Summary and Analysis
Section I: General Introduction: Federalist No. 6 (Hamilton)
Turning from foreign dangers to a disunited America, this essay took up dangers of a "still more alarming kind, those [that would] in all probability flow from dissentions between the States themselves, and from domestic factions and convulsions."
In spite of all historical experience to the contrary, there were still some "visionary or designing men" (Anti-Federalists) who argued that the American states, even though disunited, would live at peace with one another. They contended that the "genius of republics . . . 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." Was this the fact? asked Hamilton, and answered No!
Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter? . . . Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities? . . .
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? . . . Has not the spirit of commerce in many instances administered new incentives to the appetite both for the one and the other?
Rome, Carthage, Venice, and Holland were cited to buttress the point that these republics had not been any less warlike than the monarchies of their day. In Britain, for example, commerce had been for ages the predominant pursuit, with the result that few nations "have been more frequently engaged in war;" and such wars had, "in numerous instances proceeded from the people. There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars."
Away with the reveries that were seducing Americans to believe that, if divided, the several confederacies could peacefully coexist! Hamilton concluded by quoting from an "intelligent writer," l'Abbe de Mably, who in his Principes des Negociations laid it down as an unchallenged political axiom that "vicinity, or nearness of situation," makes nations "natural enemies."
Picking up the text here, Hamilton developed the argument that dismemberment of the Union would present another danger of a "still more alarming kind": the danger of "domestic factions and convulsions."
Here Hamilton's fundamental principles of political philosophy came to the fore, though not too openly, being slightly masked. Anything smacking of democracy was an anathema to him; democracy meant tumult and "convulsions." Even republics were suspect in his eyes. They were apt "to waste themselves in ruinous contentions." Had commercial republics, "like ours," been less addicted to war than monarchies?
Taking a shot at "visionary or designing men," meaning the Anti-Federalists, Hamilton denied their view that commerce had "a tendency to soften the manners of men and to extinguish those inflammable humours which have so often kindled into wars." That was not so. Commerce merely increased the appetite for wealth and dominion, as most clearly evidenced in the history of Great Britain, a great commercial nation, which had been "more frequently engaged in war" than almost any other. Americans should put away 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."