Upon reading the title of Federalist No. 6, Concerning Danger from War Between the States, I thought, “I’ll just give it a cursory read.” (I intend to read them all.) There are distinct groupings of the Federalist Papers. Some expend a good deal of effort explaining the Constitution, others, like 6 and 7, simply argue for its ratification, based on externals. Hence, I thought, “War Between the States?” … probably not so relevant to today. I changed my mind after I started reading.
State, in the context of the Federalist, actually means a nation state, rather than the current provincial/administrative subdivision usage it has in the US now. In this light, many of the arguments employed by Hamilton apply today. After all, the United States is a nation state.
Some of these arguments demonstrate Hamilton’s cynical (realistic) understanding of human nature, and by extension, of the nature of states. At the onset of No. 6, Hamilton explains that “a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, who can seriously doubt … (that states are prone to) 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.”
Among the “innumerable causes of hostility” Hamilton enumerates in No. 7, is “competitions of commerce.” But perhaps more interesting is his example of defaulting on debt as a catalyst for war. One of the failures of the Articles of Confederation was its inability to obtain funds from the states with which to repay the national debt accrued during the war with Britain. Hamilton points out that “Laws in violation of private contracts, as they amount to aggressions on the rights of those states, whose citizens are injured by them, may be considered as another probably source of hostility.”
One might argue that foreign entities holding our debt today would be no less injured if we default.
Regarding the “hostility” invoked between the states, Hamilton says: “…we may reasonably infer , that in similar cases, under other circumstances, a war, not of parchment, but of the sword, would chastise such atrocious breaches of moral obligation and social justice.”
Apparently, in Hamilton’s time the term social justice meant keeping your word, living up to your promises, and paying your debts.