The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy
For the Independent Journal.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion, and which has, in fact, commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.

There are appearances to authorize a supposition that the adventurous spirit, which distinguishes the commercial character of America, has already excited uneasy sensations in several of the maritime powers of Europe. They seem to be apprehensive of our too great interference in that carrying trade, which is the support of their navigation and the foundation of their naval strength. Those of them which have colonies in America look forward to what this country is capable of becoming, with painful solicitude. They foresee the dangers that may threaten their American dominions from the neighborhood of States, which have all the dispositions, and would possess all the means, requisite to the creation of a powerful marine. Impressions of this kind will naturally indicate the policy of fostering divisions among us, and of depriving us, as far as possible, of an ACTIVE COMMERCE in our own bottoms. This would answer the threefold purpose of preventing our interference in their navigation, of monopolizing the profits of our trade, and of clipping the wings by which we might soar to a dangerous greatness. Did not prudence forbid the detail, it would not be difficult to trace, by facts, the workings of this policy to the cabinets of ministers.

If we continue united, we may counteract a policy so unfriendly to our prosperity in a variety of ways. By prohibitory regulations, extending, at the same time, throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other, for the privileges of our markets. This assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate the importance of the markets of three millions of people–increasing in rapid progression, for the most part exclusively addicted to agriculture, and likely from local circumstances to remain so–to any manufacturing nation; and the immense difference there would be to the trade and navigation of such a nation, between a direct communication in its own ships, and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns, to and from America, in the ships of another country. Suppose, for instance, we had a government in America, capable of excluding Great Britain (with whom we have at present no treaty of commerce) from all our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate, with the fairest prospect of success, for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive kind, in the dominions of that kingdom? When these questions have been asked, upon other occasions, they have received a plausible, but not a solid or satisfactory answer. It has been said that prohibitions on our part would produce no change in the system of Britain, because she could prosecute her trade with us through the medium of the Dutch, who would be her immediate customers and paymasters for those articles which were wanted for the supply of our markets. But would not her navigation be materially injured by the loss of the important advantage of being her own carrier in that trade? Would not the principal part of its profits be intercepted by the Dutch, as a compensation for their agency and risk? Would not the mere circumstance of freight occasion a considerable deduction? Would not so circuitous an intercourse facilitate the competitions of other nations, by enhancing the price of British commodities in our markets, and by transferring to other hands the management of this interesting branch of the British commerce?

A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will justify a belief that the real disadvantages to Britain from such a state of things, conspiring with the pre-possessions of a great part of the nation in favor of the American trade, and with the importunities of the West India islands, would produce a relaxation in her present system, and would let us into the enjoyment of privileges in the markets of those islands elsewhere, from which our trade would derive the most substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government, and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see themselves altogether supplanted in our trade.

A further resource for influencing the conduct of European nations toward us, in this respect, would arise from the establishment of a federal navy. There can be no doubt that the continuance of the Union under an efficient government would put it in our power, at a period not very distant, to create a navy which, if it could not vie with those of the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties. This would be more peculiarly the case in relation to operations in the West Indies. A few ships of the line, sent opportunely to the reinforcement of either side, would often be sufficient to decide the fate of a campaign, on the event of which interests of the greatest magnitude were suspended. Our position is, in this respect, a most commanding one. And if to this consideration we add that of the usefulness of supplies from this country, in the prosecution of military operations in the West Indies, it will readily be perceived that a situation so favorable would enable us to bargain with great advantage for commercial privileges. A price would be set not only upon our friendship, but upon our neutrality. By a steady adherence to the Union we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate.

But in the reverse of this eligible situation, we shall discover that the rivalships of the parts would make them checks upon each other, and would frustrate all the tempting advantages which nature has kindly placed within our reach. In a state so insignificant our commerce would be a prey to the wanton intermeddlings of all nations at war with each other; who, having nothing to fear from us, would with little scruple or remorse, supply their wants by depredations on our property as often as it fell in their way. The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.

Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources of the country, directed to a common interest, would baffle all the combinations of European jealousy to restrain our growth. This situation would even take away the motive to such combinations, by inducing an impracticability of success. An active commerce, an extensive navigation, and a flourishing marine would then be the offspring of moral and physical necessity. We might defy the little arts of the little politicians to control or vary the irresistible and unchangeable course of nature.

But in a state of disunion, these combinations might exist and might operate with success. It would be in the power of the maritime nations, availing themselves of our universal impotence, to prescribe the conditions of our political existence; and as they have a common interest in being our carriers, and still more in preventing our becoming theirs, they would in all probability combine to embarrass our navigation in such a manner as would in effect destroy it, and confine us to a PASSIVE COMMERCE. We should then be compelled to content ourselves with the first price of our commodities, and to see the profits of our trade snatched from us to enrich our enemies and p rsecutors. That unequaled spirit of enterprise, which signalizes the genius of the American merchants and navigators, and which is in itself an inexhaustible mine of national wealth, would be stifled and lost, and poverty and disgrace would overspread a country which, with wisdom, might make herself the admiration and envy of the world.

There are rights of great moment to the trade of America which are rights of the Union–I allude to the fisheries, to the navigation of the Western lakes, and to that of the Mississippi. The dissolution of the Confederacy would give room for delicate questions concerning the future existence of these rights; which the interest of more powerful partners would hardly fail to solve to our disadvantage. The disposition of Spain with regard to the Mississippi needs no comment. France and Britain are concerned with us in the fisheries, and view them as of the utmost moment to their navigation. They, of course, would hardly remain long indifferent to that decided mastery, of which experience has shown us to be possessed in this valuable branch of traffic, and by which we are able to undersell those nations in their own markets. What more natural than that they should be disposed to exclude from the lists such dangerous competitors?

This branch of trade ought not to be considered as a partial benefit. All the navigating States may, in different degrees, advantageously participate in it, and under circumstances of a greater extension of mercantile capital, would not be unlikely to do it. As a nursery of seamen, it now is, or when time shall have more nearly assimilated the principles of navigation in the several States, will become, a universal resource. To the establishment of a navy, it must be indispensable.

To this great national object, a NAVY, union will contribute in various ways. Every institution will grow and flourish in proportion to the quantity and extent of the means concentred towards its formation and support. A navy of the United States, as it would embrace the resources of all, is an object far less remote than a navy of any single State or partial confederacy, which would only embrace the resources of a single part. It happens, indeed, that different portions of confederated America possess each some peculiar advantage for this essential establishment. The more southern States furnish in greater abundance certain kinds of naval stores–tar, pitch, and turpentine. Their wood for the construction of ships is also of a more solid and lasting texture. The difference in the duration of the ships of which the navy might be composed, if chiefly constructed of Southern wood, would be of signal importance, either in the view of naval strength or of national economy. Some of the Southern and of the Middle States yield a greater plenty of iron, and of better quality. Seamen must chiefly be drawn from the Northern hive. The necessity of naval protection to external or maritime commerce does not require a particular elucidation, no more than the conduciveness of that species of commerce to the prosperity of a navy.

An unrestrained intercourse between the States themselves will advance the trade of each by an interchange of their respective productions, not only for the supply of reciprocal wants at home, but for exportation to foreign markets. The veins of commerce in every part will be replenished, and will acquire additional motion and vigor from a free circulation of the commodities of every part. Commercial enterprise will have much greater scope, from the diversity in the productions of different States. When the staple of one fails from a bad harvest or unproductive crop, it can call to its aid the staple of another. The variety, not less than the value, of products for exportation contributes to the activity of foreign commerce. It can be conducted upon much better terms with a large number of materials of a given value than with a small number of materials of the same value; arising from the competitions of trade and from the fluctations of markets. Particular articles may be in great demand at certain periods, and unsalable at others; but if there be a variety of articles, it can scarcely happen that they should all be at one time in the latter predicament, and on this account the operations of the merchant would be less liable to any considerable obstruction or stagnation. The speculative trader will at once perceive the force of these observations, and will acknowledge that the aggregate balance of the commerce of the United States would bid fair to be much more favorable than that of the thirteen States without union or with partial unions.

It may perhaps be replied to this, that whether the States are united or disunited, there would still be an intimate intercourse between them which would answer the same ends; this intercourse would be fettered, interrupted, and narrowed by a multiplicity of causes, which in the course of these papers have been amply detailed. A unity of commercial, as well as political, interests, can only result from a unity of government.

There are other points of view in which this subject might be placed, of a striking and animating kind. But they would lead us too far into the regions of futurity, and would involve topics not proper for a newspaper discussion. I shall briefly observe, that our situation invites and our interests prompt us to aim at an ascendant in the system of American affairs. The world may politically, as well as geographically, be divided into four parts, each having a distinct set of interests. Unhappily for the other three, Europe, by her arms and by her negotiations, by force and by fraud, has, in different degrees, extended her dominion over them all. Africa, Asia, and America, have successively felt her domination. The superiority she has long maintained has tempted her to plume herself as the Mistress of the World, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit. Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America–that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere.[1] Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will will add another victim to his triumphs. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!


