“The Road to Philadelphia” and The Federalist 6 – 10
Rakove’s second chapter, “The Road to Philadelphia,” begins to set the stage for the discussions and tensions that led ultimately to the Constitutional Conventions in Philadelphia. A main motivation, as it appeared from letters exchanged among various state leaders, many of them future Presidents, was to strengthen or scrap the Articles of Confederation, with a range of positions on both sides of the debate. What was clear at the time was the pressing confluence of some Articles-era problems, all stemming from deliberate limits set on the central government to effect necessary policy: raising a common source of revenue, coordinating foreign policy, and regulating both interstate and foreign commerce. Rakove notes that the states “had served . . . as the great political laboratory” for republican experiments upon which the Framers could later propose revisions and improvements in 1787. Many were already ready to do so. Furthermore, “it became entirely permissible to ask whether divergent regional interests could sustain the ‘perpetual union’ of the Articles.” With the growing need to craft a new document and forge the basis for a much stronger central authority, personal correspondence and state-level discussions gave way to concrete steps toward a planning summit in Philadelphia.
In Federalist 6–9, Hamilton continues to air his worries about the dangers presented by “dissensions between the states and from domestic factions and convulsions.” He extends his concern to analogous “rivalships” in commerce between nations and presents several compelling historical examples in which “the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes, and fears” of nations led them either to make war with their neighbors directly or to enter into alliances for the purpose of warmaking and security. Hamilton’s argument is twofold: such competitions, even the benign rivalries of commerce, might apply to interstate conflict, as we have seen in earlier essays, but might also encourage states to form separate partnerships with foreign countries, obligating them to make war or take sides in the event of war. In short, the weak Articles of Confederation compounded domestic vulnerabilities with a vast array of what Washington would later call “foreign entanglements,” the recipe for imminent disaster, in Hamilton’s view. Hamilton reminds us in Federalist 7 that “territorial disputes have at all times been found one of the most fertile sources of hostility.” What became the United States would learn that lesson time and time again as nearly constant post-independence territorial expansion led to a state of what historian Charles Beard called “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
Hamilton’s prescience in this thread is perhaps best shown in two quotations that find superb relevance to specific domains of our present discontent: open-ended war in the Middle East and a festering economic crisis at home. (1) “There is perhaps nothing more likely to disturb the tranquility of nations than their being bound to mutual contribution for any object that does not yield an equal and coincident benefit.” The controversy surrounding the TARP bank bailouts and massive stimulus spending and the widespread public frustration at their inefficacy bears out Hamilton’s insight with stunning precision. (2) “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates . . . to be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” This last bit sends shivers down our spines as we contemplate the gorgeous mess our costly lifestyle and the wars we fight to preserve it have made of simple liberty and common dignity. In Federalist 10, Madison begins his famous discussion of factions and the dangers they present to healthy domestic policy, echoing notes from Hamilton’s thoroughgoing analysis of interstate rivalries and “jealousies.” Because of the broad scope of Madison’s topic, however, we shall continue our examination of factions, with their obvious parallels to the national political parties that eventually formed, in the next installment.