the Americans,
intelligent and well-informed) seldom adopt and steadily persevere for many
years in an erroneous opinion respecting their interests. That consideration
naturally tends to create great respect for the high opinion which the people of
America have so long and uniformly entertained of the importance of their
continuing firmly united under one federal government, vested with sufficient
powers for all general and national purposes.
The more attentively I consider and investigate the
reasons which appear to have given birth to this opinion, the more I become
convinced that they are cogent and conclusive.
Among the many objects to which a wise and free people
find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety
seems to be the first. The safety of the people doubtless has relation
to a great variety of circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords
great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively.
At present I mean only to consider it as it respects
security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well as against
foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind
arising from domestic causes. As the former of these comes first in order, it is
proper it should be the first discussed. Let us therefore proceed to examine
whether the people are not right in their opinion that a cordial Union, under an
efficient national government, affords them the best security that can be
devised against hostilities from abroad.
The number of wars which have happened or will happen in
the world will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of
the causes, whether real or pretended, which provoke or
invite them. If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire
whether so many just causes of war are likely to be given by united
America as by disunited America; for if it should turn out that
United America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this
respect the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with
The just causes of war, for the most part, arise
either from violation of treaties or from direct violence. America has already
formed treaties with no less than six foreign nations, and all of them, except
Prussia, are maritime, and therefore able to annoy and injure us. She has also
extensive commerce with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and, with respect to the
two latter, has, in addition, the circumstance of neighborhood to attend to.
It is of high importance to the peace of America that she
observe the laws of nations towards all these powers, and to me it appears
evident that this will be more perfectly and punctually done by one national
government than it could be either by thirteen separate States or by three or
four distinct confederacies. For this opinion various reasons may be assigned.
When once an efficient national government is established,
the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will
generally be appointed to manage it; for, although town or country, or other
contracted influence, may place men in State assemblies, or senates, or courts
of justice, or executive departments, yet more general and extensive reputation
for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to
offices under the national government, -- especially as it will have the widest
field for choice, and never experience that want of proper persons which is not
uncommon in some of the States. Hence, it will result that the administration,
the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national government
will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States,
and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as
safe with respect to us.
Under the national government, treaties and articles of
treaties, as well as the laws of nations, will always be expounded in one sense
and executed in the same manner, -- whereas, adjudications on the same points
and questions, in thirteen States, or in three or four confederacies, will not
always accord or be consistent; and that, as well from the variety of
independent courts and judges appointed by different and independent
governments, as from the different local laws and interests which may affect and
influence them. The wisdom of the convention, in committing such questions to
the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by and responsible only to one
national government, cannot be too much commended.
The prospect of present loss or advantage may often tempt
the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice;
but those temptations, not reaching the other States, and consequently having
little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will be
fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved. The case of the treaty of
peace with Britain adds great weight to this reasoning.
If even the governing party in a State should be disposed
to resist such temptations, yet as such temptations may, and commonly do, result
from circumstances peculiar to the State, and may affect a great number of the
inhabitants, the governing party may not always be able, if willing, to prevent
the injustice meditated, or to punish the aggressors. But the national
government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be
induced to commit the wrong themselves, nor want power or inclination to prevent
or punish its commission by others.
So far, therefore, as either designed or accidental
violations of treaties and the laws of nations afford just causes of
war, they are less to be apprehended under one general government than under
several lesser ones, and in that respect the former most favors the safety
of the people.
As to those just causes of war which proceed from direct
and unlawful violence, it appears equally clear to me that one good national
government affords vastly more security against dangers of that sort than can be
derived from any other quarter.
Such violences are more frequently caused by the passions
and interests of a part than of the whole; of one or two States than of the
Union. Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of the
present federal government, feeble as it is; but there are several instances of
Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual
States, who, either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offenses, have
given occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.
The neighborhood of Spanish and British territories,
bordering on some States and not on others, naturally confines the causes of
quarrel more immediately to the borderers. The bordering States, if any, will be
those who, under the impulse of sudden irritation, and a quick sense of apparent
interest or injury, will be most likely, by direct violence, to excite war with
these nations; and nothing can so effectually obviate that danger as a national
government, whose wisdom and prudence will not be diminished by the passions
which actuate the parties immediately interested.
But not only fewer just causes of war will be given by
the national government, but it will also be more in their power to accommodate
and settle them amicably. They will be more temperate and cool, and in that
respect, as well as in others, will be more in capacity to act advisedly than
the offending State. The pride of states, as well as of men, naturally disposes
them to justify all their actions, and opposes their acknowledging, correcting,
or repairing their errors and offenses. The national government, in such cases,
will not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and candor
to consider and decide on the means most proper to extricate them from the
difficulties which threaten them.
Besides, it is well known that acknowledgments,
explanations, and compensations are often accepted as satisfactory from a strong
united nation, which would be rejected as unsatisfactory if offered by a State
or confederacy of little consideration or power.
In the year 1685, the state of Genoa having offended
Louis XIV, endeavored to appease him. He demanded that they should send their
Doge, or chief magistrate, accompanied by four of their senators, to
France, to ask his pardon and receive his terms. They were obliged to
submit to it for the sake of peace. Would he on any occasion either have
demanded or have received the like humiliation from Spain, or Britain, or any
other powerful nation?