Federalist No. 4

From New World Encyclopedia
Federalist No. 4 John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg
John Jay, author of Federalist No. 4
AuthorJohn Jay
Original titleThe Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Federalist
PublisherThe Independent Journal
Publication date
November 7, 1787
Media typeNewspaper
Preceded byFederalist No. 3 
Followed byFederalist No. 5 

Federalist No. 4, titled "The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence", is a political essay by John Jay and the fourth of the Federalist papers. It was first published in The Independent Journal on November 7, 1787, under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published. It is the third of four essays by Jay advocating for political union and promoting the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In this essay he continued the argument he made in Federalist No. 3 concerning the protection of the United States from dangerous foreign influence and military conflict.

Federalist No. 4 addresses the possibility of European nations engaging in wars of aggression against the United States. Jay argued that union between the states would prevent foreign nations from conquering the United States or causing division between the states, citing the advantages of a unified militia over several disparate forces and the ability of a federal government to consider the interests of all the states.


Jay begins by reminding his readers of his argument in the previous essay about the need for protection from just wars. He explains that the United States must prevent itself from becoming the target of an unjust war. He says that nations could seek war any time for reasons they "pretend" to be just, but in reality simply benefits them in some way. He believes that an absolute monarch is particularly prone to engage in unjust wars for reasons that are personal, such as glory, revenge, or ambition. He also describes an economic incentive for nations to come into conflict with the United States to maintain control over international trade, citing their rivalry with Britain and France in the fishing industry. He enumerates other areas of economic rivalries with other powers, especially in the shipping industry. Any number of these economic rivalries could lead to war. He concludes from these reasons that any advancement of the United States will draw the attention of European nations and increase diplomatic tensions.

Jay argues that to address these situations, government is necessary. The question to be decided is whether it is independent state governments or regional confederacies on the one hand, or a central national government on the other. He returns to the argument of the previous essays, arguing that a national government will draw from the ablest men and create uniform policies that harmonize the interests of the various states. It can also draw from the resources of the whole nation while maintaining a central control over the militia.

To prevent conflict with European nations, the United States must strengthen its national government through union of the states. He uses the British Armed Forces and British militias as an example, citing their greater strength as a unified force than they would be as the individual forces of England, Scotland, and Wales. He argues that a combined militia under a single federal government would be far more effective than separate state militias, saying that an American militia could protect any part of the country that was under threat by concentrating its resources there. This, Jay says, is not true for thirteen individual militias. They would be no match for the power of the British fleet.

Jay also warns against political interference from European powers. He says that if America were split into three or four confederacies, they might each be supported by a different European nation, such as Britain, France, and Spain. These confederacies could then easily be motivated to ignore conflicts in the others or even to fight each other on behalf of the European powers. He concludes the essay by warning that internal division would do harm to the United States.

Background and publication

Federalist No. 4 was written by John Jay. Like all of the Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 4 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 7, 1787, followed by the Daily Advertiser on November 8 and the New-York Packet on November 9. In the latter paper, it was incorrectly labeled Federalist No. 3.[2] Federalist No. 4 continued the argument from Federalist No. 3. While No. 3 advocated for union to protect from just war, No. 4 advanced this idea by arguing that union also protects from unjust war.[3] No. 4 reinforced and complemented many of the ideas presented in No. 3, establishing a dual argument for union to protect from foreign conflict.[4]


In Federalist No. 4, Jay argued that a unified federal government was necessary to protect the states from foreign conquest.[5] He worried that without union between the states, other nations may be incentivized to wage war, as there would be no federal administration to organize the states.[4] Jay believed that it should be in a state's interest not only to protect its own security, but to protect that of the other states as well.[6] This conception of government is influenced by that of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, identifying it as an alliance of mutual preservation. Throughout the essay, Jay reiterates his support for a central government, referring to the states as a family.[7]

