Federalist No. 3

From New World Encyclopedia
Federalist No. 3 John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg
John Jay, author of Federalist No. 3
AuthorJohn Jay
Original titleThe Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers frm Foreign Force and Influence
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Federalist
PublisherThe Independent Journal
Publication date
November 3, 1787
Media typeNewspaper
Preceded byFederalist No. 2 
Followed byFederalist No. 4 

Federalist No. 3, titled "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence," is a political essay by John Jay, the third of The Federalist Papers. It was first published in The Independent Journal on November 3, 1787, under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist papers were published. It is the second of four essays by Jay on the benefits of political union in protecting Americans against foreign adversaries, preceded by Federalist No. 2 and followed by Federalist No. 4 and Federalist No. 5.

Federalist No. 3 considers whether a federal government is better equipped to manage foreign policy and prevent war than state governments. Jay argues that a federal government can select better statesmen from a larger population pool and that it can apply treaties more consistently than individual states. He also argues that state governments are more likely to act provocatively when their states are at the center of a conflict, while the federal government can give more even consideration of an issue.


Jay begins by arguing that the people ultimately make the best decisions for their own governance, and that the union of the states is an example of such a decision. The safety of the people is the first responsibility of government and that political union is the best way to guarantee safety. He explains that the most wars are caused by violations of treaties or random acts of violence and that individual states are more likely to engage in adventurous actions than an empowered national government. He notes that the country has treaties with several European powers and that all but Prussia have access to the ocean and have navies with the capacity to wage war.

Jay lists four reasons why he believes a national government is better equipped for handling diplomacy. First, he argues that the men chosen to run the national government would be more qualified than those running the states, as they would have to stand out among a much larger group of candidates across the country. He then argues that a strong national government could better preserve peace, stating that a federal government would be less likely to provoke other nations to attack. He claims that a single federal government would be more consistent in the application of treaties than multiple jurisdictions with different policies or different interpretations of the policy. Thirdly, he argues that states directly involved in disputes may be disposed to act irrationally based on enflamed passion, but that a national government would be more likely to temper this response. Finally, he argues that should the people within a state support irrational actions, a national government would be more insulated from this popular will to act as a brake on dangerous decisions.

Jay believes the same arguments apply to acts of violence on national borders. He argues that some of the American Indian Wars had been caused by state governments, but none had been caused by the national government, despite its relative weakness under the Articles of Confederation. It was still strong enough to prevent any further Indian wars. He fears that similar borders conflicts could break out between states or regions that border foreign powers like Britain or Spain. A federal government would address conflicts with other nations with a cooler approach than those states that are directly impacted. Jay concludes by arguing that, in the event of an international conflict, a foreign power would be more likely to come to terms with a united America. He observes that, in 1685, Genoa was forced to send its national leadership to France to ask pardon from Louis XIV; Jay questions whether France would have demanded such tribute from any "powerful nation." Thus a "strong united nation" could better preserve the peace since it would find it easier to settle causes of war.

Background and publication

Federalist No. 3 was written by John Jay. Like all of the Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 3 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.[1] It was first published in the Independent Journal on November 3, 1787, followed by the Daily Advertiser on November 5 and the New-York Packet on November 6.[2] Federalist No. 3 directly follows the arguments of Federalist No. 2, building on its description of historical unity between the states to argue that it benefits national security.[3] As with Federalist No. 2, Jay assumes that failure to ratify the constitution will result in disunion between the states. Anti-federalists generally supported union, even when opposing the constitution, but they preferred a weaker central government as existed under the Articles of Confederation.[4] At the time he wrote these essays, Jay was the nation's leading diplomat and was involved with diplomatic issues facing the United States.[5]


Federalist No. 3 argued that the foreign policy of a unitary federal government would be superior to those of individual state governments.[6] Jay believed that a union would better protect the states because individual states would be more likely to provoke war than a single national government.[3] At the time that the Federalist Papers were written, international law had not developed beyond treaties and philosophical concepts of natural law. To discuss the law of war, Jay divided it into just war and unjust war, focusing primarily on the causes of just war and how a national government would prevent them.[7] He described the primary justifications for war as violations of treaties and acts of violence, arguing that any one state on its own was more likely to provoke one of these causes than a national government.[3]

Advantages of federal government

Federalist No. 3 presented the argument that a national government would be advantageous because it would be better equipped to engage in diplomacy. Jay argued that the combined population of the 13 states would provide more options to appoint the most skilled politicians, while individual states may not always be able to find experienced statesmen capable of diplomacy from their own populations.[8] Jay also believed that consistent practice of international law and custom was necessary to prevent war and that a federal government would best ensure that consistency.

