Federalist No. 7: Is Disunion among the States a Hidden Source of Strength?

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
Daniel L. Smith is an assistant
professor of public budgeting and f‌i nancial
management in the Robert F. Wagner
Graduate School of Public Service at New
York University. His research focuses on
state government budgeting and f‌i nancial
management, especially the budgetary
implications of state f‌i scal institutions and
fund management.
E-mail: daniel.smith@nyu.edu
Is Disunion among the States a Hidden Source of Strength? S15
Daniel L. Smith
New York University
Federalist Nos. 6 and 7 address the problems of disunion
that led the founders to imagine a stronger national
government, arguing that the states were and would
continue to be a source of unyielding conf‌l ict without
national supremacy.  is essay asks how the states have
adjusted to the Constitution under the Tenth Amendment
and posits that the states are a hidden source of energy
toward good government in their own right.
In Federalist Nos. 6 and 7, Alexander Hamilton’s
concern is that even partial disunion among the
states ultimately would ensure unyielding conf‌l ict
in America. His core argument is founded on the
notion that history had proved that independent sov-
ereignties are wont to engage in war in spite of their
own economic interests for reasons that transcend
material concerns, namely, greed, passion, ambition,
and even jealousy. Hamilton found no comfort in the
notion that so-called commercial republics would f‌i nd
in their mutual economic interests suf‌f‌i cient motiva-
tion not to engage in conf‌l ict, and he was convinced
that anything other than a tightly woven tapestry of
states—unif‌i ed by a federal government endowed with
powers bestowed by a United States Constitution—
would ensure a harmonious and prosperous existence
for Americans.
is paper examines the unanticipated or hidden
strengths that are attendant with the de facto disunion
that exists among the American states by virtue of
the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. While a
visceral disagreement between two of what Hamilton
called “confederacies” decades after his writing did
indeed result in a tragic and bloody American civil
war—perhaps the ultimate proof that disunion can
be just as dangerous as he had warned—the states and
local governments they have created, and the Union
as a whole, are stronger and more responsive to the
unique demands of their citizens than they otherwise
would be without the freedom to operate as commer-
cial republics. Here, the hidden strengths of disunion
are analyzed from a perspective that was of direct
concern to Hamilton: public debt.
Hamilton and the Commercial Republics
In Federalist No. 6, Alexander Hamilton’s argument
for ratifying the U.S. Constitution and establishing a
strong central government is grounded in his concern
that even partial disunion among the states ultimately
would ensure unyielding conf‌l ict in America. He
thought it a manifest consequence of human nature
that independent sovereignties would engage in
“frequent and violent contests with each other” (Poole
2005, 70). In support of his argument, Hamilton cites
examples of prior conquests inspired by ambition,
passion, and avarice—traits that cannot be removed
from “men.” He is openly skeptical that wholly inde-
pendent states would f‌i nd in their mutual commercial
interests suf‌f‌i cient motivation not to engage in civil
e genius of republics (say they) is pacif‌i c; the
spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the
manners of men and to extinguish those inf‌l am-
mable humours which have so often kindled
into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will
never be disposed to waste themselves in ruin-
ous contentions with each other.  ey will be
governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate
a spirit of mutual amity and concord. (Poole
2005, 72)
Hamilton’s skepticism is supported by his several
examples of democracies and so-called commercial
republics—with experiences and institutions similar to
America’s—engaging in war even though it is against
their own economic interests. Only bound together
under a U.S. Constitution that unif‌i es and equalizes
the states can they harmoniously coexist, according to
Hamilton carries his line of argument into Federal-
ist No. 7, this time f‌i rst thinking specif‌i cally about
territorial disputes that he found likely to arise among
the states if they were to remain sovereign, especially
given that much of the territory in the United States
(as formed under the Articles of Confederation)
Federalist No. 7: Is Disunion among the States a Hidden
Source of Strength?

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT