Federalist #2 - John Jay - Federalist Fridays
The Federalist #2, Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence, was written by John Jay.
The title is deceiving, as he does not write about foreign nations. (He continues the subject in the next several articles.)
Instead, he discusses general reasons why ratifying the Constitution makes sense for the people of the United States as a natural progression.
If you have not yet read our review of Federalist #1, I recommend you do so before reading #2.
Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence
October 31, 1787
John Jay was recruited by Alexander Hamilton based on his experience working with the Continental Congress, most notably his time as Minister to Spain. Based on this experience, Jay was one of the most knowledgeable Americans on matters of foreign affairs available (as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were still in Europe and Benjamin Franklin was very, very old).
The first thing one notices when reading this Paper is how misleading the title seems. Jay doesn’t mention foreign policy once.
Instead, Jay directs his attention to the history of the United States, the makeup of its people, and the nation’s seemingly natural move toward Union.
Early on, Paper #2 we see the following quote:
“…Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.”
While at first glance this argument has significant truth to it, the statement above leaves out significant details.
First and foremost…slavery.
To his credit, Jay was an early abolitionist and a founder of the New York Manumission Society which would soon thereafter eliminate slavery in his home State. However, he ignores this enormous group of people when he claims Americans all have similar ancestry.
This omission becomes less surprising when recalling that this is the same man who once said, “…those who own the country ought to govern it.” The implication is, to me, that Jay is talking strictly about the background of his readers. These readers are the very people one would expect to lead and, therefore, their ancestry are the only ones that might matter in this context.
As for his targeted audience, Jay is overlooking the fact that large swaths of citizens had come from several different European countries, themselves with different customs and languages. Additionally, those who were raised in the colonies would have had a very different upbringing than people who immigrated more recently.
Lastly, Jay considers the Founders to be of the same religion. While it is true the Founders came primarily from different denominations of Christianity, John ignores just how significant the differences really were. This is particularly strange as he is not only forgetting about the State by State divides, but even the disagreements within New York in the previous thirty years.
In what I would consider a better argument, Jay displays the natural movement toward union between the States by pointing to the recently completed Revolutionary War.
Specifically, Jay references the First Continental Congress.
He points out that the American Revolution did not truly begin until all the colonies sent representatives to Philadelphia to work together, to form a union. This cooperation is the essence of the United States and, therefore, the proposed Constitution is the only logical government for the nation.
He continues by reinforcing a notion discussed in Federalist #1, that Anti-Federalists were well-meaning but misguided. Jay, however, compares Anti-Federalists to the people who dismissed the First Continental Congress as a bad idea, stating:
“That body recommended certain measures to their constituents, and the event proved their wisdom; yet it is fresh in our memories how soon the press began to teem with pamphlets and weekly papers against those very measures.“
In essence, Jay is suggesting to the reader that they should listen to the wise men who attended the Constitutional Convention just as they did the delegates who attended the First Continental Congress.
Subliminally, he is comparing Anti-Federalists to Loyalists. Although this is a stretch, it is not dissimilar to tactics still employed today by the 24-hour news networks, using a partial similarity to associate a political opponent with someone or something all Americans agree is wrong.
In conclusion, Federalist #2 makes two main points, both of which suggest the need to ratify the proposed Constitution.
First, that the people (or at least, the leaders) of the several States all have similar ancestry and religion.
Second, that the Union of these States into one nation is a natural transition.
For this author, the latter argument is significantly stronger than the former. Anti-Federalists of the time would have had an easier time debating the differences between the people than the natural inclination for Union.
Truthfully, it is a bit surprising this is where the Federalist began. As we will see in the coming weeks, however, their arguments grow stronger over time.
John Jay was just two years away from becoming the First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Soon after him would be John Rutledge and John Marshall (lots of Johns), so give their articles a read if that is interesting to you.
I am recommending the book ‘John Jay’ (affiliate link below) as it is one of the best biographies of a Founder I have read. It is think but don’t let that scare you. Jay is one of the MOST underappreciated Founders and this book does a great job of displaying the extent of his importance. If you read any bio of a Founder, make it this one.
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