Federalist 6


In Federalist 6, Alexander Hamilton discusses the dangers that arise from disputes between the states. Hamilton addresses the Anti-Federalists protests that a strong, centralized nation was not needed and the Constitutional Convention was overreacting to the events that were occurring in the nation by using historical examples from a variety of nations. He refutes the idea that because the United States was a commercial republic the States would not fight with each other by using the example of the many wars Athens, Rome, Sparta and Carthage got into. Hamilton also firmly believes that because humans are inherently ambitious and desire to achieve power that whether it be a monarchy or a republic, nations are bound to be led to disastrous situations by the private motivations of influential people.

Original Text


Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States

Independent Journal
Wednesday, November 14, 1787
Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE three last numbers of this paper have been dedicated to an enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations. I shall now proceed to delineate dangers of a different and, perhaps, still more alarming kind — those which will in all probability flow from dissensionsDissension (noun)
disagreement that leads to discord.
between the States themselves, and from domestic factions and convulsions.Convulsion (noun)
a violent social or political upheaval.
These have been already in some instances slightly anticipated; but they deserve a more particular and more full investigation.
The previous Federalist papers have focused on the dangers from armies of foreign nations. This paper will focus on dangers from disagreements between the States and from internal disputes, which can even be more alarming than disputes with foreign nations. These internal threats between the States deserve greater attention.
A man must be far gone in UtopianUtopia (noun)
An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.
speculations who can seriously doubt that, if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive,Vindictive (adjective) having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge. and rapacious.Rapacious (adjective)
aggressively greedy or grasping.
To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.
Anyone who thinks that the states can remain in peace when they are not part of a united confederation is naïve. Men are inherently “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.”Men will always try to improve their circumstances. We have only to look to history to see that neighboring nations constantly fight.
The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. There are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society. Of this description are the love of power or the desire of pre-eminence and dominionDominion (noun)
sovereignty; control.
— the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety. There are others which have a more circumscribedCircumscribe (verb)
restrict (something) within limits.
though an equally operative influence within their spheres. Such are the rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations. And there are others, not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin entirely in private passions; in the attachments, enmitiesEnmity (noun)
the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.
, interests, hopes, and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members. Men of this class, whether the favorites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupledScruple (verb)
hesitate or be reluctant to do something that one thinks may be wrong.
to sacrifice the national tranquillity to personal advantage or personal gratification.
There are numerous causes of conflict between nations such as love of power, desire for dominance, equality, and safety. Others causes are rivalries, and the competition of commerce and trade between commercial nations. Yet other sources of conflict come from attachments, enmities, interests, hopes and fears of the leaders in the community. These leaders have taken advantage of the trust they were given by the people and pretend they have some public motive for their selfish actions.
The celebrated Pericles,Pericles was an influential statesman for Athens during the Peloponnesian war. in compliance with the resentment of a prostitute, at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished, and destroyed the city of the Samnians. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the Megarensians, another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an accomplice of a supposed theft of the statuary Phidias, or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be brought against him for dissipating the funds of the state in the purchase of popularity, or from a combination of all these causes, was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war, distinguished in the Grecian annals by the name of the Peloponnesian War; which, after various vicissitudesVicissitude (noun) a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant., intermissions, and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth. Here Hamilton uses Pericles in order to show how men's private interests and actions can influence the decisions they make for the country, often to its detriment. Hamilton is referencing several instances in which Pericles brought harm to a nation for his own desires. Pericles brought ruin upon his own countrymen by destroying the city of the Samnians, because of Aspasia's (Pericles' companion) personal motives. The Peloponnesian War is yet another example in which Pericles' actions harmed his countrymen for his own advantage. Pericles had forced Athens into the Peloponnesian War in order to divert attention from his misuse of funds, to avoid prosecution in which he was accused of being an accomplice to the theft of the statue of Phidias, or from a combination of these causes. The war caused the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.
The ambitious cardinal, who was prime minister to Henry VIII., permitting his vanity to aspire to the triple crown, entertained hopes of succeeding in the acquisition of that splendid prize by the influence of the Emperor Charles V. To secure the favor and interest of this enterprising and powerful monarch, he precipitated England into a war with France, contrary to the plainest dictates of policy, and at the hazard of the safety and independence, as well of the kingdom over which he presided by his counsels, as of Europe in general. For if there ever was a sovereign who bid fair to realize the project of universal monarchy, it was the Emperor Charles V., of whose intrigues Wolsey was at once the instrument and the dupe. Hamilton is referring to Wolsey, the prime minister to Henry VIII, and how he was influenced by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to help start a war between England and France. Charles V wanted to create a global empire for himself, and Wolsey hoped to gain more power by helping him in this mission. Thus, Wolsey jeopardized the security and independence of the nation in order to gain more power for himself. Hamilton uses this example to show how leaders can become easily swayed by their desire for power and other personal motives and thus cause harm to the nation, and to presume that a similar situation would not happen in America is naive.
The influence which the bigotry of one female, the petulance of another, and the cabals of a third, had in the contemporary policy, ferments, and pacifications, of a considerable part of Europe, are topics that have been too often descanted upon not to be generally known. Hamilton is alluding to the great influence Madame de Maintenon, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Madame de Pompadour had. Madame de Maintenon was the mistress of Louis XIV and secretly married him in 1683; she had great influence over Louis XIV. Similarly, the Duchess of Marlborough was an influential women because of her friendship with Queen Anne of Britain, and advocated for William and Mary during the Glorious Revolution.Madame de Maintenon was the second wife of Louis XV and had great political influence in court. Ministers would often consult her on many matters. Thus, Hamilton is showing how people apart from the leader can play a significant role in politics and affect the state of the nation.
To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the production of great national events, either foreign or domestic, according to their direction, would be an unnecessary waste of time. Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from which they are to be drawn, will themselves recollect a variety of instances; and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will not stand in need of such lights to form their opinion either of the reality or extent of that agency. Perhaps, however, a reference, tending to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves. If Shays had not been a desperate debtor, it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war. To recount examples of how personal interests have affected national events would be a waste of time. People who know history will remember a variety of instances; and people who know human nature do not need examples to know this. However, an instance that illustrates the point recently occurred here in the United States. If Shays had not been a desperate debtor, it is doubted whether Massachusetts would have been in a civil war.
But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular, there are still to be found visionary or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the States, though dismembered and alienated from each other. The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord. Despite all the evidence from history, there are still idealistic men, who believe the States will remain peaceful, even though they are disunited from each other. They say that the positive side of republics is that they are peaceful, and that the spirit of commerce tends to make men more well-mannered, and changes the ambitious nature of men that often leads to wars. They believe that commercial republics, like ours, will never have an interest to destroy themselves by fighting with each other.
Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit? If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions, and immediate interest, have a more active and imperious control over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice? Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter? Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships, and desires of unjust acquisitions, that affect nations as well as kings? Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities? Is it not well known that their determinations are often governed by a few individuals in whom they place confidence, and are, of course, liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals? Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion? Has not the spirit of commerce, in many instances, administered new incentives to the appetite, both for the one and for the other? Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries. Isn't it the true interest of nations to create the same benevolent spirit? If it is their interest, have they pursued it? Hasn't it, on the contrary, been proven that momentary passions and interests have more of a control over human behavior than general policies or justice? In the past, have republics been less addicted to war than monarchies? Aren't both monarchies and republics administered by men? Are there not aversions, rivalries, and desires for acquisitions that affect both nations and kings? Aren't popular assemblies frequently subject to impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, greed and other violent inclinations? Isn't well known that they are often governed by only a few people in who the believe, and thus liable to be governed by their passions and interests? Has commerce done anything to change the objects of war? Isn't love of wealth as controlling a passion as love of power? Haven't there been as many wars started for commercial motives because that has become the prevailing system of nations? Hasn't commerce, in many instance, given new incentives for greed and self-interest? History will give us the answer to these questions.
Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage were all republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighboring monarchies of the same times. Sparta was little better than a well-regulated camp; and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest. Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were all republics, and Athens and Carthage were commercial republics. However they were often involved in wars, both offensive and defensive, just like the monarchies of the time. Sparta wasn't much more than a orderly camp; and Rome was never tired of bloodshed and conquest. By showing that all of these nations were often at war, despite the fact that they were republics and Athens and Carthage were both commercial republics, Hamilton refutes the notion that republics are less prone to war than monarchies.
Carthage, though a commercial republic, was the aggressor in the very war that ended in her destruction. Hannibal had carried her arms into the heart of Italy and to the gates of Rome, before Scipio, in turn, gave him an overthrow in the territories of Carthage, and made a conquest of the commonwealth. Hamilton is referring to the Battle of Zama which led the Roman Republic to conquer Carthage. Carthage, led by Hannibal (a military commander), was defeated by Scipio a statesman of the Roman Republic. Thus, Carthage, despite being a commercial republic, caused its very own ruin.
Venice, in later times, figured more than once in wars of ambition, till, becoming an object to the other Italian states, Pope Julius II. found means to accomplish that formidable league, which gave a deadly blow to the power and pride of this haughty republic. Venice played a role more than once in wars driven by ambition, till, becoming an object to the other Italian states, Pope Julius II found a way to destroy it by allying with other Italian city states.
The provinces of Holland, till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes, took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe. They had furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea, and were among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Louis XIV. Holland took a dominant role in the wars of Europe until it was swamped with debts and taxes. They had furious disputes with England for control of the sea, and were among the most tenacious of the opponents of Louis XIV.
In the government of Britain the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature. Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country. Few nations, nevertheless, have been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars in which that kingdom has been engaged have, in numerous instances, proceeded from the people. In British government the people's representatives only form one branch of the national legislature. For a long time commerce has been Britain's primary pursuit. However, it has been to war more times than most other nations. Furthermore, the wars they have been involved in have been started by the people many times.
There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars. The cries of the nation and the importunities of their representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchs into war, or continued them in it, contrary to their inclinations, and sometimes contrary to the real interests of the State. In that memorable struggle for superiority between the rival houses of Austria and Bourbon, which so long kept Europe in a flame, it is well known that the antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition, or rather the avarice, of a favorite leader, protracted the war beyond the limits marked out by sound policy, and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the court. There have been at least as many wars started from the people's desire as wars started from the king's own ambition. The demands of the nation have dragged monarchs into war or helped sustained the war, despite their wishes, and sometimes to the detriment of the county. It is well known, for example, that the struggle for dominance between Austria and Bourbon was partly fueled by the animosity of the English and French both of whom fed the greed of a favorite leader and extended the length of the war beyond the limits of sound policy for their own gain.
The wars of these two last-mentioned nations have in a great measure grown out of commercial considerations, — the desire of supplanting and the fear of being supplanted, either in particular branches of traffic or in the general advantages of trade and navigation, and sometimes even the more culpable desire of sharing in the commerce of other nations without their consent. The wars of France and Britain have primarily started for commercial reasons— the need to take over and the fear of being taken over by another country, in the advantages of trade and exploration, and sometimes the desire to profit from the commerce of other nations without their approval. By using the example of France of England, Hamilton refutes the idea that because the States were a commercial republic they would not go to war or take advantage of each other.
The last war but between Britain and Spain sprang from the attempts of the British merchants to prosecute an illicit trade with the Spanish main. These unjustifiable practices on their part produced severity on the part of the Spaniards toward the subjects of Great Britain which were not more justifiable, because they exceeded the bounds of a just retaliation and were chargeable with inhumanity and cruelty. Many of the English who were taken on the Spanish coast were sent to dig in the mines of Potosi; and by the usual progress of a spirit of resentment, the innocent were, after a while, confounded with the guilty in indiscriminate punishment. The complaints of the merchants kindled a violent flame throughout the nation, which soon after broke out in the House of Commons, and was communicated from that body to the ministry. Letters of reprisal were granted, and a war ensued, which in its consequences overthrew all the alliances that but twenty years before had been formed with sanguine expectations of the most beneficial fruits. The last war between Britain and Spain came from the attempts of the British merchants to continue an illicit trade with the Spanish. These unjustifiable practices caused the Spaniards to grow angry towards the subjects of Britain. However, the Spaniards exceeded the bounds of a just retaliation and were inhuman and cruel. Many of the English who were taken on the Spanish coast had to dig in the silver mines of Potosi in South America; and the innocent were lumped in with the guilty because of the indiscriminate punishment. The complaints of merchants caused the nation to grow angry, including the House of Commons. Letters of reprisal were given, and a war begun, which overthrew all the alliances that had been formed twenty years ago.
From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation? Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue? Given the history of other countries who had similar situations to ours, we have no reason to believe that the states will remain peaceful towards each other while remaining separate entities. Do we need more proof of the mistake in believing we are exempt from the flaws and weaknesses that are found in society everywhere? Is it not time to wake from the false dreams of a golden age, and adopt a practical philosophy that no one in this world is close to achieving a happy and perfect nation?
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, let the revolt of a part of the State of North Carolina, the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania, and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts, declare —! Remember the low point that our national dignity and credit have sunk, the troubles that arise from a lax and poor administration of government, let the revolt of a part of North Carolina, the growing unrest in Pennsylvania, and the actual rebellions in Massachusetts remind you of this.
So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the tenets of those who endeavor to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord and hostility between the States, in the event of disunion, that it has from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom in politics, that vicinity or nearness of situation, constitutes nations natural enemies. An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect:"NEIGHBORING NATIONS (says he) are naturally enemies of each other unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy which disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors." Here Hamilton is quoting l'Abbe de Mably who wrote the Principes des Negociations. Here he is stating that neighboring nations are naturally enemies of each other unless they are joined together in a confederate republic. This passage, at the same time, points out the EVIL and suggests the REMEDY.
Human nature is incompatible with the beliefs of those who think the States can remain together peacefully in a partial confederacy. Neighboring nations become natural enemies. l'Abbe de Mably says that unless they are joined together as a confederate republic, neighboring nations are naturally enemies of each other due to jealousy.
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