Federalist No. 2

From New World Encyclopedia
Federalist No. 2 John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg
John Jay, author of Federalist No. 2
AuthorJohn Jay
Original titleConcerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Federalist
PublisherThe Independent Journal
Publication date
October 31, 1787
Media typeNewspaper
Preceded byFederalist No. 1 
Followed byFederalist No. 3 

Federalist No. 2, titled "Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence", is a political essay written by John Jay. It was the second of The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 essays arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution. The essay was the first to address a substantive issue. Federalist No. 1, written by Alexander Hamilton, laid out the arguments to be addressed in subsequent essays. It was published in The Independent Journal (New York) on October 31, 1787, under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published.

Federalist No. 2 established the premise of nationhood that would persist through the series, addressing the issue of political union. Federalist No. 2 was followed by three more essays written by Jay that continued on the same topic.


Jay begins by arguing for the importance of government and the necessity for individuals to cede some of their natural rights to the government so that it has the power to function. Since the people are required to give up some of these natural rights, it makes more sense to Jay that they cede those rights to a national government rather than to just individual states or a regional confederacy. Jay takes the doctrine that the states should be one union to be "received opinion" that is now under question by some politicians who are promoting regional confederacies.

To these critics of a national sovereignty, Jay points to Providence, which provided the Americans with a tapestry of different locales with fertile soils and navigable waterways which Jay takes as a sign that the states were meant to be part of a larger whole. He further believes that Providence gave to the states a people united in culture, traditions and religion who forged their bonds in a war of independence. Jay argues that they have become essentially one people, with all receiving the same rights and privileges. For these reasons Jay believes that Providence designed the states to be one. He argues that popular opinion was always in favor of unity until some politicians challenged the idea.

Jay turns to the method of governance between the states, describing the government to that point as one formed urgently during a time of conflict. He compares this to the process undertaken at the Constitutional Convention, which he describes as more unified and more carefully planned, reflecting the wisdom of these deliberations. He also credits the members of this convention as highly qualified and motivated purely by "love for their country." Jay reminds the reader that their plan should not be either blindly accepted or opposed but carefully considered, likening it to the debate following the First Continental Congress. He argues that every congress since that first one supported unity and that this is the will of the people. He concludes that failure to support the proposed constitution would result in disunity.

He then cautions his readers against taking for granted the adoption of this well-considered document invoking the experience of the First Continental Congress, whose recommendations were attacked in the press and other pamphlets by those promoting "personal interests" or from undue influence from "ancient attachments." These attacks did not "correspond with the public good." While some were "deceived," the majority "reasoned and decided judiciously."[1] Jay believes that the wisdom of that Congress and every succeeding one has proven to be trustworthy and that they all conclude that political union is "prudent and advisable."[1]

Background and publication

Federalist No. 2 was written by John Jay. Like all of the Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 2 was published under the pseudonym Publius in New York newspapers with the intention of explaining the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and persuading New York to ratify it.[2] It was first published in the Independent Journal on October 31, 1787, followed by the Daily Advertiser on November 1 and the New-York Packet on November 2.[3] Federalist No. 1, the only one of the Federalist Papers to have been previously released, was only an introduction to the series. As such, John Jay was tasked with first developing the idea of a national identity in Federalist No. 2.[4] At the time Jay wrote Federalist No. 2, he was considered "America's leading foreign policy expert,"[5] an expertise that he drew upon in his discussion of the foreign powers and the need to unite against their influence.


Nationhood and union

Federalist No. 2 was one of the early papers that addressed the issue of political union between the states that would persist throughout the Federalist Papers. It took an approach beyond the standard arguments of security and economics, arguing that Americans are a single ethnic group with shared ancestors, language, philosophy, and customs.[6] Jay pointed to the contiguity of the states and the geographic features that facilitate contact between them as evidence for a destiny of unity, describing these advantages as the will of Providence.[7] He also argued that the states had since worked together successfully, citing the congresses that had formed since the First Continental Congress.[5] Jay believed that the political ideas and identity of the American Revolution directly corresponded to those of the federalist movement.[4] He emphasized a view that would be repeated throughout the Federalist Papers: that the people are almost unanimous in their ideals and that there is a single popular will that guides the United States.[4]

Counterpoint to Anti-Federalist Papers

Jay argued that the Constitutional Convention provided a better forum for the creation of a government because it was convened in peacetime.