In particular, he saw that a federal judiciary would be better able to ensure this consistency.[9] His concern was that the states would interpret treaties differently, depending on their own legal systems and their own interests, increasing the likelihood of conflict with a foreign nation. Under a strong national government, a single foreign policy could be implemented for all of the states.[10]

Federalist No. 3 established a clear objective for the government, describing safety as the first priority for a free people.[11] In particular, he worried of "dangers from foreign arms and influence."[5] As with his other essays in the Federalist Papers, Jay ended Federalist No. 3 with a warning to Americans. He warned about the power that larger nations such as Britain and Spain might exert over the states if they were to be divided. Jay's prominent involvement in American foreign policy point positioned him to have a broad understanding of foreign threats to the United States.[5]

Decision making

United States territory in 1789: the United States shared borders and disputed territory with the British Empire and the Spanish Empire.

Jay argued in Federalist No. 3 that limiting diplomatic powers to a national government with representatives from various states would prevent individual states from taking rash action based on their own involvement in a dispute. He was concerned that their own assessment of their best interest might provoke them to rash actions. Jay believed that a national government would be better equipped to handle foreign policy, in that its motives would not be clouded by direct involvement should conflicts arise between one of several of the states and a foreign power. It would would be better positioned to resolve conflict. Conversely, the motives of individual states risked war since in a dispute, they would not have the same incentives to prevent it.[8]

Jay emphasized the threat he perceived from those border states that were located in proximity with the British Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the Indigenous Nations. He feared that violent incidents on national borders could easily provoke war, arguing that the judgment of a national government was needed to prevent and address such incidents.[8] This position was consistent with the general distrust of state governments that would persist throughout the Federalist Papers.[6] State governments had already restricted the rights of British subjects and intruded on the territory of the Indigenous Nations in ways that could create conflict with these foreign nations. The constitution would give the federal government power to regulate such activity, effectively resolving diplomatic conflict of the states with foreign powers and with one another.[7]

Federalist No. 3 introduced a theme that would recur throughout the Federalist Papers, expressing the belief that the people of a nation will generally make reasoned decisions about their own government, but that this is sometimes interrupted by brief periods where popular opinion allows poor decisions to prevail. In this context, Jay doubted that popular will was capable of considering foreign policy issues, and he indicated that it would be better addressed by a professional class of diplomats. Jay also applied this contrast to the state governments, arguing that the federal government would be more reasoned in its approach, as it would consider the interest of all states and avoid irrational decisions propelled by the passion of a state's population.[10]


Jay continued his treatment of this subject in No. 4 and No. 5,[3] and the arguments that a united nation would have access to better statesmen would be revisited by James Madison in No. 10.[5][8] Jay remained committed to his belief that the federal judiciary would determine how to consistently follow international law when he served as Chief Justice of the United States two years later.[9] The role of local and state affairs vs. the federal government in the conduct of foreign policy has remained a concern in American foreign policy. Interactions between state governments and Mexican nationals, for example, have caused diplomatic conflicts with Mexico continuing into the twenty-first century, particularly in the context of illegal immigration to the United States.[6]


  1. "Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History," Library of Congress. Retrieved Octboer 21, 2023.
  2. "Federalist Essays in Historic Newspapers," Library of Congress. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kyle Scott, The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide (London, U.K.: A&C Black, 2013, ISBN 978-1441108142), 62–63. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  4. Robert A. Ferguson, "The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification," Early American Literature 34(3) (1999): 223–240. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Quentin P. Taylor, "John Jay, The Federalist, and the Constitution," 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), 64-65. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Sanford Levinson, An Argument Open to All: Reading "The Federalist" in the 21st Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0300216455), 17–20. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 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), 88-89. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Morton White, Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0195363074), 150–152. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  9. 9.0 9.1 David M. Golove and Daniel J. Hulsebosch, "The Known Opinion on the Impartial World," 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), 145–146. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Edward Millican, One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014, ISBN 978-0813161372), 71–73. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  11. David F. Epstein, The Political Theory of The Federalist (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0226213019), 41. Retrieved October 21, 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
  • Ferguson, Robert A. "The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification," Early American Literature 34(3) (1999): 223–240. Retrieved October 21, 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
  • 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
  • White, Morton. Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0195363074

External links

All links retrieved October 29, 2023.

Federalist Papers | List of Federalist Papers
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Related topics: Anti-Federalist Papers | United States Constitution


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