Thursday, May 13th, 2010

You all are kicking up some dust in the comments today! I love the back and forth.

And thank you to Dr. Postell for your essay! We appreciate your participation and guidance.

Thank you also to Constituting America’s founder and co-chair Janine Turner for her brilliant essay, published early today!  I am burning the midnight oil.

I begin tonight with these sentences, the first sentences of Federalist No. 11:

“THE importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion, and which has, in fact, commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.”

The above quote reflects another area in which the founding fathers showed great insight, wisdom and vision.  Today, African countries are suffering economically from the tariffs and entry fees they impose on each other.  European countries suffered as well.  Only recently have they unified economically, learning from our example. And some see a political unification of Europe as a likely next step.  The founders saw the necessity of economic unity, and acted on it, over 200 years before Europe came to the same conclusion.

It is fascinating to me that in the early stages of our country, the founders could so clearly discern “the adventurous spirit, which distinguishes the commercial character of America,” and recognize that  “the unequaled spirit of enterprise… itself an inexhaustible mine of national wealth.”

The power of Congress “to regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes,” found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, certainly propelled our country to its preeminent world economic leadership position.  The Commerce Clause allows the United States to present a unified economic front to the world, and for individual states to not penalize each other.   But the Commerce Clause has been a double edged sword.  When utilized to keep markets free and unfettered, it allows our Nation to soar, tapping into that uniquely American “unequaled spirit of enterprise.”  But when the Commerce Clause is utilized to regulate and stifle the spirit of enterprise, it can “clip the wings by which we might soar.”

The current health care reform legislation stretches the Commerce Clause further than it has ever been stretched before.  Instead of regulating economic activity between the states, Congress is using its power to mandate that people pro-actively make purchases from private sector companies. I wonder what Mr. Hamilton would think of the federal government’s intervention into that type of “commercial relations.”

Tim W. said it especially well in his post today, “It was refreshing to see Hamilton cast commerce as a virtue, rather than the vice portrayed by some in power and in the larger information media.”  The founders recognized that the most valuable natural resource of the United States is its people ,their “adventurous spirt,” and “unequaled spirit of enterprise.”

Thank you to all of you who are joining us in shining a light on the founding principles of our country, so that they may once again be our guide.  Please continue to spread the word, and invite your friends to read and blog with us.

On to Federalist No. 12!

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie


Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Well, I had great fun reading Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 11, especially toward the end of the paper, where he makes a statement regarding Europe:

“The superiority she has long maintained, has tempted her to plume herself as the mistress of the world, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit. Men, admired as profound philosophers, have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority; and have gravely asserted, that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America; that even dogs cease to bark, after having breathed a while in our atmosphere…. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will add another victim to his triumphs.”

This statement, once again, exhibits the vision of our Constitutional founding fathers and Publius; strength in numbers, success with unity. They envisioned a United States that could, with her richness, vastness, intellect, unsurpassed spirit of enterprise, and republican virtue compete with Europe and do so with dignity and in a way that would, “vindicate the honor of the human race.”

Other points that I found to be of interest were regarding a strong and unified navy. “The rights of neutrality will only be respected, when they are defended by adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.”

This statement is relevant today and is applicable to our current situation regarding 9/11 and terrorism. It is, also, represented by human nature. Bullies only attack the weak. Other nations watch our administration and our country’s stance on defense. If they sense any leniency, or lack of response to attacks on American soil, which is “despicable by its weakness,” then we, as Americans forfeit our privilege of being neutral. Peace is no longer an option for us if we do not exhibit and execute strength – strength politically (a congress that thinks in terms of what is best for America and not factiously), militarily, (readiness and response), and financially (solvency). Strength, also, lay in our resources – our own oil and advances in new fuels.

It is best illustrated by Alexander Hamilton’s own words regarding unity and strength:

“The unequalled spirit of enterprise, which signalizes the
genius of the American merchants and navigators, and which is in itself an inexhaustible mine of national wealth, would be stifled and lost; and poverty and disgrace would overspread a country, which, with wisdom, might make herself the admiration and envy of the world.”

As a final note of relevancy – the many mentions of the phrase, “spirit of enterprise” in the Federalist Papers, in this case, “unequalled spirit of enterprise.” America was built on this spirit – a can do, true grit American determination. The greatness of America will cease with the continuance of a “nanny state.” America was not built with her hand out. America was built with her hands at work.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

5 Responses to “May 122010 – Federalist No11 – Janine Turner

  1. Billy Statkiewicz says:

    Janine i think this is a great thing you are doing with this Blog on the Constitution.

