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The Federalist No. 5: The Perils of Division

Updated: Jan 5

In the fifth installment of The Federalist Papers, titled "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence," John Jay, writing as Publius, delves into the historical context of European divisions and applies those lessons to the potential dangers of disunity in the newly formed United States. Let's explore Jay's insights and the enduring relevance of his warnings.


📌 Queen Anne's Wisdom: A Historical Perspective


Jay begins by drawing on the wisdom of Queen Anne, who, in 1706, addressed the Scottish Parliament on the significance of the union between England and Scotland. He highlights her emphasis on unity as the foundation for lasting peace, religious security, liberty, and prosperity. This historical reference serves as a precursor to Jay's argument about the importance of unity in the context of the American states.


📌 Lessons from British History: The Case of Great Britain


Turning to the history of Great Britain, Jay notes that although common sense suggests that an island should be one nation, Britain remained divided into three parts for ages. Despite a shared interest, the arts, policies, and practices of other nations fueled perpetual quarrels and wars among them. Jay questions whether a similar fate awaits America if it divides into multiple confederacies.


📌 Jealousies, Disputes, and Wars: A Cautionary Tale


Jay suggests that, should the American states divide into three or four nations, they may face similar jealousies, disputes, and wars. Rather than being "joined in affection," divisions might lead to envy, jealousy, and a focus on partial interests over the general welfare of America. The consequences, Jay argues, would be either constant disputes or a perpetual fear of them.


📌 Inequality of Strength and Distrust: An Inevitable Outcome


Even if the confederacies start on an equal footing, Jay questions the feasibility of maintaining that equality. He argues that, given time, one confederacy would likely rise in political importance, leading to envy and fear among its neighbors. This imbalance, coupled with distrust and invidious jealousies, would erode good will and cooperation, ultimately placing the divided states in a position where they are formidable only to each other.


📌 The Northern Hive: A Potential Power Shift


Jay predicts that the northernmost confederacy, given certain circumstances, might become more formidable than the others. The result would be similar to historical instances where stronger nations in Europe exploited their weaker neighbors. The imbalance of power could lead to conflicts and power shifts detrimental to the overall well-being of the divided states.


📌 Dangers of Foreign Interference: The Illusion of Defensive Alliances


Addressing the idea of defensive alliances between confederacies, Jay argues that forming and maintaining such alliances would be challenging. Each confederacy would have distinct commercial interests, potentially leading to conflicting treaties with foreign nations. The immediate interest of one confederacy might clash with that of another, making it difficult to form and sustain alliances for mutual defense.


📌 Conclusion: The Ever-Relevant Warning


In conclusion, Jay's Federalist No. 5 serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of division and disunity. His historical references and keen observations about the nature of nations provide timeless lessons for those contemplating the structure of government and alliances. As we reflect on the challenges of our own time, Jay's warning about the potential pitfalls of internal division and the susceptibility to foreign interference remains ever-relevant, reminding us of the enduring importance of a united and cohesive nation.

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