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BL1Y Reads Federalist #4

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This series is a bit of an experiment. I'll be reading each of the Federalist Papers, and providing a reaction to each one. I haven't read them before, and I'm not doing any research, so I'm armed with nothing more than some knowledge about the Constitutional Convention, a legal education that's gathering dust, and the benefit of hindsight. I aim to do 1-2 of these a week, and there are 85 total, so here goes what will likely be a year-long venture into a series of nation-shaping essays that have been reduced to a common knowledge that factions are mentioned somewhere, and are bad.

You can get a free Kindle edition of the Federalist Papers here.


No. 4: The Same Subject Continued, by Jay

So, apparently we have a mini series here. To catch up the newcomers, we're discussing the "Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence," though Jay has scarcely touched on the topic so far.

Jay finally gets to the thesis of this four-parter, hinted at at the end of part two: Big countries get attacked less, because they're big, and can attack back. It's an argument of economy. If there were a number of different confederacies, and New England was invaded, there'd be a question as to whether the Confederacy of Gulf States would rally to their defense, and if they chose to, when they would arrive would be in question, and the amount of their resources they'd dedicate to the war, and there would be problems coordination their command staff with the generals of New England, New York, and the Republic of Carolina.

Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones makes the argument in a bit more memorable way.

"Which is greater," he asks his wife, Cirse, "One or five?"

"Five," the queen answers.

"Wrong," Robert responds. "Five," he says holding up an open hand, then he closes it into a fist, "One."

A military is typically larger than the sum of its parts. In modern militaries we suffer some diseconomies of scale, with too bloated bureaucracies and too much brass (the United States has nearly 500 generals), but at the time Jay was absolutely correct. A fighting force with a single Commander in Chief would be far more formidable and discourage foreign nations from attacking.


Jay still has not addressed that the idea of "attack one of us, and you attack all of us" means the "all of us" get dragged into the conflicts of the "one of us." If Britain were to invade New England, the Confederacy of Gulf States may well be served by staying out of it. Though it has never happened, the states could be rightly concerned with what would happen if their enemy was too strong for even the United States to defeat. Maybe the British have no beef with the Gulf States, sign a non-aggression pact, and a lot more southern boys get to grow old and have grandchildren.

When debating independence, Benjamin Franklin said "Either we hand together, or we shall surely hang separately" (or someone else said something similar; in accordance with the rules, I'm not doing any research), but that wouldn't necessarily always be the case. Dublin wasn't bombed during the Blitz (again, not doing research, but I recall seeing Ireland greyed out on the Axis and Allies map).

Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are close though. Some parts of the nation have seen its young men and fortunes spent fighting protracted wars they wouldn't have gotten in to on their own. The United States's alliance with Israel is also similar; a united front is tricky if some members are more likely to get into a war than others.


It's worth noting the reasons Jay suspects foreign nations (likely France or Britain) would go to war with the United States; we were selling cheap goods and services. We could catch fish in the Americas, transport them to Europe, and sell them cheaper than fish caught in Europe. We were also out-competing them when it came to transporting goods. The United States faces similar economic fights today, with Mexico, India, China, and a number of other developing nations. Yet, it would be extraordinary for the United States to go to war to reduce economic competition. Quite the opposite, many wars have ended with out former enemies becoming strong trade allies, such as Germany and Japan. But, the 1780s were a less civilized time.

[BL1Y Reads Federalist #3]

[BL1Y Reads Federalist #5]

[Read more from BL1Y]

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