    I loved your character on Northern Exposure and any one who has ever watched the show would realize that with hard work , determination and will. You can accomplish great things in the harshest of conditions.

    I dont know what has happened to America over the last 25 years or so but it has to change quick. We as a nation cannot go on in the direction that we are headed. This nanny state and its ideologues behind it will forever injure this once great Nation.

    As someone in his mid forties , i remember on Flag day in 1976 at my grade school ” South School” in Stoughton, Massachusetts. I read the entire Gettysburgh address to a packed lawn of k-6 graders and all of the parents that could attend , including my mother Mary. She and i were never so proud as to what i accomplished that day, with such a beautiful Speech written by a great american and Former President. Abraham Lincoln.

    As much as i like President Obama , i dont agree with a large , MANY of his Policies to date, and i also dont believe someone like himself who has read and studied this great man as i have ,Obama doesnt have Lincolns spirit at heart in his policies. I Think Abe would be quite upset with him if he was alive today. I believe he would even go back to the Cooper Union to give another speech against many of Obamas policies.

    Giving Speeches at the places of your idols , does not make you a great President .Obama should consider forging his own History with reasonable policy , that the majority of Americans are behind.

    This is a troubling time we live in , and i hope it changes soon. I have met President Clinton and spoken to him. I live my life on the road less traveled and have experienced meeting many great people. I do this because i believe in my country and the path that Great Americans have forged for us in this Nation .

    We can only continue when our leaders have a genuine true interest in their hearts and intellect for this Great Nation .

    With the help from you and others i have faith that our path will be Righted soon enough.

    Janine Keep up the great work and i hope everybody loves to read the History that you have set for us. As much as i have.

    Remembering back on Flag Day in 1976 , i cant believe students were suspended for wearing a tee shirt displaying our Precious Flag. The one where brave young men and woman for hundreds of years have shed their precious blood and given up their lives for the country they were taught to believe in and the country i am sure they believed in.

    God Bless you and this great nation

    William Statkiewicz
    Stoughton, Massachusetts.

  2. Truely ….. I am past being concerned about the current direction of my beloved country.I am overwhelmed and actually fearfull that it is moving so fast that we may not be able to reverse the damage of this Administration coupled with the inertia of these past 20 or 30 years has done. These words of our founding fathers are so inspiring. I am thrilled to read them.

  3. Susan Craig says:

    You said: “America was not built with her hand out. America was built with her hands at work.”
    To that I say: AMEN!

  4. Jeff Hill says:

    Your fifth paragraph states our situation accurately and concisely.

  5. Jocelyn White says:

    Janine, I really enjoyed your essay on Hamilton’s paper. The line that grabbed me by the throat? Bullies pick on the weak. I am not by any means a “Hawk” but I do believe our country’s strong Defense is our best Offense. And I think it is shocking the way we don’t support our military monetarily, spiritually, emotionally and physically. It was also interesting to note in today’s news that former astronauts and moonwalkers Neal Armstrong and Gene Cernin are wholeheartedly AGAINST the Obama adminstration’s proposals for our space program. They warn that if that program proceeds, we will lose our place in the space race. And this is about much more than further moon landings and Mars expeditions. Think of satellites, space stations, etc. Were our Founding Fathers seers? Did they have crystal balls much more clear than ours? Sometimes, reading these papers, it would seem so.



Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Federalist #11

Over the past century, as America has become more involved in world affairs, many are wondering what the Founders would have said about such a trend.  Federalist #11 gives us a glimpse of how the Founders approached questions of international politics.  What we see is that the Founders were neither isolationists nor internationalists.  Their approach was to put America’s security and interests first, and to preserve American sovereignty and self-determination, but to adopt an active role in the world in order to achieve that end.

The 11th essay is part of a series (running from Federalist 2 through 14) on preserving the Union.  The 11th essay argues that preserving the Union will make the country stronger in its commerce with foreign nations.  Alexander Hamilton, writing as Publius, explains that European nations are jealous of America, because America will eventually be strong enough to prevent Europe from colonizing the Western Hemisphere.  (We see the roots of the Monroe Doctrine already in this essay.)  The nations of Europe “look forward, to what this country is capable of becoming, with painful solicitude.”  Publius predicts that the European countries will try to weaken and undermine the fledgling country.  If the country is not unified, these attempts will be more effective.

