Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Federalist 8 - Hamilton

Regular Guy Paul helpfully pointed out that I had somehow skipped over Federalist 8. So excuse me for a moment as we backtrack and take a quick look at this number.

Once again the theme here is the inevitable warring that would occur between the states if the Constitution was not ratified. Hamilton's contention is that not only would war break out, but the warfare would be worse than on the European continent, and would leave the weaker and smaller states at the mercy of the larger.

War between the States, in the first period of their separate existence, would be accompanied with much greater distresses than it commonly is in those countries where regular military establishments have long obtained. The disciplined armies always kept on foot on the continent of Europe, though they bear a malignant aspect to liberty and economy, have, notwithstanding, been productive of the signal advantage of rendering sudden conquests impracticable, and of preventing that rapid desolation which used to mark the progress of war prior to their introduction. The art of fortification has contributed to the same ends. The nations of Europe are encircled with chains of fortified places, which mutually obstruct invasion. Campaigns are wasted in reducing two or three frontier garrisons, to gain admittance into an enemy's country. Similar impediments occur at every step, to exhaust the strength and delay the progress of an invader. Formerly, an invading army would penetrate into the heart of a neighboring country almost as soon as intelligence of its approach could be received; but now a comparatively small force of disciplined troops, acting on the defensive, with the aid of posts, is able to impede, and finally to frustrate, the enterprises of one much more considerable. The history of war, in that quarter of the globe, is no longer a history of nations subdued and empires overturned, but of towns taken and retaken; of battles that decide nothing; of retreats more beneficial than victories; of much effort and little acquisition.

Warfare had drastically changed in Europe due to the development of strong armies and fortified garrisons that prevented easy conquest. It could be argued these developments made things worse because it lengthened wars and made swift resolutions all but impossible. But I'm not a military historian, so I couldn't say if 18th century European warfare was bloodier in fact than warfare throughout the Middle Ages. At any rate, Hamilton believes that the American case would be quite different.

In this country the scene would be altogether reversed. The jealousy of military establishments would postpone them as long as possible. The want of fortifications, leaving the frontiers of one state open to another, would facilitate inroads. The populous States would, with little difficulty, overrun their less populous neighbors. Conquests would be as easy to be made as difficult to be retained. War, therefore, would be desultory and predatory. Plunder and devastation ever march in the train of irregulars. The calamities of individuals would make the principal figure in the events which would characterize our military exploits.

This situation in which states are constantly on guard against external threats would then inevitably lead to a loss of civil liberties.

This picture is not too highly wrought; though, I confess, it would not long remain a just one. 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. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

In a perverse way then, this state of affairs would lead to what many of the Anti-Federalists most feared: the rise of standing armies.

The institutions chiefly alluded to are standing armies and the correspondent appendages of military establishments. Standing armies, it is said, are not provided against in the new Constitution; and it is therefore inferred that they may exist under it. Their existence, however, from the very terms of the proposition, is, at most, problematical and uncertain. But standing armies, it may be replied, must inevitably result from a dissolution of the Confederacy. Frequent war and constant apprehension, which require a state of as constant preparation, will infallibly produce them. The weaker States or confederacies would first have recourse to them, to put themselves upon an equality with their more potent neighbors. They would endeavor to supply the inferiority of population and resources by a more regular and effective system of defense, by disciplined troops, and by fortifications. They would, at the same time, be necessitated to strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction toward monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority.

The expedients which have been mentioned would soon give the States or confederacies that made use of them a superiority over their neighbors. Small states, or states of less natural strength, under vigorous governments, and with the assistance of disciplined armies, have often triumphed over large states, or states of greater natural strength, which have been destitute of these advantages. Neither the pride nor the safety of the more important States or confederacies would permit them long to submit to this mortifying and adventitious superiority. They would quickly resort to means similar to those by which it had been effected, to reinstate themselves in their lost pre-eminence. Thus, we should, in a little time, see established in every part of this country the same engines of despotism which have been the scourge of the Old World. This, at least, would be the natural course of things; and our reasonings will be the more likely to be just, in proportion as they are accommodated to this standard.

This is a neat trick by which Hamilton turns the common arguments put forth by opponents to the Constitution on their head. The Anti-Federalists worried that the national government created by the document leading to monarchy and standing armies, but Hamilton retorts that the very lack of a central authority vested in the Constitution will lead to those very evils.

Hamilton anticipates some of the arguments that could be used against him, and proceeds to answer them.

It may, perhaps, be asked, by way of objection to this, why did not standing armies spring up out of the contentions which so often distracted the ancient republics of Greece? Different answers, equally satisfactory, may be given to this question. The industrious habits of the people of the present day, absorbed in the pursuits of gain, and devoted to the improvements of agriculture and commerce, are incompatible with the condition of a nation of soldiers, which was the true condition of the people of those republics. The means of revenue, which have been so greatly multiplied by the increase of gold and silver and of the arts of industry, and the science of finance, which is the offspring of modern times, concurring with the habits of nations, have produced an entire revolution in the system of war, and have rendered disciplined armies, distinct from the body of the citizens, the inseparable companions of frequent hostility.

There is a wide difference, also, between military establishments in a country seldom exposed by its situation to internal invasions, and in one which is often subject to them, and always apprehensive of them. The rulers of the former can have a good pretext, if they are even so inclined, to keep on foot armies so numerous as must of necessity be maintained in the latter. These armies being, in the first case, rarely, if at all, called into activity for interior defense, the people are in no danger of being broken to military subordination. The laws are not accustomed to relaxations, in favor of military exigencies; the civil state remains in full vigor, neither corrupted, nor confounded with the principles or propensities of the other state. The smallness of the army renders the natural strength of the community an over-match for it; and the citizens, not habituated to look up to the military power for protection, or to submit to its oppressions, neither love nor fear the soldiery; they view them with a spirit of jealous acquiescence in a necessary evil, and stand ready to resist a power which they suppose may be exerted to the prejudice of their rights. The army under such circumstances may usefully aid the magistrate to suppress a small faction, or an occasional mob, or insurrection; but it will be unable to enforce encroachments against the united efforts of the great body of the people.

