FEDERALIST PAPERS. -- JAY, John (1745-1829). Autograph draft manuscript of Federalist Number Four [ca. 7 November 1787]. 6pp., folio, foxed, some soiling. Extensive emendations and interlineations throughout in Jay’s hand. Wear at edges and creases catching portions of a few words.
THE ONLY SURVIVING MANUSCRIPT OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS IN PRIVATE HANDS, Jay’s draft of Number Four, urging national unity under the Constitution “split into three or four independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies…what a poor, pitiful figure will America make!”
This document gives us a unique and fascinating view into the composition of the most famous piece of advocacy in American history: one of the 85 essays penned by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison in support of the ratification of the new Constitution that emerged from the secret convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. This essay, number four in the series, is one of only four that survives, and the only one of that four not housed in a private institution.
John Jay, the Crises of the 1780s and the Federalist essays
No less an authority than George Washington thought the Federalist essays “will merit the Notice of Posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will always be interesting to mankind.” Posterity has borne him out. The work is universally regarded as “the classic commentary upon the American Federal system” (F. McDonald, Alexander Hamilton, p.107). Our respect for them can only increase when we realize the speed and pressure under which they were composed. This was not a law review treatise, but an urgent political argument, written for the newspapers so that the delegates for the New York State ratifying convention--just then being assembled--could read and become convinced of the need to adopt the new charter. The proposed Constitution went to the States for ratification at the end of September. Opponents of the charter had already taken to the press in the first weeks of October denouncing it. Alexander Hamilton decided a massive counter-attack in support of ratification was in order. He arranged for a series of essays to be published in Thomas Greenleaf’s Antifederalist newspaper, The Independent Journal, as well as in Samuel and John Loudon’s New York Packet.
Hamilton’s first essay put the stakes as nothing less than “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” He unceremoniously tossed the manuscript containing these immortal words to the Printer’s Devil for Thomas Greenleaf’s Independent Journal, who was waiting for it at Hamilton’s home on 26 October 1787. Federalist Number 1 appeared the next day. Hamilton then turned to John Jay to write the next and indeed most of the ensuing essays. Jay quickly wrote Numbers 2 through 5 by 7 November but then fell ill and Hamilton turned to Congressman James Madison of Virginia to pick up the slack while Jay recuperated. In the event, Jay would author only one more number, 64. It was all done at lightning pace. Madison would later recall “that, while the printer was putting into type parts of the number, the following part was under the pen and to be finished in time for the press…There was seldom time for even a perusal of the pieces by any but the writer before they were wanted at the press, and sometimes hardly by the writer himself.”
Hamilton’s choice of Jay as a collaborator was apt. Of the three eventual co-authors, Jay had by far the most extensive political experience. By 1787 he had already served his country in legislative, executive, diplomatic and judiciary capacities, first as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses where he sided with John Dickinson in seeking conciliation with Britain. But once Independence came he wholeheartedly supported it. When the Declaration was read out in New York City on 9 July, Jay, by then serving in the New York state legislature, drafted an eloquent response: “While we lament the cruel necessity which has rendered that measure unavoidable, we approve the same, and will, at the risk of our lives and fortunes, join with the other colonies in supporting it.” During the war, he helped draft New York’s new constitution; ran a spy ring in occupied New York City; helped bring cannon from Connecticut to Washington’s army in White Plains; served as chief justice of New York State’s Supreme Court in Kingston; and for nine months he was president of the Continental Congress before being dispatched to Madrid as America’s ambassador. In 1782 he joined Franklin in Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Peace with Britain.
In the difficult years of the mid-1780s, Jay was one of many leading Americans urging a revision of the nation’s governing compact. He had first-hand experience of its defects. When Britain refused to evacuate western forts under the terms of the 1783 Peace Treaty, they claimed the Americans breached the treaty first by their refusal to abide by the provisions for indemnifying loyalists. Jay investigated the charge, and found it to be true. In fact, he reported to Congress, New York and South Carolina were violating numerous provisions of the Treaty by prosecuting Tories and confiscating their property. There was nothing the Continental Congress could do about these State disruptions of the nation’s foreign affairs. “Our affairs seem to lead to some crisis,” he wrote George Washington on 27 June 1786, “some Revolution—something I cannot foresee, or conjecture.” Americans had pulled together during the Revolution because the common object was clear. But “the case is now altered—we are going and doing wrong” (Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, 4:130-131).
On 17 January 1787 he also offered Washington his notion of how the government should be changed. Like Madison and many others who would meet four months later at the Constitutional Convention, he had a three-part structure in mind: a Congress, a “Governor General” and a national judiciary. He thought the national government should have considerable powers, “the more the better,” relative to the States. But he was crystal clear about the authority for all these changes: “No alterations 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” (Ibid., 502-504).
Jay’s diplomatic experiences schooled him both in the cynical arts of diplomacy and the need for American strength. These lessons bore fruit in his clear-eyed analyses in the Federalist about America’s need to unify, speak with one voice abroad, and fortify against great power threats to their own shores. His first four essays all bore the title, “Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence.” A common theme running through all four is that America was already united geographically and culturally, and any political fracturing would be unnatural as well as ill-advised. “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people,” he writes in Number 2, and it “should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.” Number 2 also contains a vigorous defense of the Constitutional Convention. Number 3 argues how a strong Union will not only protect America from the threat of “foreign arms and influence,” but remove the likelihood that individual States could provoke unnecessary and unjust wars that would needlessly endanger their fellow Americans. In Number 5 he would examine the historical precedents of Britain and Spain and how internal divisions damaged both nations. Later, in Number 64, he would expound upon the Senate’s powers regarding treaty ratification.
Jay’s Federalist No. 4
Here, in Number 4, Jay turns to the immediate threats of war on America’s frontiers. He shows how a united nation under the Constitution will better allow the American people to deal with the great European powers and conduct a strong and consistent diplomacy. He begins by reminding his readers that America exists as a lone republic in a world of dangerous and volatile monarchies. “Nations in general,” he writes, “will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.”
American economic expansion into the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley could provoke violent conflict with not just one but three European powers, Britain, France and Spain. “With them and with most other European nations we are rivals in navigation and the carrying trade; and we shall deceive ourselves if we suppose that any of them will rejoice to see it flourish; for, as our carrying trade cannot increase without in some degree diminishing theirs, it is more their interest, and will be more their policy, to restrain than to promote it.” If the 13 states remained separate, uncooperative entities, wouldn’t that just invite aggressive meddling on the part of the Europeans? “Wisely, therefore,” the framers and supporters of the Constitution, “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. That situation consists in the best possible state of defense, and necessarily depends on the government, the arms, and the resources of the country.”
If war came, a strong Union could wage it better than a weak confederacy. “One government can collect and avail itself of the talents and experience of the ablest men, in whatever part of the Union they may be found. It can move on uniform principles of policy. It can harmonize, assimilate, and protect the several parts and members, and extend the benefit of its foresight and precautions to each. In the formation of treaties, it will regard the interest of the whole, and the particular interests of the parts as connected with that of the whole. It can apply the resources and power of the whole to the defense of any particular part, and that more easily and expeditiously than State governments or separate confederacies can possibly do, for want of concert and unity of system.” It can organize the armed forces under “one plan of discipline, and, by putting their officers in a proper line of subordination to the Chief Magistrate…consolidate them into one corps, and thereby render them more efficient than if divided into thirteen or into three or four distinct independent companies.”
He cites the example of Great Britain and asks us to imagine how much poorer their strength and reach would be if England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, each pursued their own separate diplomatic and military course. Reaching further back into history he notes the unhappy fate of the divided and weak Greek city states. In a stirring and powerful summation, Jay points out that if foreign rivals “see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit re-established, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment.” If instead “they find us either destitute of an effectual government (each State doing right or wrong, as to its rulers may seem convenient), or split into three or four independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies, one inclining to Britain, another to France, and a third to Spain, and perhaps played off against each other by the three, what a poor, pitiful figure will America make in their eyes! How liable would she become not only to their contempt but to their outrage, and how soon would dear-bought experience proclaim that when a people or family so divide, it never fails to be against themselves.”
Monarchies, Factions and Divisions: What Jay chose to cut from his essay
This draft manuscript reveals what Jay chose not to say in print. On the first page, there are heavily reworked variations on the differences between monarchies and republics on matters of war and peace. One such deleted passage reads: “Monarchs are frequently influenced to war by insidious favorites and artful mistresses employed by other powers to practice upon them. Republics on the contrary being governed by many men, and by many men in rotation, are not liable to be precipitated into war by any such causes…” In his final paragraph of the essay we see another important theme which he ultimately chose to leave out of the published version: the danger of foreign powers stirring up parties, factions and geographic divisions on the American continent. Jay initially wrote: “as to the governing party may seem convenient…” But crossed it out and changed it to “as to its rulers may seem convenient.” Where he writes “split into three or four independent and probably discordant Republics,” his initial preference was to say “split into factions…” Drawing on the same Biblical language that Abraham Lincoln would employ in 1860, Jay wrote—but then struck out—“What a Pity it would be that such a House and Family should be so divided; for if divided, great reason is there to fear that it would soon be against itself.” This important theme of factions and parties would be taken up by Madison in Number 10.
Provenance and Census
Jay was a meticulous record-keeper and he passed his papers, including all five Federalist manuscripts, to his two sons, Peter Augustus and William. His grandson, John Jay II, however, began selling off portions of the papers in the mid-19th century. The five Federalist manuscripts were still in his possession as of 1860. By the turn of the 20th century, and especially after the 1906 sale of the Jay home at Rye, New York, the family sold off or gave away much of the manuscript collection. “At various times individuals disposed of Jay family papers through Forrest Sweet, a rare book and manuscript dealer of Battle Creek, Michigan, and numerous Jay items are found in Sweet’s catalogues for the years of the 1930’s running down to nearly the fifties” (Robert Morris, John Jay, The Making of a Revolutionary, 6). The manuscript for Number 2 has been lost. Number 3 is at the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Number 5 is in the Jay Papers, Columbia University, New York. Number 64 is in the New York Historical Society. The present manuscript was part of the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Collection, sold at Sotheby’s 26 April 1978, lot 138, where it was purchased by the present owner.
THIS SALE REPRESENTS THE ONLY OPPORTUNITY TO ACQUIRE AN ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF THE FEDERALIST ESSAYS.
EXHIBTED: This manuscript, the first edition and the first French edition that follow were exhibited in “Documenting the Constitution: A Manuscript History” at the Supreme Court, May 1987-May 1988. This exhibit was compiled and coordinated by the Supreme Court and the Manuscript Society as part of the nation’s celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Constitution. We have been able to trace no other public exhibition of loaned materials to the Supreme Court.