Federalist No. 2 established the main idea of the Federalist Papers that Americans were a national community with a common interest that necessitated unity.[4] This idea was a direct response to one of the main ideas of the Anti-Federalist Papers, which argued that Americans were too different from one another to form a single nation. In particular, Jay seized upon the idea that different industries necessitated different cultures, arguing that it actually promoted trade between the states which made national identity stronger.[4] Addressing the Anti-Federalists, Jay argued that it was only recently that the idea of federalism was challenged, saying that it had "until lately been a received and uncontradicted opinion."[7] He accused Anti-Federalists of sowing division rather than unity, describing them as only promoting "personal interests" or failing to understand the consequences of their actions.[8] He compared the Anti-Federalists to the Loyalists during the revolution, arguing that their opposition to ratification could be likened to Loyalist opposition to independence.[4]

Jay insisted that the Articles of Confederation were not sufficient for a national government. They had been created in the midst of a war, whereas the Constitutional Convention took place in a calmer national environment that allowed for deeper consideration. Like Hamilton, he worked on the assumption that failure to ratify the constitution would guarantee disunity between the states.[5] The Anti-Federalists proposed that the Articles of Confederation be amended rather than abandoned, but the impression created by the Federalist Papers became widely accepted.[9] This was a rhetorical strategy often used by Jay, in which he presented the issue as a leading question to present his answer as the correct one.[8]


Federalist No. 2 took a softer and more optimistic tone compared to Federalist No. 1, covering many of the same ideas in a way that sought to invite harmony among competing factions rather than to insist upon its claims. Jay's condemnation of his political opponents are left more general than Hamilton's sharp attacks. He treats his critics as less of a threat to the union than Hamilton.[8] By portraying them in this way, he is able to present himself as above the dispute rather than as a partisan attacking his opponents. Jay instead painted a picture of the states as united in spirit, promoting the idea that they should be united in government. When addressing the potential of failure, Jay approaches it with sorrow rather than the anger expressed by Hamilton.[8] At the end of the essay, Jay invoked a quote from "Henry VIII" by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, creating a sense of foreboding at the thought of disunity that would persist through his contributions to the early Federalist Papers.[5]

Jay's presented ratification of the Constitution as an extension of the work of the Founding Fathers.[4] He insists that any application of reason alone will find unanimous support for the constitution, and that the delegates of the Constitutional Convention were in possession of such reason.[8] Jay makes a populist argument, appealing to the hearts and minds of the people over that of the state governments.[5]

Natural rights

Federalist No. 2 is the only one of the Federalist Papers to make explicit reference to natural rights.[10] This concept was foundational to the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. Jay was also a proponent of natural rights, but recognized that in order for government to function, the people would have have cede some of their rights.[11] Jay accepts the arguments of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison that liberty had been too heavily emphasized during the American Revolution over governance.[12]

While a government must have certain powers of enforcement, he argued that it was the decision of Americans to enforce their own government through the American Revolutionary War that allows a people to engage in reflection to choose their own government and their national identity.[13] The philosophical relationship between rights and governance received little attention in future Federalist Papers, as the focus turned to how government should use its powers rather than if it should have them.[4] While natural rights are the bedrock of modern political philosophy, it practical use to the Founding Fathers was limited to the right of revolution and the right to establish a government. Beyond this, it serves no further purpose for the argument.


