Federalist No. 4 is a continuation of No. 3 by John Jay on the threats to the new nation from outside sources.
Jay then launches into a discourse that would have been relevant here in 2002/2003. Jay says that a strong federal government will make it less likely that the actions of the United States would be coordinated and less likely to invite conflicts with other nations whether those conflict be just or manufactured.
But the safety of the people of America against dangers from FOREIGN force depends not only on their forbearing to give JUST causes of war to other nations, but also on their placing and continuing themselves in such a situation as not to INVITE hostility or insult; for it need not be observed that there are PRETENDED as well as just causes of war.
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.
Sound familiar? OK, editorializing over. Back to the topic at hand.
Jay then gives examples of situations in which the young nation found itself that could put a young weak nation in a situation more susceptible to attack by the foreign powers at the time. The United States was a direct threat to Europe due to the bounty of our coastal fisheries and we had the ability to dominate their markets. Due to the isolated nature of our continent, we were forced to be masters at trade and navigation and developing a superiority in this realm definitely posed a threat to Europe. The United States also developed its own trade with India and China cutting out the former middlemen in Europe. This also provided a direct economic threat to Europe.
But the foreign threats were also domestic in the sense that Europe claimed property adjacent to the young nation. In particular, Spain had vast amounts of territory bordering the new nation and the competition for continental resources and waterways also provided a source of friction between neighbors.
Spain thinks it convenient to shut the Mississippi against us on the one side, and Britain excludes us from the Saint Lawrence on the other; nor will either of them permit the other waters which are between them and us to become the means of mutual intercourse and traffic.
Given that these situations already existed, Jay argues that it is imperative that a strong federal government be formed to reduce the likelihood that these circumstances might threaten the young nation.
The people of America are aware that inducements to war may arise out of these circumstances, as well as from others not so obvious at present, and that whenever such inducements may find fit time and opportunity for operation, pretenses to color and justify them will not be wanting. Wisely, therefore, do they consider union and a good national government as necessary to put and keep them in SUCH A SITUATION as, instead of INVITING war, will tend to repress and discourage it. That situation consists in the best possible state of defense, and necessarily depends on the government, the arms, and the resources of the country.The suggestion is that the smaller, loose confederations of states would be more vulnerable due to smaller resources, lack of coordination, etc. Jay then goes on to expand the argument for unified resources, talent, and message to the world. A strong federal government would be more likely to present a unified front to the rest of the world, projecting more strength than a loose confederation alone. Jay compares the situation to the politics of a divided Great Britain suggesting that having Scotland, England and Wales all acting in their own self-interest. "Suppose an invasion; would those three governments (if they agreed at all) be able, with all their respective forces, to operate against the enemy so effectually as the single government of Great Britain would?", he asks.
Jay then applies those same hypothetical circumstances to the United States and says that the results would be disastrous, relying upon other examples from history.
Apply these facts to our own case. Leave America divided into thirteen or, if you please, into three or four independent governments--what armies could they raise and pay--what fleets could they ever hope to have? If one was attacked, would the others fly to its succor, and spend their blood and money in its defense? Would there be no danger of their being flattered into neutrality by its specious promises, or seduced by a too great fondness for peace to decline hazarding their tranquillity and present safety for the sake of neighbors, of whom perhaps they have been jealous, and whose importance they are content to see diminished? Although such conduct would not be wise, it would, nevertheless, be natural. The history of the states of Greece, and of other countries, abounds with such instances, and it is not improbable that what has so often happened would, under similar circumstances, happen again.
Jay then closes by saying that whatever the decision regarding the proposed Constitution and creation of a federal government, the remainder of the world would be watching and would act accordingly.
Many of the arguments laid out here turned out to be prescient as evidenced by the causes of the War of 1812 some 25 years later.
Next week - Federalist No. 5, a continuation of some of these ideas by Jay.