But by remaining unified, Publius argues, America can gain the upper hand over Europe.  By gaining strength, America can make its own policy as a fully independent nation rather than follow the dictates of Europe.  With its combined strength, America could enact regulations preventing countries from trading in its markets, thus leading them to adopt a friendlier stance towards American merchants.

Furthermore, a unified America could build a dominant navy.  This navy would protect America from attack, but more importantly, it would also allow America to receive equal and fair terms of trade, throwing its naval support “into the scale of either of two contending parties” in Europe.  America could use its navy to ensure independence, demanding equal treatment as a nation equal in standing to those of Europe.  Hamilton writes that “The rights of neutrality will only be respected, when they are defended by an adequate power.  A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.”

A weak nation becomes the servant of stronger countries, and unity is the key to building American strength.  Hamilton goes so far as to say that America “might make herself the admiration and envy of the world” by adopting the right policies.  Alternatively, if union is abandoned, other countries would be able “to prescribe the conditions of our political existence.”

Hamilton looks to the future, envisioning the eventual position of America as a strong country which serves as an example of liberty to the world.  He goes so far as to write that we should “aim at an ascendant in the system of American affairs.”  Through Union America will “be able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world.”

But in contrast to nations which use their strength for self-aggrandizement, America can use its standing in the world to protect the sovereignty and independence of nations from European interference.  The Founders were not isolationists, yet they did believe that their principles put strong limits on what they could do in international affairs.  Their principles required that military power be used to defend American sovereignty, but defending sovereignty requires respecting the sovereignty of other countries.

In this essay, we see that Hamilton and his readers were not opposed to American involvement in world affairs.  But they did not think that the purpose of foreign policy was not to go on a crusade for liberty around the world.  Rather, they sought to be involved in world affairs in order to secure their independence.

Counter intuitively, the Founders believed that the only way to be independent of the entangling affairs of other nations was to be active in the world.  Only by asserting itself on the world stage could America become strong enough to dictate its own affairs in the pursuit of its interests.  If America isolated itself, the Founders believed, it would be placing itself in a position of weakness and disadvantage.

The wisdom of the Framers is especially relevant today, when Americans are concerned about becoming the “world policeman” yet wish to avoid isolating themselves from the rest of the world.  The Founders’ principles of security and respect for the sovereignty of other nations provide a middle ground between isolationism and internationalism.

Dr. Joe Postell is Assistant Director of the Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation


Thursday, May 20th, 2010

What a great discussion we’ve had on Federalist No. 17!  Thank you to William C. Duncan for his insightful comments!  Dr. Morrisey, thank you for joining us today with your contributions as well!

In Federalist 17 Hamilton addresses the concerns of the anti-federalists by making the case that the national government will not try to encroach upon the states’ rights and powers:

“It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils to usurp the powers with which they are connected; because the attempt to exercise those powers would be as troublesome as it would be nugatory; and the possession of them, for that reason, would contribute nothing to the dignity, to the importance, or to the splendor of the national government.”

For the sake of argument, Hamilton imagines a scenario where the national government might try to overstep its bounds, and explains that “the people of the several States would control the indulgence of so extravagant an appetite.”

The founders had set up the unique and artfully constructed set of checks and balances to keep the federal government from extending its reach past the powers it was specifically given.  So, what happened?  How could Hamilton have gotten it so wrong?  I have been pondering this all day.  The answer is that the system the founders so carefully constructed was tampered with.  It is ironic that Federalist No. 17 was rendered inaccurate by the 17th Amendment! Like any piece of delicate machinery, once the balance is off, the results go awry.

Hamilton could also not fathom that the national government would desire to control the details of peoples’ lives.  He thought it would be too tedious a task for a government more interested in the big picture of “commerce, finance, negotiation and war.”  Our country had been founded on personal liberty and the “unequaled spirit of enterprise,” mentioned in Federalist No. 11.  It would go against everything their countrymen had fought for, for the federal government to encroach into peoples’ lives and trample their rights, so it was truly hard for Hamilton to foresee.

It is so commonplace today for the federal government to involve itself in the minute details of daily living, that most people don’t realize the balance of government is far off what the founders had envisioned, and the Constitution dictates.  It is eye-opening to see the world through Hamilton’s eyes, a time in history when people could not imagine or predict the scope of power the federal government has achieved.

Only by studying the founders’ intentions, and the structure specified in the Constitution, can people understand how far off the path of freedom our country has veered. The Constitution is our road map and our guide, and to head in the correct direction, we must consult the map.

I thank everyone for their continued participation!

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie