Founding the nation

Reading Catherine Holland‘s The Body Politic (excerpted here) has prompted me to pick through, leisurely, The Federalist Papers, which I had been familiar with only secondhand. The contributions of Madison and, especially, Hamilton are well known of course, as today they are still much analyzed, passionately debated, and praised for their genius (for good or bad, depending on the praiser’s perspective). Those two were mostly concerned with “domestic” and “internal” matters, relations within the state, especially with devising a centralized constitution to ensure a more perfect government that would create citizenship along racial and gender lines, act as a buffer to the state apparatus, and, eventually, create conditions for a program of colonial expansion. The much less famous John Jay, however, was more interested in foreign relations, relations between states–his sole contribution to the Papers was entitled “Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence.” If Madison and Hamilton focused on proving the necessity of and on forming the ideal national citizenry and its relationship to the state, Jay set the stage for their deliberations by showing that the nation is an act of violence, that the border is a site of permanent war:

The history of Great Britain is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted, and it gives us many useful lessons. We may profit by their experience without paying the price which it cost them. Although it seems obvious to common sense that the people of such an island should be but one nation, yet we find that they were for ages divided into three, and that those three were almost constantly embroiled in quarrels and wars with one another. Notwithstanding their true interest with respect to the continental nations was really the same, yet by the arts and policy and practices of those nations, their mutual jealousies were perpetually kept inflamed, and for a long series of years they were far more inconvenient and troublesome than they were useful and assisting to each other.

Should the people of America divide themselves into three or four nations, would not the same thing happen? Would not similar jealousies arise, and be in like manner cherished? Instead of their being “joined in affection” and free from all apprehension of different “interests,” envy and jealousy would soon extinguish confidence and affection, and the partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America, would be the only objects of their policy and pursuits. Hence, like most other BORDERING nations, they would always be either involved in disputes and war, or live in the constant apprehension of them.


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