In a country in the predicament last described, the contrary of all this happens. The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant defense. The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil.

Finally, if we want to avoid all these evils, then we must turn to UNION.

If we are wise enough to preserve the Union we may for ages enjoy an advantage similar to that of an insulated situation. Europe is at a great distance from us. Her colonies in our vicinity will be likely to continue too much disproportioned in strength to be able to give us any dangerous annoyance. Extensive military establishments cannot, in this position, be necessary to our security. But if we should be disunited, and the integral parts should either remain separated, or, which is most probable, should be thrown together into two or three confederacies, we should be, in a short course of time, in the predicament of the continental powers of Europe —our liberties would be a prey to the means of defending ourselves against the ambition and jealousy of each other.

This concludes the series of papers that have argued why the Constitution created in Philadelphia will better ensure peace and stability than the fragmented confederacies that would emerge absent ratification. Throughout this series of papers Publius addressed the fears that many of his opponents held and attempted to demonstrate that those fears would be realized only if the Constitution failed. Failure to ratify would lead to despotism because the lack of a centralized authority would inevitably lead to constant warfare and the loss of civil liberties.

Hamilton might be guilty of slight demagoguery and exaggeration here, but there is no doubt that he earnestly believed that all that he outlined above would indeed come to pass if the Constitution was not ratified. This shows why Hamilton so vehemently supported a document he acknowledged (in other quarters) was severely flawed. Despite his displeasure with much of what was agreed upon in Philadelphia, he believed that the country would be much worse off under the status quo. Only an energetic government granted certain enumerated and limited powers would be able to respond to the tumult that would arise. His primary concern was stability and order, and the Constitution - again, despite the flaws - provided that.

Okay, now we can turn to Madison.


J said...

Throughout this series of papers Publius addressed the fears that many of his opponents held.

Yes, pretty much Aristotelian anti-democracy ad nauseum. Thank Osiris a few southern boys (not only Jefferson) understood the good parts of Locke--like citizens have a right to vote, to petition to govt. for grievances, and that laws are made by men, not ordained by Deus, or judicial-nobles.

CrankyCon said...

like citizens have a right to vote, to petition to govt. for grievances, and that laws are made by men, not ordained by Deus, or judicial-nobles.

All opinions held by Hamilton, so I am not sure what you're driving at.

J said...

Hamilton and Madison both wanted to severely limit legislative power, including voting, assembly, and "states rights". They were instrumental in bringing together the US supreme court, and modelling it on British Inns of Court--over the objections of most of the Anti-federalists and Jeffersonians, especially. Even Madison broke with Adams and Hamilton after the ratification of the Constitution.

As Lee, Mason, Clinton and Co realized (and Jefferson, though he waffled a bit) the Federalists were little interested in the Lockean-democratic roots of the American revolution (Hamilton even hints at preserving some aristocratic/hereditary traditions).In short, The Federalists were more or less scottish Torys, in love with Aristotle and Montesquieu (and also Hume, but probably kept that hidden). Hamilton even praised Charles II at times.

CrankyCon said...

As Lee, Mason, Clinton and Co realized (and Jefferson, though he waffled a bit) the Federalists were little interested in the Lockean-democratic roots of the American revolution

That is true - they were not Lockeans - which is also true of most of the revolutionaries. This country was not rooted in Lockean principles, either at the outset of the revolution or at the time the Constitution was debated and ratified.

The Federalists were more or less scottish Torys, in love with Aristotle and Montesquieu

You say that as if it's a bad thing.

J said...

This country was not rooted in Lockean principles.

Says you. History shows otherwise, as does the Declaration of Independence. American whigs and democrats may not have all been quoting Locke's 2nd Treatise, but his ideas (ie against divine right of kings, right to revolt, etc) were certainly in the air. Locke's political writings also influenced the French, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc. Most of the rational Framers also considered themselves allies of the French secularists (ie Franklin's famous embrace of Voltaire). Jefferson never lost his respect for Voltaire, a Lockean empiricist in all respects.

Hamilton was ancien regime from the start.

CrankyCon said...

Says you.

Well, no, says me and other historians such as Bernard Bailyn. Of course there are others, such as Hartz, that say differently. Honestly, I think that Locke's ideas certainly influenced the Founders to a degree, I just reject the idea that this country was fundamentally rooted in Lockean concepts.

Most of the rational Framers also considered themselves allies of the French secularists (ie Franklin's famous embrace of Voltaire). Jefferson never lost his respect for Voltaire, a Lockean empiricist in all respects.

Again, I don't actually disagree with your analysis. My disagreement is more along the lines of whether or not this was a good thing.

J said...

The Federalists were the conservative party, but of a different sort than the contemporary biblethumping populist GOP--mo' akin to WF Buckley snobs and wannabe-aristos.

I may not agree with Madison's moderate Federalism, yet I respect some of his writing in the Fed papers, which seems to me faintly Hobbesian. He's trying to control factions (I think that's in Fed. Paper 10), and prevent mob rule.

Hamilton on the other hand was a country club-macho man of 1790--A bit George Patton-like, though he knows his classics. More Aristotle, or perhaps Machiavellian than Hobbesian, for those who need convenient labels.
And a rather foolhardy macho-man, as Burr proved.