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Letter #3 – John Jay
To the People of the State of New York:
IT IS not a new observation that the people of any country (if, like the Americans, they are intelligent and well informed) seldom adopt and steadily persist for many years in a mistaken opinion regarding their interests. Naturally that consideration tends to create respect for the opinion, which the people of America have so long and uniformly held, of the importance of their continuing firmly united under one federal government, vested with enough powers for all general and national purposes.
The more I consider and investigate the reasons which appear to have created this opinion, the more I become convinced they are persuasive and conclusive.
Among the many objectives to which a wise and free people find it necessary to focus on, that of providing for their SAFETY seems to be the first. The SAFETY of the people is no doubt connected to many circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively.
At this time, I only want to consider it as it relates to security for the preservation of peace and tranquility, as well as against the dangers from FOREIGN ARMS AND INFLUENCE, and as from similar dangers arising from domestic causes. We should discuss Foreign Arms and Influence first. Therefore, let’s examine whether the people are incorrect in their opinion that a polite Union, under an efficient national government, gives them the best security against HOSTILITIES from overseas.
The number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world will always be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, regardless if real or imagined, which provoke or invite them. If this remark is fair-minded it is useful to ask whether so many JUST causes of war are as likely to be given by UNITED AMERICA as by DISUNITED America; because if it turns out United America will likely give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Union tends to keep the people in a state of peace with other nations.
The JUST causes of war, for the most part, come from either violation of treaties or from direct violence. America has already formed treaties with no fewer than six foreign nations and all of them, except Prussia, are seafaring military and are able to harass and hurt us. America also has extensive trading and business with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and with the last two we are neighbors.
It is of the utmost importance to the peace of America that she observe the laws of nations toward all of these powers, and to me it appears evident that this will be more perfectly and timely done by one national government than it could be by either thirteen separate States or by three or four confederacies.
Because once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only agree to serve, but will generally be appointed to manage it. Although towns or country may place men in State assemblies, senates, courts of justice or executive departments, even more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government, especially since it will have the widest selection of candidates and not have lack of good choices like some states. Therefore, the Administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national government will be more wise, systematical and judicious than those of individual States and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations as well as more SAFE for us.
Because, under the national government, treaties and articles of treaties, as well as the laws of nations, will always be presented in one sense and executed in the same manner, whereas judgments on the same points and questions in thirteen States or in three or four confederacies will not always agree or be consistent, and as well from the variety of independent courts and judges appointed by different and independent governments as from the different local laws and interests which may affect and influence them. The wisdom of the Convention, in committing such questions to the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by and responsible only to one national government, cannot be too highly recommended.
Because the likelihood of present loss or advantage may often tempt the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice, but those temptations, not reaching the other States and consequently having little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will fail to succeed, and good faith and justice will be preserved. The case of the treaty of peace with Britain adds great weight to this reasoning.
Because even if the governing party in a State is inclined to resist such temptations, although such temptations may and usually do result from circumstances peculiar to the State and may affect a great number of the people, the governing party may not always be able, even if willing, to prevent the injustice to be considered, or to punish the aggressors. But the national government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be persuaded to commit the wrong themselves nor want power or tendency to prevent or punish its commission by others.
So far, as either planned or accidental violations of treaties and laws of nations provide JUST causes of war, they are less likely to be realized under one general government than under several lesser ones, and in that respect the one government most satisfies the SAFETY of the people.
As to those just causes of war which begin from a direct and unlawful violence, it appears equally clear to me that one good national government provides vastly more security against dangers of that type than can be obtained from any other accommodation.
Because such brutalities are more usually caused by the passions and interests of a “part” than of the “whole” of one or two States, rather than of the Union. Not a single Indian war has yet to be caused by aggressions of the present federal government, feeble as it is, but there are several instances of Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual States who were either unable or unwilling to prevent or punish offenses, having given instances to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.
The areas of Spanish and British territories, bordering on some States and not on others, naturally confines the causes of disagreement more immediately to the borderers. The bordering States, if any, will be those who, under the urge of sudden irritation and a quick sense of apparent interest or injury, will be most likely by direct violence to provoke war with these nations, and nothing can so completely prevent that danger as a national government whose wisdom and judgment will not be compromised by the passions which motivate the interested parties.
Not only will the national government provide fewer causes of war, but that government will be better powered to accommodate and settle them peacefully. They will be more pleasant and cool, and in that respect, along with others, will be better positioned to act deliberately than the offending State. The pride of states, as well as of men, naturally encourages them to justify all their actions and opposes their correcting errors and offenses. The national government, in such cases, will not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and honesty to consider and decide on the means most proper to remove them from the troubles that threaten them.
Besides, it is well known that acknowledgments, explanations, and compensations are often accepted as satisfactory when coming from a strong united nation, which would be rejected as unsatisfactory if offered by a State or confederacy of little consideration or power.In the year 1685, the state of Genoa, having offended Louis XIV, attempted to appease him. He demanded that they should send their chief judge accompanied by four of their senators to FRANCE to ask his pardon and receive his terms. They were compelled to submit to it for the sake of peace. Would he ever have demanded or have received the same humiliation from Spain or Britain, or any other POWERFUL nation?