The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 11


In this paper, Alexander Hamilton continues the defense of union over disunion by outlining the benefits of the former for American commerce and naval power. He argues that in order for Americans to maintain an active commerce, by which he means the ability to control and shape the terms of its trade with foreign powers, America requires a union. He argues that only a union will be strong enough to secure favorable terms of trade with European powers.

He contends further that a united America will be able to pool its diverse resources in building a powerful navy. This navy would then help deter European powers from threatening American commercial interests and stealing American resources. It would furthermore give America significant influence in shaping the international politics of the West Indies where the European powers have significant commercial interests. Hamilton warns that were America to find itself in a state of disunion, the individual states would be too weak to resist the predatory behavior of European powers who would be able to impose unfair terms of trade on the Americans. America would ultimately be reduced to what Hamilton calls a “passive commerce,” which would enrich foreign powers at the expense of American merchants.


In this paper, Hamilton continues the Federalist’s argument in defense of union and a vigorous national government by exploring the consequences of union or disunion for American commerce and Naval power. These arguments were particularly compelling to the Federalist’s New York audience, since that state was one of the most active centers of commerce on the continent at that time. Although Hamilton focuses on the commercial and naval implications of the proposed form of government, this paper basically advances a very similar argument outlined in previous papers: a union will bring strength and enable America to resist foreign aggression, whereas a disunited America will be subject to European bullying.

Hamilton furthermore invokes the adventurous spirit of Americans, who are, Hamilton implies, inherently commercial in their outlook. To a significant extent, Hamilton is seeking to convince his audience to support the Constitution by appealing to their financial interests. New Yorkers should support the Constitution because only a united America can protect their ability to enjoy favorable terms of trade.

However, Hamilton takes this argument beyond purely pecuniary interests by portraying Europeans as arrogantly subjecting the peoples of Asia, Africa, and America to domination and economic exploitation. He draws on the notion of American exceptionalism and calls on his countrymen “to vindicate the honor of the human race” by standing up to European predation. He concludes by warning that, were Americans to become disunited, they would become just another victim of European imperialism.