Federalist No. 6

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Hamilton is back, thankfully. He's a much more engaging writer than is Jay.

After spending several articles discussing threats from without, Publius turns us inward, to wonder what -- if we were not to remain a single union -- might drive us to war against each other. In this article, he focuses on the idea that somehow by our nature as a republic, or by our intersts in commerce, we would naturally avoid war.

He first dispenses with the notion that there's not enough reasons to drive us to war. History shows us there's never want for reason for war: "To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious." Still, just because the states are at peace now does not mean they will continue in such state: "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."

It's at this stage I start to wonder if much has changed in the last 200 years. Not that we don't have a significant amount of war in this world of ours, but Western Europe has been essentially at peace with itself for 60 years, and that's noteworthy.

Back to the 1780s: Hamilton notes that republics don't prevent war, as the Peloponnesian War brought down Athens.

Neither is, as many say, the commercial nature of the states any protection from war, as many claim. The idea -- proferred by many at the time, and by luminaries such as Alex Chiu today (sorry, couldn't resist) -- is that war is a waste of resources, and that as such, commercial republics will work for mutual benefit. Obviously, they read the 35th Ferengi Rule of Acquisition ("Peace is good for business") but skipped over the 34th ("War is good for business").

Again, Athens was commercial, and they were the agressors in the war that ruined them. As was Carthage. As was Venice, which was in several wars. The Dutch participated in several contests with England because of trade routes on the sea. And England itself -- for which "commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit" -- has engaged in as many wars as almost any other nation.

Even in the states themselves, Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts -- which happened only a year before this article -- was caused because of, not in spite of, problems over commerce. Shays and his fellow farmers thought the government was unfair to them and ruining them with taxes, and so they took courthouses by force.

Considering all this, what reason do we have to presume peace for the future, when the past and present tell us differently? (And, of course, we know that the future would see an American civil war predicated primarily on commercial disputes as well, and entirely within the auspices of republican governance, so it's hard to argue with his line of reasoning from our perspective.)

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