The Most Dank Realism of the 1780s, Research Time, 07/06/2017

Back to the dawn of the United States of America. What a time to have been alive, when you could literally vote on the nature of your own nation. Not a question of government, governance, or who sits in what seat.

I mean, when you could vote on whether the Supreme Court would come into existence. Whether the federal government would have a Presidential office, or if you’d just have the houses of Congress. How many houses of Congress would there be?

Can you imagine how in the sweet air of hell’s nuclear fusion fires a debate like this would be conducted in our media ecology today?

In the media environment of the 1780s, we got a series of philosophical meditations on the powers of federal government institutions from three of the leading statesmen of the day.

Because I don't really feel like posting a generic painting reproduction
of John Jay, I'm going with a far superior Jay.
Everybody forgets about John Jay. But that’s for good reason. Out of 85 separate essays in The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote 51, James Madison wrote 29. The other five were by John Jay.

I was suitably underwhelmed by the philosophy in Jay’s writing. So his illness during the essays’ writing period didn’t result in our missing much. But there were some interesting ideas in the few essays he did write.

The early Federalist Papers were broad-focussed appeals to the unique nature of America, a people with incredible potential. Hamilton wrote appeals to the people of the United States not to collapse into disunity, to stay together in all their diversity from the nations of Vermont to the Carolinas.

Because yeah, they were nations back then. Nations at least as much as the United States at the time.

Jay’s writing, meanwhile, reminds us that there are always harsh martial facts alongside every profound, idealistic act of devotion. The unity of the American colonies is essential, he writes, because without uniting under a single federal government, they’d inevitably fall into constant and violent conflict.

Yes, we know what happened about 80 years later, but hang on. After all, I’m far from the only one talking about the long, deep scars of the American experiment. Even the ones you wouldn’t expect. I’m certainly not the most prominent Canadian doing it.

Jay describes how the American polity could separate into several different countries. At the moment, they were flush with fellow feeling from Georgia to Connecticut. The afterglow of winning, at such traumatizing costs, the revolutionary war from English control was still hot.

Jay knew from the history of Europe that war would inevitably follow any kind of separate national identity. The Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War – all of these conflicts had shaped the European continent and their North American colonies. It’s how New France became British. Within a few years of American unification, the Europeans would be at war again.

So separating the American colonies – despite the patriotism of the revolution, the common history, culture, and language – would bring them into conflict. Human nature brings conflict among peoples who are alien to each other.

Jay didn’t want that conflict to engulf the American peoples. So he advocated that there be only the American people. One government, one set of institutions to bring them all together. Only the authority of a single state and the cultural unity of a single institutional polity can stop humans from falling into war.

So you build one state.

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