Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States
For the Independent Journal Wednesday, November 14, 1787
By: Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton begins here with another assertion about the hearts of man. He says that we can’t just act as if there is not a multitude of possible motives for wars as men are ambitious, vindictitve, and rapacious. Experience throughout history proves that continuous harmony between neighbors would not continue.
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 in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.
He continues this theme with further examples of the causes of hostility – love of power, pride, jealousy. Even a desire of “equality and safety” as noble as those sound can be used to stir up hostility.
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 pre-eminence 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 entirely 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 favorites 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 tranquillity to personal advantage or personal gratification.
Hamilton begins to give some concrete examples of names and some of the things that caused conflicts.
The celebrated Pericles…
The ambitious cardinal, who was prime minister to Henry VIII….
For if there ever was a sovereign who bid fair to realize the project of universal monarchy, it was the Emperor Charles V., of whose intrigues Wolsey was at once the instrument and the dupe. The influence which the bigotry of one female, the petulance of another, and the cabals of a third, had in the contemporary policy, ferments, and pacifications, of a considerable part of Europe, are topics that have been too often descanted upon not to be generally known….
If Shays had not been a desperate debtor, it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.
Some would say that some sort of pacifism is a result of republics.
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 humors 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.
Regarding public assemblies, even they can be the subject of impulses. We need look no further than some of the “marches” that occur in our nation to see how violent they can be come. Hamilton makes a fantastic point, which we can even see today, in that often just a small group of people will be behind these inciting the passions of the crowds.
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, and are, of course, liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals?
He gives examples of 4 other republics. Athens and Carthage were, like America, commercial republics. But there was no shortage of wars then. Sparta and Rome were also constantly at war.
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 neighboring 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.
Hamilton now makes the argument that from looking at other similar countries from history as we have, that we can purge our minds of thinking that we would be much better in that regard just because of the type of government we hope to attempt.
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 an 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, weaknesses and 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?
He ends it with a quote from Vide on this matter.
An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect: “Neighboring 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 neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy which disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.”12 This passage, at the same time, points out the evil and suggests the remedy.
12 Vide “Principes des Negociations” par l’Abbé de Mably.