The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 8


Hamilton begins this Federalist paper by assuming that he has proven to his readers that the union provides safety from foreign attack, and wants to proceed and address some of the other consequences of the dissolution of the states. Of paramount interest to Hamilton is "war between the states," something this author believes would be "accompanied with much greater distresses than it commonly is in those countries, where regular military establishments have long obtained."

While Europe has many fortifications against military advance, the United States has none. Instead, the United States has a wide-open frontier, and geography that would create a situation where the "populous states would with little difficulty overrun their less populous neighbors." War would consequently be more deadly than in Europe. Because of this fact, standing armies would soon become a necessity and standing armies, regardless of the form of government, "compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security, to institutions, which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights."

The weaker states would have the first need of standing armies, an institution Hamilton despises, and would thus, in Hamilton's opinion, make the state governments evolve towards monarchy, because a strong executive is necessary during war. The small states, in Hamilton's suppositions, would have more power over the larger states, and the larger states would result to the same methods of defense that the smaller states first resorted to.

Next, Hamilton distinguishes between countries with military establishments who are frequently subject to invasion, and states that do not deal with this dilemma. A country that is not subject to invasion has no excuse for a standing army, while a country constantly under the threat of an invasion has an excuse for an army. In a country where there is a standing army because of the constant threat of invasion, people's liberties are infringed upon. Great Britain is a country in the first situation. Because of the sea insulating it from attack, the people would never stand for a standing army, and thus, liberty is defended. Hamilton concludes, "if we are wise enough to preserve the union, we may for ages enjoy an advantage similar to that of an insulated situation," thus holding off Europe and her colonies and putting all of the states at the greatest advantage possible.


It is interesting that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay (but most of all Hamilton, as the instigator of this project) chose the safety of the nation as the first topic of discussion in the Federalist Papers. While this subject may seem repetitive and almost absurd to the modern day reader, who reads the Federalist Papers for entirely different reasons, this was the main thrust behind the people's ratification of the Constitution. Reading this paper it becomes clear that this was originally intended as a work of propaganda, not a philosophic discourse.

The main thrust behind this paper is that the United States will prevent internal wars by becoming united as a country, rather than falling apart and battling each other. The analogies between Europe and the United States are interesting to ponder. Hamilton's belief that the United States would only be insulated from war by joining together leaves an analogous question: would Europe have suffered as many deadly wars had they become a united country? While this is impossible to answer because the parallels and opportunities were never provided, as well as the fact that the barrier of language and culture was much more of a problem, it is worth noting as an intellectual consideration.

Notice the reoccurrence of the founding father's reliance on ancient Greece as an example. Although Greece does not fit the paradigm that Hamilton is drawing, he feels it is important enough to note why Greece was an exception. In The Federalist Papers, however, the founding fathers were deliberate ­in using experience as their guide. John Adams wrote in 1786, "the History of Greece should be to our countrymen what is called in many families on the Continent, a boudoir, an octagonal apartment in a house, with a full-length mirror on every side, and another in the ceiling. The use of it is, when any of the young ladies, or young gentleman if you will, are at any times a little out of humor, they may retire to a place where in whatever direction they turn their eyes, they see their own faces and figures multiplied without end. By thus beholding their own beautiful persons and seeing, at the same time, the deformity brought upon them by their anger, they may recover their tempers and their charms together." Such was the Founding Father's reverence for the history of Greece, something not duplicated in our own culture.