The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 2


In one of the few articles written by John Jay, the author begins by stating two facts of political life: some form of government is necessary in a society and all forms of government must be granted sufficient power to regulate conflict and administer the laws. The people grant these powers. For Jay, any establishment of government implies that the people grant the government certain rights that they formerly reserved to only themselves. Given this background, the American people must decide what form of government will best protect their safety and interests. The choice before them is between uniting under one national government or becoming separate states. Clearly Jay believes the first is the better option.

Jay continues that there is no longer a common consensus that America's prosperity depends on being firmly united. At the time of writing, some politicians (with increasing amount of supporters) argued that the country should not have a central government, and should instead exist as separate sovereign states. Jay's aim is to answer this argument. First, he contends that the country is already united in several natural ways. The geography of the beautiful land suggests that we remain a united people because the navigable streams and rivers, which encourage transportation and trade, connect the states. More importantly, he argues that the people worship the same God, come from the same land, speak the same language, have similar manners and customs, and believe in the same principles of government.

For Jay, however, the recently fought Revolutionary War was the main reason to stay united. When the decision was made to form a national government, the states were in a period of crisis.­ Jay eloquently describes how, by necessity, the government was hastily formed. Those Articles of Confederation no longer meet the needs of the new country, and given the circumstances surrounding its inception this is not surprising. Jay believes that the United States is fortunate that intelligent men realize the necessity of forming a government now, before rebellions become out of hand. The Constitutional Convention was composed of extraordinary men who deliberated for four months, unwed by power and free from corrupting influences. Their remarkable plan reflects the quality of their deliberations.

Jay concludes that it is significant that this plan is recommended and not imposed. He explains that the framers do not ask for blind acceptance, but rather want sober consideration, equal to the importance of the subject. John Jay concludes by noting that his observation is that the majority of the people are for the new Constitution. Men in their midst who will profit from the separation of the states should not be allowed to "put the continues of the Union in the utmost jeopardy."


In this essay, John Jay deals with general arguments that favor a united nation, rather than breaking up and relying on the sovereignty of individual states. Like many of the Federalist Papers, elements within this essay make it much more than merely propaganda in a newspaper; it is a philosophical work on human nature. As Jay describes the reason that government exists at all and the theory regarding natural rights, he transcends his purpose and makes the work valuable on a philosophical level, and more than a simple defense of the Constitution.

In order to fully comprehend Jay's argument against the desolation of a national government and the sovereignty of states, one must understand the political climate of this period. As the Articles of Confederation were failing, men were not optimistic about the outcome of the fledgling country. Instead, they were asking questions such as: "Had the Revolution been a mistake from the beginning? Had the blood and treasurer of Americans spent in seven years of war against England ironically produced republican systems in which rich and poor New Englanders must engage in bloody warfare against each other? Had Independence merely guaranteed a structure in which Virginians and Pennsylvanian would cut each others throats until one conquered the other or some foreign crown conquered both?"

It was under this fear that the Constitution was developed, and it was with these fears still facing the nation that Hamilton and his partners set out in convincing the nation that the Constitution of the Convention of 1787 was the best possible course for preserving liberty and republicanism in a united nation. His rhetoric concerning the decease of the country, in the conclusion of this essay, therefore, is not merely a scare tactic, as modern readers might interpret, but rather a realistic fear given the political situation in the young country.

It is important to note some of the beliefs and ideals of John Jay, as Federalist #2 is one of the few federalist papers that he wrote (due to sickness, he wrote only 2-5 and 64). Aside from being a strong believer in free government, Jay was a promoter of peace within the United States. As early as 1779, he regretted that Congress, being instituted mainly for the purpose of opposing the tyranny of Britain and for establishing independence, had no authority to interfere in the particular quarrels of the states. Two years later, he continued this philosophy by criticizing the constitution of Massachusetts for describing the state "as being in New England, as well as in America," and wrote "perhaps it would be better if these distinctions were permitted to die away." His biographer relates that Jay even rejoiced that various families were intermarrying with those of other states, because this was conducive to friendship among the states. This essay, therefore, is a natural outgrowth of a long-lived philosophy. Jay was therefore a natural collaborator with Alexander Hamilton.