The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation


Such a Sovereign, however theoretically responsible, cannot be effectually so in its Departments and Officers, without adequate Judicatories.

I therefore promise myself Nothing very desireable from any Change which does not divide the Sovereignty into its proper Departments. Let Congress legislate, let others execute, let others judge. …

A Convention is in Contemplation, and I am glad to find your Name among those of its intended Members. …

No Alteration in the Government should I think be made, nor if attempted will easily take place, unless deduceable from the only Source of just authority— The People .…

Jay had made no secret of his Federalist views, and the Antifederalists of New York made sure that he was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Like everyone else, he was kept in the dark about what was going on, since the convention strictly observed the rule of secrecy. But once the text of the Constitution was disclosed, Jay became one of its foremost champions. Collaborating with Hamilton and Madison, he wrote five of the famous Federalist letters that appeared in the New York press under the pseudonym of Publius .

Jay’s first contribution appeared in print on October 31, 1787 four days after the initial essay, which was written by Hamilton . In Federalist No. 2 Jay diagnosed the weaknesses in the arguments of those Antifederalists who preferred a division of the states into distinct confederacies or sovereignties to a union of them all. Why ignore the geographical advantages which served to unite the thirteen states? Jay asked. Why deny the bonds of common language, religion, customs, and attachment to identical principles of government for which Americans had fought side by side through a long and bloody war? “This country and this people,” he remarked in an eloquent passage, “seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.”

Four days later, on November 3, Publius once again appeared in the press as the author of the third Federalist letter. If peace and security were America’s goal, then, Jay contended, a disunited America was more likely to provoke war than a united country. Indeed, military security depended on a strong and perpetual union .

Writing at a feverish pace. Jay rushed the fourth Federalist essay to the presses, and it appeared on November 7. Herein Jay turned from the problems of military security to the comparative commercial prospects of America under the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Reminding his readers that the Americans were the rivals of both the British and the French in the fisheries and of most European nations in the carrying trade, Jay showed how America challenged the trade monopolies that certain European powers sought to maintain in their commerce with China and India, and that it was to the interest of such powers (Britain and Holland were, of course, implied) to restrain American trade in these areas rather than to encourage it. Looking at the situation right on the American continent, Jay showed how Spain and Britain, in order to maintain their respective monopolies, continued to shut the Mississippi to American navigation and to exclude Americans from the St. Lawrence. Such grounds of friction might readily provide an envious foreign government with a pretext for war. Confronted by a united American government, however, a foreign power might have second thoughts about pursuing such a belligerent course .

Three days later, on November 10, Jay’s fifth Federalist essay appeared in New York’s Independent Journal; it was reprinted several days later in other New York papers, as the previous letters had been. Concentrating his fire on confederacies, Jay pointed to the small island of Britain which for centuries had been broken up and divided into three nations. Should the United States follow such a course and allow itself to be broken up into three or four confederacies, the most northern soon proving the most formidable and thereby provoking jealousy and animosity from the others?

Jay’s next and final contribution to the Federalist series did not appear in the New York press until March 7, 1788. It was labelled No. 63, but numbered “64” in the first collected edition, published by J. and A. McLean and corrected by Hamilton. During the interim between mid-November and early March, Jay appears to have been painfully crippled by arthritis, which kept him from more active collaboration with Hamilton and Madison. There are but two Federalist papers known to be extant in draft form, and both are in Jay’s hand. They are the fifth and the sixty-fourth. The original draft of the latter number, in a form considerably different from the published one, was uncovered by the Jay Papers researchers at the New-York Historical Society .