The Naturalization Act of 1795 would later codify the idea of an American national identity, stipulating naturalization on the requirement that an applicant is "attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States."[14] The arguments of national unity and homogeneity in the United States would be challenged almost a century later by civil conflict in the United States with the onset of the American Civil War. The issue of a single national identity has been a persistent issue in American politics, with disputes considering whether such an identity can be based purely in civic culture and whether it can coexist with multiculturalism.[14]


Since its publication, the conception of nationality presented in Federalist No. 2 has been a persistent issue in American politics. It relates directly to debates of naturalization and multiculturalism. Jay's analysis of what constituted a nation, a concept that was at the time ill-defined, seems to anticipate that used by political scientists many years later.[4]

The arguments of Federalist No. 2 presented the basic assumptions that would underlie the ideas of the succeeding Federalist Papers.[4] It was directly followed by No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5, which all continued on the same subject.[6] The themes of Americans as a singular people and the importance of unity among them were revisited by Hamilton in No. 12,[4] Madison in No. 14,[7] and Jay in No. 64.[4]

Historical assessment

Historians consider some of Jay's arguments to be more a rhetorical exercise than a historical account, an effort to galvanize the unity that he argues already exists.[4][5] His claimed that Americans shared a single ethnic and religious background, despite the fact that the states were composed of various national ancestries and religious denominations. He argued that there was political unity despite the prominent Loyalist presence that existed even after the revolution.[14] He ultimately considered these aspects to be secondary to the shared experience of colonial history and revolution as well as what he saw as a shared destiny.[5] Jay argued for the historical nature of American unity although the First Continental Congress included only 12 of the Thirteen Colonies,[6] and the choosing of delegates for congresses had been done by the state legislatures rather than the people "as with one voice."[13] Prior to ratification, the state governments were often in disunity and the people had very little say in federal government.[5] Jay's appeal to nationhood resembled the nation that he wished to create rather than one that existed at the time.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 John Jay (Publius), "Federalist No. 2," Teaching American History. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  2. "Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History," Library of Congress. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  3. "Federalist Essays in Historic Newspapers," Library of Congress. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Edward Millican, One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014, ISBN 978-0813161372), 11-12, 58-59, 63-70, 86, 178. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Quentin P. Taylor, "John Jay, The Federalist, and the Constitution," in The Cambridge Companion to the Federalist Papers ed. Jack N. Rakove and Colleen A. Sheehan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1107136397), 60-64. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Kyle Scott, The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide (London, U.K.: A&C Black, 2013, ISBN 978-1441108142), 53–54, 61–62. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kathleen O. Potter, The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic (El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing, LLC, 2002, ISBN 978-1931202442), 31–32. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Robert A. Ferguson, "The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification," Early American Literature 34(3) (1999): 223–240. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  9. Max M. Edling, "A Vigorous National Government: Hamilton on Security, War, and Revenue," in The Cambridge Companion to the Federalist Papers eds., Jack N. Rakove and Colleen A. Sheehan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1107136397), 88. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  10. Constant Noble Stockton, "Are There Natural Rights in "The Federalist"?" Ethics 82(1) (1971): 72–82. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  11. Morton White, Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0195363074), 26. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  12. David J. Siemers, "Publius and the Anti-Federalists," The Cambridge Companion to the Federalist Papers, eds., Jack N. Rakove and Colleen A. Sheehan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1107136397), 30. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  13. 13.0 13.1 David F. Epstein, The Political Theory of The Federalist (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0226213019), 16, 30. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Sanford Levinson, An Argument Open to All: Reading "The Federalist" in the 21st Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0300216455), 12–17. Retrieved October 20, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Epstein, David F. The Political Theory of The Federalist. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0226213019
  • Jay, John (Publius). "Federalist No. 2," Teaching American History. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  • Levinson, Sanford. An Argument Open to All: Reading "The Federalist" in the 21st Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0300216455
  • Millican, Edward. One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014. ISBN 978-0813161372
  • Potter, Kathleen O. The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing, LLC, 2002. ISBN 978-1931202442
  • Rakove, Jack N., and Colleen A. Sheehan (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to the Federalist Papers. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2020. ISBN 978-1107136397
  • Scott, Kyle. The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide. London, U.K.: A&C Black, 2013. ISBN 978-1441108142
  • Stockton, Constant Noble. "Are There Natural Rights in "The Federalist"?" Ethics 82(1) (1971): 72–82. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  • White, Morton. Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0195363074

External links

All links retrieved March 25, 2024.

Federalist Papers | List of Federalist Papers
Authors: Alexander Hamilton | James Madison | John Jay
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  64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 77 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85  
Related topics: Anti-Federalist Papers | United States Constitution


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