Friday, February 22, 2008

Federalist Friday: Federalist 3 & 4

John Jay as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

John Jay (1745-1829) is one of those second-string Founders, like James Wilson or John Dickinson, who was undeniably important without being better known. He was conservative, dull, and rheumatic. His entry in the Oxford Companion to United States History is about as long as the five-inch column devoted to Jesse James on the facing page, and dwarfed by the entries on Jazz and Jefferson that follow. He was known chiefly for his handful of contributions to the Federalist, for being the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and for negotiating one of America's most unpopular treaties (the 1795 "Jay's Treaty" with Great Britain). Because of his experience as a diplomat (he, Franklin, and Adams negotiated the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War), Hamilton recruited him to write about the advantages the new Constitution would give the United States in foreign affairs. Jay argues that a strong Union is less likely to become entangled in wars than a loose confederation of states, and that a Union will be better able to defend itself when it does have to go to war. As smaller, independent republics, the states would constantly be fighting among themselves, and would likely fall prey to empire-size neighbors Britain, France, and Spain (all occupying parts of the Americas). What I found most interesting about these two essays of Jay's was the conclusion of Federalist 4. Having laid out the dangers of disunion, Jay warns: "how soon would dear bought experience proclaim, that when a people or family so divide, in never fails to be against themselves." This seems to be an echo of the passage in the New Testament, Matthew 12:25, that is more famously echoed by Abraham Lincoln in 1858, when he accepted Illinois' Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

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