May 7, 2010 – Federalist No. 8 – The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States, From the New York Packet (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: W. B. Allen, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

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Friday, May 7th, 2010

Federalist #8

The eighth essay presents a hypothetical case of a dis-United States. But it is the general argument that has been built that is germane to understanding the argument. Publius is aware of a “new politics” that has come to be, but Publius is no less aware that it will not produce perfect wisdom and virtue. That creates the moral and practical dilemma of defending the creation of a powerful government, one capable of “harmonizing and assimilating” diverse peoples and interests, while recognizing simultaneously that the government will not make people virtuous and wise. We wonder how to justify doing so, because we wonder whether there is any guarantee of a government’s goodness apart from the virtue and wisdom of its people.

The answers to all these questions, it seems to me, are conditioned on a single premise, namely that one refer to the consequences of the government and not its operations. Now, the chief consequence is peace where war would otherwise prevail. It is true that governments that are energetic – powerful governments – affect the characters of the people they govern. That is a necessary condition of energetic government, a fact that Publius makes clear. We may admit two facts, then – namely, that people will not be made virtuous and wise and, further, that government will nonetheless be driven by public opinion.

Publius calls it an idle theory or “utopian speculation” to imagine removing human weaknesses, but we still question, not whether theories of humans transformed into angels are correct but, rather, the reason for confiding all authority in society into the hands of imperfect human beings and ignoring all the other claims to rule that have existed in human history. There have been claims based on age; claims based on strength; claims based on reason, on wisdom, on piety. Why must we reject all those to place the entire society into the hands of what may be the foolish and the vicious, as Publius has done?

From this perspective even the principle of descent in a monarchy may seem intelligent. For, though from time to time an occasional stupid bastard will be born king, most of the time men get fairly decent, well-bred people (which in the absence of better guarantees is at least something to rely upon) and thus may hope for stability if not good government. The alternative seems to be to submit to rule by people that are not going to be improved by government and that might not govern well. Publius reserves the response to this dilemma to later essays discussing the operations of government. Still, he has raised the stakes very high in this argument, showing that, while the government will not itself make people virtuous and wise, it is nevertheless wise and virtuous to construct such a government.

The eighth essay allows Publius to demonstrate the propriety of such an undertaking in the hypothetical context of an America disunited. For, though no one knows how the experiment will work in the end, it is still possibly to speak at length about the opportunities afforded by modern principles (as he anticipates the elegant ninth essay!). He draws a firm distinction, noting that “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…” Thus, the Americans will not have the old fashioned virtues, based on the martial spirit in small republics of ancient times.

But that observation serves only to augment the question, how does Publius deal with the problem of rendering a people suitable to rule in this new and modern context without guaranteeing their wisdom and virtue? That such reflections introduce the eventual and ultimate response to the question of domestic violence is of great significance. Essays nine and ten deliver the conclusion. But the end of the introduction in the eighth essay firmly establishes that what we desire to now is precisely how turning power over to the people (defending popular government, self-government) produces the promised prosperity and peace without changing human nature. One might almost think it to mean that human nature is no mean thing to begin with!

W. B. Allen

Dean and Professor Emeritus

Michigan State University

27 Responses to “May 72010 – Federalist No8 – The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States, From the New YorkPacket (Hamilton) – Guest BloggerW. BAllenDean and Professor EmeritusMichigan State University

  1. Susan Craig says:

    The worldview that Hamilton argues from is the fallen condition of man, this worldview has been warped into today where the self-esteem worldview insists that man is inherently good. This is sharply in contrast to all men have value in an inherently fallen condition.

  2. Carolyn Attaway says:

    In reading Paper #8, I could not help but notice that a lot of the arguments Hamilton made to convince his readers of the need for the states to have a Federal Government, can be used today as a defense against our war against terrorism.

    The following statement brought to mind the Patriot Act that was written into law on Oct. 26, 2001, shortly after the attack on New York. “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.”

    Many Americans did not oppose this legislation at the time of its creation because the attack on American soil created a great fear of possible repeat attacks and Americans were greatly concerned for their safety. Nine years later, more Americans find the Patriot Act outdated and an intrusion into their private lives.

    Today, I believe many are in the ‘Utopian speculations’ that we discussed in Paper #6.

    @Susan – I agree with you that today the overplayed importance of self-esteem has warped our society and has taken us from the mindset of “The needs of many outweigh the needs of one” to “The needs of one outweigh the needs of many”. The majority in this country are quickly being stripped of their rights to meet the rights of a few. Whoever thought the toy in a happy meal would put extra burdens on a parent and keep them from giving their children healthy food?

  3. Maggie says:

    “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.”……ok…I find this just too eerily close to what we have been doing here in the U.S. Under the guise of “keeping us safe” the government has convinced us for far too long to keep handing them more and more of our liberties.

  4. Maggie says:

    Sorry for the partial repeat of Carolyn’s quote reference. My computer is running very slowly today and her blog post had not yet come through at the time I wrote mine. It just causes me to reiterate that she has a knack for writing exactly what I am thinking.

  5. This is Cathy Gillespie – that quote leapt off the page to me as well!

  6. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Maggie – great minds think alike :)

    The part that really makes me sit up and take notice are the liberties that are being stripped domestically in the guise of “We know what is best for you”. And all these concerns come in the form of regulations and taxes. Is our government today going the way of the Stamp Act of 1765? And; will the American people follow Patrick Henry’s stance against it?

  7. Peter says:

    Professor Allen poses an excellent question: “How does Publius deal with the problem of rendering a people suitable to rule in this new and modern context without guaranteeing their wisdom and virtue?” This, it seems to me, is one of the most important and ongoing issues in the life of the nation. Can we, in fact, force people to be wise and virtuous in the name of preserving the construct of the nation? There are those who believe we must – and on both sides of the ideological divide. There are others who believe that people have the right to be wrong, to be stupid, to be unviruous. This is one of those places where, it seems to me, it is often hard to thread the needle of liberty.

  8. Susan Craig says:

    Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry is own weight, this is a frightening prospect.
    Eleanor Roosevelt
    Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.
    Just a few thoughts on the value and price of freedom.

  9. Howdy, it’s Janine. I want to say to Carolyn, Maggie, Susan and Peter.. it’s great to have you guys blogging on our site everyday. Great comments! Thank you! I am learning so much.

  10. Carolyn Attaway says:

    Thank you Janine for putting this site together for all to learn and study our founding documents. I saw your interview on FOX and started with the site on Day 1. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading my assignment every night and then getting the opportunity to talk to everyone the next day about what we read. Your guestbloggers have been so informative, and very helpful in understanding what was written. I have learned so much already, and what amazes me most is how timeless our documents are; they could have been very easily written for today!

  11. Barb Zakszewski says:

    This is a Wonderful Website..I just read about it last night in Human Events, Conservative Spotlight, and checked it out. This is JUST what I have been looking for, as I have recently decided to study the REAL constitution. I’ve been reading, of all things, the Politically INcorrect guide to the Constitution and have been reading those parts of the Constitution as I’ve progressed. Your 90/90 project is GREAT!! I know I’m jumping in a little late, but intend to pick up at this point, May 7, and move forward. In order for us to return our Country to the Principles of the Founding Fathers, we have to know what those principles are, and the reasoning behind these principles. The Founders had differing points of view about what direction to take this country, Federalist v Nationalist, and many of the arguements made back then are being repeated now. I agree it is vitally important for our children to be taught the REAL history of the United States, not the Liberal, America is bad history that is being taught now. Thank you, Thank you!! for this wonderful site.

  12. Today was yet another stimulating reading. Your blog comments have been thought provoking as well. I thank you and I, also, once again, thank Professor W.BAllen for his astute interpretation. After reading both Federalist PaperNo8 and Professor Allen’s essay here is what I have gleaned:

    With the birth of the Republic of the United States came the birth of a new type of republic. Republics in the past all eventually lent themselves to the art of war, instead of the art of commerce and free enterprise, as its focus. Our newrepublic would be monitored and governed by the people instead of military figures.

    This was truly an enlightened and inspired experiment.
    Yet, safety would have to be secured in order to offer the opportunity of these pursuits and the art of war delineated. If the people did not feel safe, and if war were to spring from internal hostilities, then the focus would shift away from the remarkable aspects of American ingenuity to the colossal attentions war and/or petty skirmishes demanded.

    To quote Alexander Hamilton:
    “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…”

    If war were to become the dictate then the executive branch would broaden and the legislative branch, the people’s branch, weaken.

    “They would, at the same time, be obliged to strengthen the executive arm of government; in doing which, their constituents would acquire a progressive direction towards monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive, at the expense of the legislative authority.”

    War was thus incompatible with the new industriousness of the American people:

    “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.”

    Once again our forefathers had the wisdom and wherewithal to prophesy the necessities for a free people to flourish – freedom from dictators, tyranny, war, conquests and internal squirmishes.

    Which begs the next big undertaking: replacing the dictator with the wisdom of the people. If the government were to heed upon the whims of the people then how does one educate and inspire the people? The checks and balances of the Constitution were thus both a check against the leaders and the people – a republic instead of a democracy.

    In this respect how have Americans fared? I would say on the broad scale, remarkably. I believe our forefathers would be mesmerized with the scope of growth, scientifically, industriously and humanitarianly. They would be in astate of awe. The experiment of liberty and union, though bruised along the way, has remained vital.

    Yet, a new generation and movement are upon us. Our founding fathers, I believe, would be a bit wary regarding the modern day wisdom of the people. There was such a hunger for education and inspiration in the blossoming days of the United States because the repression of such liberties had left a formidable and everlasting impression.

    Today, do we take for granted the freedoms that have made our country great? I believe that the lack of voting would be a disappointment to our forefathers, as would the seeming unawareness of the founding principles of our country.

    If we, as citizens, and our children, do not understand the dignified rights and principles we have then we, and our children, will not know when they are subtly taken away from us. The success of the progressive movement is a prime example.

    Thus, the reading and comprehension of the United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers are paramount. I, personally, feel blessed to be having this dialogue with our daily scholars, Cathy and all of you who blog. I thank you for your involvement. Spread the word! Let us all be educated citizens with a knowledge rooted in the thesis of our country so that we may then step forward, voice our opinions and make a difference as informed citizens.

    God Bless!!

    Janine Turner

  13. Barb, It’s Janine. We are happy that you have joined us!

  14. Ron Meier says:

    It seems that this one quote has impacted more than one of us today: “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” Obviously, what is happening in our country today makes us more sensitive to this quote than we might be if we were not living in the age of the progression of entitlements to the levels we see in the EU, with Greece being an example of what can happen if we allow what is happening in our country to progress to that extreme.

    A second quote that got my attention was this: “The desire to shed the characteristics of the “old world” was very strong in our founders, who were not far removed from living under those types of governments.” Today, we are far removed from those types of governments and many of our brothers and sisters seem to be wanting us to move in the direction that our founders wanted us to move away from. If more of us had a better knowledge of history, or a knowledge at all, and if more of us knew what we few who are going through this exercise are learning, perhaps we would see through the eyes of our founding fathers. Let us pray that, at the conclusion of this 90/90 exercise, we can see through those wise eyes as clearly as they did.

  15. Well said Ron! Thanks for joining our 90 in 90!

  16. Susan Craig says:

    Carolyn, I need to address your application of the Patriot act to the quote “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” That is why every time a limiter is needed for safety we have put ‘sunsets’ into them when enacted. Habeus Corpus was suspended for a while during the Civil War. One of the things that brought down Woodrow Wilson was his abuse of free speech during WW I. FDR is still reviled for the restrictions placed on people of Japanese descent even though it is provable that some were active for the Japanese Empire. He decided that in order to continue to dedicate the needed resources to prosecute WW II he did not have the need resources to investigate individually all those of Japanese descent so he decided to quarantine the probable source of espionage and sabotage. The Patriot act does not give blanket surveillance over American communication but it does remove restrictions on communications between Americans and KNOWN terrorist sources.

  17. Susan Craig says:

    I did not post this yesterday as I did not wish to hunt on that rabbit trail while discussing Federalist 8.

  18. Thank you all for another week of wonderful insights!

    Please encourage the children in your life to sign up online for our We The People 9.17 Contest! We are looking for entries especially in the short film and PSA categories for high school! Middle school and high school students can also enter a cool song or an essay, and the elementary school kids are invited to submit a poem or holiday card. Prizes include $2,000 for the winning high school entries and gift cards and other prizes for the younger kids. More information, including rules and signup form, is available at

    A recurring theme on these posts and blogs has been our amazement at the foresight, vision and wisdom of our founding fathers. There are times in reading their words that certain sentences seem to leap off the page with relevancy for today. We find this long term vision and wisdom amazing because the elected officials of our generation deal mainly in the here and now. We are an immediate gratification society, and the majority of today’s leaders respond accordingly.

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear our current policy debates discussed in the terms we find in these Federalist Papers, with the spirit of civility and long term vision of our founders? What will the new health care bill mean to us 200 years from now? What impact will the various immigration reform proposals have far into the future? Wouldn’t it be interesting for some of our members of Congress to write a series of articles similar to the Federalist Papers, addressing the consequential issues facing our country today?

    What words from our generation of leaders will resonate 200 years from now? I can’t answer that question, but I do hope and pray that 200 years from now, United States citizens will still be reading and studying the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, and will still be amazed at the foresight and wisdom of our founders.

    Have a great weekend, and wishing you all a very Happy Mother’s Day!

    Cathy Gillespie

  19. Carolyn Attaway says:

    Susan, I appreciate your feedback on the Patriot Act. The point I was trying to make was when the Patriot Act was signed into law, most Americans felt that the safety of their country was more important than the need to restrict our government from possible communications information. I wasn’t trying to define the Patriot Act in everything that it did, just that most people supported it at the time even though some claimed it gave the Federal Government to much freedom into communications and records. Today, there are some who claim that parts of the Act give the government to much authority.

    I believe 16 sections of the Patriot act were set to expire unless Congress decided to extend them. After much debate, Congress passed a bill in March 2006 which renewed the Patriot Act but implemented additional safeguards for civil liberties. 14 of the 16 measures were permanent, but the roving wiretap provision and the FBI access to business records were extended only until 2009. Then in February 2010, Congress passed a one-year extension on three expiring Patriot Act provisions which were:
    –Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
    –Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.
    –Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

  20. Susan Craig says:

    I don’t know how much more civil they were; there are stories of Senators or Representatives going after each other with their walking sticks.

  21. Carolyn Attaway says:

    True, but don’t politicians always balk. I always find it interesting how a politician finds a law or rule wrong when he is in the minority, but a similiar rule when he is in the majority is the right thing to do. (Not all politicians, but quite a lot) I would find it interesting to see which Congressmen voted against the Patriot Act, but are for Net Neutrality.

  22. Susan Craig says:

    I agree Carolyn that that would be a fascinating statistic! General observation would suggest that the number would be high.

  23. Susan Craig says:

    Item three was (I think) not necessarily to go for the lone nutcase but to cover instances of a singular person sent out like a sniper. Snipers function on their own but are part of an overall strategy. All of the others I believe were caveated with a predicating contact with known terrorist or sympathizing entities.

  24. Glenn Roberts says:

    Like Barb Zakszewaki, I read about this site in Human Events. I just completed reading all the blogs made to date. Now I am going to Barnes & Noble in Chattanooga, Tn with a list of books that will help me keep up with this program. Thanks for making this site available and best of luck.

  25. Mary Lou Leddy says:

    I have been following this course of study since the very first day. It is so moving that the Founders were so insightful for the future of this great country. I have also been uplifted by the fact that so many other bloggers have had the same thoughts as I have had . And , of course, the guest bloggers ‘ interpretations have been most helpful to me.

    As I read the Federalists Papers, I am amazed at how pertinent they are to this day and age.

    I thank you all for sharing your thoughts .

  26. Greg Zorbach says:

    @ Carolyn. You are right on the money with this: “The Patriot act does not give blanket surveillance over American communication but it does remove restrictions on communications between Americans and KNOWN terrorist sources.” In fact, most of the rights its critics are complaining about are ones that do not exist – i.e. for non-citizens. Carolyn’s later summary was a very good one. The final point about enabling surveillance against a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism is true about the latest legislation, but it should not be a requirement for non-citizens. However, given the courts’ unprecedented intrusion into this war’s prosecution it is probably necessary.
    Yesterday my fifth-grader grandson noticed this web site up on my laptop and asked me if I was reading the Constitution. He eagerly explained to me that they were studying about the Constitutional Convention. So, he and I got out his Social Studies book and went through it. To my surprise, the book got most of it right, especially the statement that the most important principle underlying the Constitution is individually liberty. My joy was dashed when I came across the following explanation of the First Amendment: “It also says that the government cannot promote or financially support any religion.” And this is at a Catholic academy. However, the textbook is a CA standard one. In my opinion, it would have been better had they just used the simple wording of the amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
    Found another surprise in his textbook – the last three lines of the second stanza of “America The Beautiful”: “God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!”
    Self-control and liberty in law. How pertinent.

  27. Susan Craig says:

    @Carolyn: Our ‘wonderful’ Congress has just removed the “sunset” from the Patriot Act!!! Them’s fighting words.



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