Jay observed that people seem naturally prone to conflict.[5] In Federalist No. 3 Jay addressed only just causes for war. In Federalist No. 4 , he recognizes that not all causes are just, and reiterates that union was the best means of preventing conflict.[7] He suggested that a unified federal government would make foreign powers more hesitant to engage with force, while disunity between the states could invite such conflict.[6] He proposed that a united federal government would incentivize foreign nations to develop a better relationship with the United States.[8] This belief was informed both by historical examples and by conflicts from Jay's own lifetime. He supported his argument by describing potential causes for an unjust war against the states, including the whims of absolute monarchs and conflicts surrounding trade rivalries.[3]

In the event of war, Jay believed that a federal government would provide advantages over individual state governments. It would have access to a larger population from which to draw leaders, states would be more willing to protect one another if they were members of a common state, and a federal government would be more inclined to negotiate treaties such that all states benefited.[3] Jay's arguments in this essay reflect the experience of the American Revolutionary War. While the Revolutionary War provided an example of the thirteen states protecting one another in a military conflict without a federal government,[5] it demonstrated the need for a unified military between the states to protect from "unjust attacks."[6] In the wake of a revolutionary war, the British Empire and the Spanish Empire still held colonial territories bordering the United States, creating the need for a unified response to potential aggression should it prove necessary.[9] Jay compared union in the United States to the union of Great Britain, arguing that the same principles of unity apply. In this example, he also expressed support for the mercantilist Navigation Acts.[7]

Jay made a strong distinction in Federalist No. 4 between a federal government and individual state governments, even more so than in the other Federalist Papers. He was concerned tat the state governments might lack accountability to other states and could become subservient to great powers such as the Britain, Spain, and France.[3] Jay concluded Federalist No. 4 with a warning against such internal division, assuring that it would lead to failure.[3] He stated more explicitly what he had only implied in the previous essay: confederation was not viable and that it would inevitably cause separation between the states.[10]


Federalist No. 4 represents a strong example of Jay's preference for a central government and his skepticism of individual state governments. Since the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, foreign attacks against the United States have been exceedingly rare.

Jay continued his argument in Federalist No. 5, which reiterated the main arguments of Federalist No. 4. Alexander Hamilton would later reiterate the support for British mercantilism that was expressed in this essay.[7] Since the federal government of the United States was formed, it has largely been successful in deterring foreign attack. As of 2015, the only significant exceptions were the War of 1812, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the September 11 attacks.[11] In the twenty-first century, the United States does not face a significant threat from an invasion or conventional warfare, with the only major threats being those of cyberwarfare and weapons of mass destruction, including that of terrorist groups in addition to that of adversarial states.[11] The United States has also sought to increase its use of mutual protection by participating in international organizations such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, NATO, and the United Nations.[11]


  1. "Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History," Library of Congress. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  2. "Federalist Essays in Historic Newspapers," Library of Congress. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 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), 64–67. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Morton White, Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0195363074), 152–153. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kyle Scott, The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide (London, U.K.: A&C Black, 2013, ISBN 978-1441108142), 63. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 David F. Epstein, The Political Theory of The Federalist (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0226213019), 16, 27, 32. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Edward Millican, One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014, ISBN 978-0813161372), 73–74. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  8. 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), 90. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  9. Harry A. Blackmun, "John Jay and the Federalist Papers," Pace Law Review 8(2) (1988): 242. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  10. Robert A. Ferguson, "The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification," Early American Literature 34(3) (1999): 232. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Sanford Levinson, An Argument Open to All: Reading "The Federalist" in the 21st Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0300216455), 21–23. Retrieved October 21, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Blackmun, Harry A. "John Jay and the Federalist Papers," Pace Law Review 8(2) (1988): 242. Retrieved October 21, 2023
  • 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): 232. 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 March 25, 2024.

Federalist Papers | List of Federalist Papers
Authors: Alexander Hamilton | James Madison | John Jay
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Related topics: Anti-Federalist Papers | United States Constitution


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