Alexander Hamilton Papers

The Federalist No. 6, [14 November 1787]

The Federalist No. 61

[New York, November 14, 1787]

To the People of the State of New-York.

THE three last numbers of this Paper2 have been dedicated to an enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations. I shall now proceed to delineate dangers of a different, and, perhaps, still more alarming kind, those which will in all probability flow from dissentions between the States themselves, and from domestic factions and convulsions. These have been already in some instances slightly anticipated, but they deserve a more particular and more full investigation.

A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt, that3 if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies,4 the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. 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. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighbourhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.

The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. There are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society: Of this description are the love of power or the desire of preeminence and dominion—the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety. There are others which have a more circumscribed, though an equally operative influence, within their spheres: Such are the rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations. And there are others, not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin intirely in private passions; in the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members. Men of this class, whether the favourites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquility to personal advantage, or personal gratification.

The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentments of a prostitute, (A) at the expence of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished and destroyed, the city of the Samnians. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the Megarensians, (B) another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an accomplice in a supposed theft of the statuary Phidias, (C) or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be brought against him for dissipating the funds of the State in the purchase of popularity, (D) or from a combination of all these causes, was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war, distinguished in the Grecian annals by the name of the Pelopponesian war; which, after various vicissitudes, intermissions and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.

The ambitious Cardinal,9 who was Prime Minister to Henry VIIIth. permitting his vanity to aspire to the Tripple-Crown, (E) entertained hopes of succeeding in the acquisition of that splendid prize by the influence of the Emperor Charles Vth. To secure the favour and interest of this enterprising and powerful Monarch, he precipitated England into a war with France,11 contrary to the plainest dictates of Policy, and at the hazard of the safety and independence, as well of the Kingdom over which he presided by his councils, as of Europe in general—For if there ever was a Sovereign who bid fair to realise the project of universal monarchy it was the Emperor Charles Vth, of whose intrigues Wolsey was at once the instrument and the dupe.

The influence which the bigottry of one female, (F) the petulancies of another, (G) and the cabals of a third, (H) had in the co[n]temporary policy, ferments and pacifications of a considerable part of Europe are topics that have been too often descanted upon not to be generally known.

To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the production of great national events, either foreign or domestic, according to their direction would be an unnecessary waste of time. Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from which they are to be drawn will themselves recollect a variety of instances; and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will not stand in need of such lights, to form their opinion either of the reality or extent of that agency. Perhaps however a reference, tending to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves. If SHAYS had not been a desperate debtor it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.15

But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular, there are still to be found visionary, or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the States, though dismembered and alienated from each other. The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men and to extinguish those inflammable humours which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord.

Is it not16 (we may ask these projectors in politics)17 the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit? If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found, that momentary passions and immediate interests have a more active and imperious controul over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice? Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter? Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships and desires of unjust acquisition that affect nations as well as kings? Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities? Is it not well known that their determinations are often governed by a few individuals, in whom they place confidence, and18 are of course liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals? Has commerce hitherto done any thing more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives, since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned b[y] the cupidity of territory or dominion? Has not the spirit of commerce in many instances administered new incentives to the appetite both for the one and for the other?—Let experience the least fallible guide of human opinions be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.

Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were all Republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighbouring Monarchies of the same times. Sparta was little better than a well regulated camp; and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.

Carthage, though a commercial Republic, was the aggressor in the very war that ended in her destruction. Hannibal had carried her arms into the heart of Italy and to the gates of Rome, before Scipio, in turn, gave him an overthrow in the territories of Carthage and made a conquest of the Commonwealth.

Venice in latter times figured more than once in wars of ambition; ’till becoming an object of terror to the other Italian States, Pope Julius the Second found means to accomplish that formidable league, (I) which gave a deadly blow to the power and pride of this haughty Republic.

The Provinces of Holland, ’till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes, took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe. They had furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea; and were among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Lewis XIV.

In the government of Britain the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature. Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country.19 Few nations, nevertheless,20 have been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars, in which that kingdom has been engaged, have in numerous instances proceeded from the people.

There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars. The cries of the nation and the importunities of their representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchs into war, or continued them in it contrary to their inclinations, and, sometimes, contrary to the real interests of the State. In that memorable struggle for superiority, between the rival Houses of Austria and Bourbon which so long kept Europe in a flame, it is well known that the antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition, or rather the avarice of a favourite leader, (K), protracted the war21 beyond the limits marked out by sound policy and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the Court.

The wars of these two last mentioned nations have in a great measure grown out of commercial considerations—The desire of supplanting and the fear of being supplanted either in particular branches of traffic or in the general advantages of trade and navigation [and sometimes even the more culpable desire of sharing in the commerce of other nations, without their consent.

The last war but two between Britain and Spain sprang from the attempts of the English merchants, to prosecute an illicit trade with the Spanish main.22 These unjustifiable practices on their part produced severities on the part of the Spaniards, towards the subjects of Great Britain, which were not more justifiable; because they exceeded the bounds of a just retaliation, and were chargeable with inhumanity and cruelty. Many of the English who were taken on the Spanish coasts were sent to dig in the mines of Potosi; and by the usual progress of a spirit of resentment, the innocent were after a while confounded with the guilty in indiscriminate punishment. The complaints of the merchants kindled a violent flame throughout the nation, which soon after broke out in the house of commons, and was communicated from that body to the ministry. Letters of reprisal were granted and a war ended, which in its consequences overthrew all the alliances that but twenty years before had been formed, with sanguine expectations of the most beneficial fruits.]23

From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries, which would seduce us into an24 expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation? Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections,25 weaknesses and26 evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?

Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit have sunk—let the inconveniences felt every where from a lax and ill administration of government—let the revolt of a part of the State of North-Carolina—27 the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania28 and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusettes declare—!29

So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the tenets of those, who endeavour to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord and hostility between the States, in the event of disunion, that it has from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom in politics, that vicinity, or nearness of situation, constitutes nations natural enemies. An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect—“NEIGHBOURING NATIONS (says he) are naturally ENEMIES of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighbourhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy, which disposes all States to aggrandise themselves at the expence of their neighbours.” (L) This passage, at the same time points out the EVIL and suggests the REMEDY.


The [New York] Independent Journal; or, the General Advertiser, November 14, 1787. This essay appeared on November 15, 1787, in The [New York] Daily Advertiser and on November 16, 1787, in New-York Packet.

2“work” substituted for “Paper” in Hopkins description begins The Federalist On The New Constitution. By Publius. Written in 1788. To Which is Added, Pacificus, on The Proclamation of Neutrality. Written in 1793. Likewise, The Federal Constitution, With All the Amendments. Revised and Corrected. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by George F. Hopkins, at Washington’s Head, 1802). description ends .

3“A man” through “that” omitted in Hopkins.

4“a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, who can seriously doubt that” inserted here in Hopkins.

5The edition of Plutarch used by H probably was Plutarch’s Lives in six volumes: Translated from the Greek. With Notes, Explanatory and Critical, from Dacier and others. To which is prefix’d the Life of Plutarch, Written by Dryden (London, Printed for J. and R. Tonson in the Strand, 1758). The article on “Pericles,” is in Volume II, page 34.

6Ibid., 40–42. This note is omitted in Hopkins.

7Ibid., 42. This note is omitted in Hopkins.

8Ibid., 43–44. This note is omitted in Hopkins.

9Thomas Wolsey (c. 1475–1530), the English Cardinal and statesman.

10This note is omitted in Hopkins.

11H is referring to the alliance which Wolsey concluded with Charles V in 1521 against France. Among other things, Wolsey promised that England would invade France the following summer with 40,000 men.

12Madame de Maintenon was secretly married to Louis XIV of France in 1684. “The bigottry” to which H is referring was probably Madame de Maintenon’s successful attempt to persuade Louis XIV to persecute the Huguenots.

13The Duchess of Marlborough, wife of the great soldier John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, was confidante and adviser to Queen Anne who acceded to the throne of England in March, 1702. The imperious manners of the Duchess, as well as her political activities, alienated the Queen, and the two friends became bitter foes. The dismissal of the Duchess from her various offices came in 1710 and was shortly followed by the fall of the Duke.

14Madame de Pompadour acquired a preponderant influence in the French government during twenty years (1745–1765) as the mistress of Louis XV. Because Louis XV took no interest in choosing his ministers, they were appointed or chosen through court intrigues and cabals in which Madame de Pompadour played a prominent role.

15Shays’ Rebellion of 1786 and early 1787 in central and western Massachusetts expressed the discontent which was widespread throughout New England during the economic depression following the Revolution. Led by Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran and officeholder of Pelham, Massachusetts, the insurgents resorted to armed efforts to intimidate and close the courts to prevent action against debtors. By February, 1787, state troops, under the leadership of Major General Benjamin Lincoln, had suppressed the rebellion.

