Justifying a Strong, Centralized Government in Federalist No. 4

May 6, 2024   Joseph Kochanek

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As the essays of the Federalist Papers go, the argument of Federalist No. 4 is strikingly straightforward: it is a dangerous world, and a strong and centralized government, such as that created by the Constitution, is necessary to avoid these dangers.

Jay’s Focus on International Politics in Federalist No. 4

In describing the hazards facing the USA in international politics, Jay focused on two distinct challenges. The first concerned trade rivalries – and as described by Jay these seem difficult to avoid. There are wars that start just because of the misjudgments or petty intrigues of kings and queens, as Jay saw it, but even if those could be avoided, there would be other kinds of wars to be concerned about. The mere emergence of the USA as a state playing an important role in international trade would increase the likelihood of rivalry over trade and, potentially, conflict. And as he had in his previous essay, in Federalist No. 4 Jay thought that the “people of America” would prefer a unified government of the USA to protect against war: “Wisely, therefore, do they consider union and a good national government as necessary to put and keep them in SUCH A SITUATION as, instead of INVITING war, will tend to repress and discourage it.”

Strength of the USA as a Hedge against Foreign Influence

The emerging importance of the USA in trade in the late 1700s might have made conflict with other powers more likely, but Jay saw a different way in which the USA might be vulnerable to conflict. Jay was concerned that if the USA were divided into several parts, other powers might animate rivalries between and among the divided parts of the USA. Unity and strength in the USA would be a way to avoid such a danger.