16“Is it not” omitted in Hopkins.

17“whether it is not” inserted at this point in Hopkins.

18“that they” inserted at this point in Hopkins.

19“yet” inserted at this point in Hopkins.

20“nevertheless” omitted in Hopkins.

21The reference is to the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1714. The Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of the united armies of England and Holland, refused in 1709 to accept the plea of the King of France for peace, despite the opposition of the Tory party in England to the continuance of the French war.

22H is referring to the war between England and Spain which began in 1739. By a contract auxiliary to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, England was given a monopoly of supplying slaves to Spanish America and was allowed to send one ship a year to trade at Porto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama. The English anchored only the one ship but resupplied it from other ships anchored nearby and thus sent a steady stream of supplies into Spanish America. Individual Englishmen, maintaining no pretense of legality, merely tried to avoid the Spanish coast guard.

23The material in brackets did not appear in the newspaper. It is found in McLean description begins The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. McLean, 1788). description ends and Hopkins.

H’s reference to the overthrow of “all the alliances that but twenty years before had been formed” is to the breakup of the continental balance of power established by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

24“the” substituted for “an” in Hopkins.

25“the” inserted at this point in McLean and Hopkins.

26“the” inserted at this point in McLean and Hopkins.

27“The revolt of a part of the State of North-Carolina” refers to the establishment in 1784 of a separate state, Franklin, by the inhabitants of four western counties of North Carolina. The opposition of North Carolina and internal dissensions within the infant state led at the end of 1787 to the submission of the inhabitants of Franklin to the authority of North Carolina.

28“The late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania” had occurred in 1787 in the Wyoming Valley, an area in which contention and violence were not new. The disturbances to which H is referring are best described in a message, dated October 27, 1787, from the president and the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania to the General Assembly:


“SINCE the last session there has been a renewal of the disturbances at Wyoming; some restless spirits there having imagined a project of withdrawing the inhabitants of that part of this state, and some part of the state of New-York, from their allegiance, and of forming them into a new state, to be carried into effect by an armed force, in defiance of the laws of the two states. Having intelligence of this, we caused one of the principal conspirators to be apprehended, and secured in the gaol of this city—and another who resided in the state of New York, at our request, has been taken up by the authority of that government. The papers found on this occasion fully discover the designs of these turbulent people, and some of their letters are herewith laid before you.… To protect the civil officers of our new county of Luzerne in the exercise of their respective functions, we have ordered a body of militia to hold themselves in readiness to march thither, which will be done, unless some future circumstances, and informations from those parts, may make it appear unnecessary.” (Minutes of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1787], 8.)

Four days later, on October 31, 1787, the Assembly “Resolved, As in the opinion of this House a permanent force of enlisted troops may be necessary to secure the peace of the county of Luzerne, that the Supreme Executive Council be authorized and requested to obtain permission of Congress to raise any number of troops for the aforesaid purpose, not exceeding five hundred men” (ibid., 14).

29See note 15.

30The quotation is from Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, Des Principes des Négociations, pour servir d’introduction au Droit Public d l’Europe, fondé sur les Traités (Amsterdam, 1757). It is more easily found in Collection Complète Des Œuvres de L’Abbé de Mably (Paris, 1794–1795), V, 93.

The passage of which this is a translation reads:

“Des états voisins sont naturellement ennemis les uns des autres, à moins que leur foiblesse commune ne les force, à se liguer pour former une république fédérative, et que leur constitution, semblable ou équivalente à celle des Suisses, ne prévienne les différends qu’occasionne le voisinage, et n’étouffe cette jalousie secrète qui porte tous les états a s’accroître au préjudice de leurs voisins.”

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

(A) ASPASIA, vide PLUTARCH’S life of Pericles.5

(B) – – – – – – Idem.6

(C) – – Idem. Phidias was supposed to have stolen some public gold with the connivance of Pericles for the embelishment of the statue of Minerva.7

(D) Idem.8

(E) Worn by the Popes.10

(F) Madame De Maintenon12

(G) Dutchess of Marlborough.13

(H) Madame De Pompadoure.14

(I) The LEAGUE OF CAMBRAY, comprehending the Emperor, the King of France, the King of Arragon, and most of the Italian Princes and States.

(K) The Duke of Marlborough.

(L) Vide Principes des Negotiations par L’Abbe de Mably.30

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