The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy
For the Independent Journal.
Saturday, November 24, 1787


To the People of the State of New York:

THE importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those
points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of
opinion, and which has, in fact, commanded the most general assent of
men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to
our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.

There are appearances to authorize a supposition that the adventurous
spirit, which distinguishes the commercial character of America, has
already excited uneasy sensations in several of the maritime powers of
Europe. They seem to be apprehensive of our too great interference in
that carrying trade, which is the support of their navigation and the
foundation of their naval strength. Those of them which have colonies in
America look forward to what this country is capable of becoming, with
painful solicitude. They foresee the dangers that may threaten their
American dominions from the neighborhood of States, which have all the
dispositions, and would possess all the means, requisite to the creation
of a powerful marine. Impressions of this kind will naturally indicate
the policy of fostering divisions among us, and of depriving us, as far
as possible, of an ACTIVE COMMERCE in our own bottoms. This would answer the threefold purpose of preventing our interference in their
navigation, of monopolizing the profits of our trade, and of clipping
the wings by which we might soar to a dangerous greatness. Did not
prudence forbid the detail, it would not be difficult to trace, by
facts, the workings of this policy to the cabinets of ministers.

If we continue united, we may counteract a policy so unfriendly to our
prosperity in a variety of ways. By prohibitory regulations, extending,
at the same time, throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries
to bid against each other, for the privileges of our markets. This
assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate
the importance of the markets of three millions of people -- increasing
in rapid progression, for the most part exclusively addicted to
agriculture, and likely from local circumstances to remain so -- to any
manufacturing nation; and the immense difference there would be to the
trade and navigation of such a nation, between a direct communication in
its own ships, and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns,
to and from America, in the ships of another country. Suppose, for
instance, we had a government in America, capable of excluding Great
Britain (with whom we have at present no treaty of commerce) from all
our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her
politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate, with the fairest prospect
of success, for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive
kind, in the dominions of that kingdom? When these questions have been
asked, upon other occasions, they have received a plausible, but not a
solid or satisfactory answer. It has been said that prohibitions on our
part would produce no change in the system of Britain, because she could
prosecute her trade with us through the medium of the Dutch, who would
be her immediate customers and paymasters for those articles which were
wanted for the supply of our markets. But would not her navigation be
materially injured by the loss of the important advantage of being her
own carrier in that trade? Would not the principal part of its profits
be intercepted by the Dutch, as a compensation for their agency and
risk? Would not the mere circumstance of freight occasion a considerable
deduction? Would not so circuitous an intercourse facilitate the
competitions of other nations, by enhancing the price of British
commodities in our markets, and by transferring to other hands the
management of this interesting branch of the British commerce?

A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will
justify a belief that the real disadvantages to Britain from such a
state of things, conspiring with the pre-possessions of a great part of
the nation in favor of the American trade, and with the importunities of
the West India islands, would produce a relaxation in her present
system, and would let us into the enjoyment of privileges in the markets
of those islands elsewhere, from which our trade would derive the most
substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government,
and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and
immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent
effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see
themselves altogether supplanted in our trade.

A further resource for influencing the conduct of European nations
toward us, in this respect, would arise from the establishment of a
federal navy. There can be no doubt that the continuance of the Union
under an efficient government would put it in our power, at a period not
very distant, to create a navy which, if it could not vie with those of
the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if
thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties. This would be
more peculiarly the case in relation to operations in the West Indies. A
few ships of the line, sent opportunely to the reinforcement of either
side, would often be sufficient to decide the fate of a campaign, on the
event of which interests of the greatest magnitude were suspended. Our
position is, in this respect, a most commanding one. And if to this
consideration we add that of the usefulness of supplies from this
country, in the prosecution of military operations in the West Indies,
it will readily be perceived that a situation so favorable would enable
us to bargain with great advantage for commercial privileges. A price
would be set not only upon our friendship, but upon our neutrality. By a
steady adherence to the Union we may hope, erelong, to become the
arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of
European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may

But in the reverse of this eligible situation, we shall discover that
the rivalships of the parts would make them checks upon each other, and
would frustrate all the tempting advantages which nature has kindly
placed within our reach. In a state so insignificant our commerce would
be a prey to the wanton intermeddlings of all nations at war with each
other; who, having nothing to fear from us, would with little scruple or
remorse, supply their wants by depredations on our property as often as
it fell in their way. The rights of neutrality will only be respected
when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its
weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.

Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources
of the country, directed to a common interest, would baffle all the
combinations of European jealousy to restrain our growth. This situation
would even take away the motive to such combinations, by inducing an
impracticability of success. An active commerce, an extensive
navigation, and a flourishing marine would then be the offspring of
moral and physical necessity. We might defy the little arts of the
little politicians to control or vary the irresistible and unchangeable
course of nature.

But in a state of disunion, these combinations might exist and might
operate with success. It would be in the power of the maritime nations,
availing themselves of our universal impotence, to prescribe the
conditions of our political existence; and as they have a common
interest in being our carriers, and still more in preventing our
becoming theirs, they would in all probability combine to embarrass our
navigation in such a manner as would in effect destroy it, and confine
us to a PASSIVE COMMERCE. We should then be compelled to content
ourselves with the first price of our commodities, and to see the
profits of our trade snatched from us to enrich our enemies and p
rsecutors. That unequaled spirit of enterprise, which signalizes the
genius of the American merchants and navigators, and which is in itself
an inexhaustible mine of national wealth, would be stifled and lost, and
poverty and disgrace would overspread a country which, with wisdom,
might make herself the admiration and envy of the world.

There are rights of great moment to the trade of America which are
rights of the Union -- I allude to the fisheries, to the navigation of
the Western lakes, and to that of the Mississippi. The dissolution of
the Confederacy would give room for delicate questions concerning the
future existence of these rights; which the interest of more powerful
partners would hardly fail to solve to our disadvantage. The disposition
of Spain with regard to the Mississippi needs no comment. France and
Britain are concerned with us in the fisheries, and view them as of the
utmost moment to their navigation. They, of course, would hardly remain
long indifferent to that decided mastery, of which experience has shown
us to be possessed in this valuable branch of traffic, and by which we
are able to undersell those nations in their own markets. What more
natural than that they should be disposed to exclude from the lists such
dangerous competitors?

This branch of trade ought not to be considered as a partial benefit.
All the navigating States may, in different degrees, advantageously
participate in it, and under circumstances of a greater extension of
mercantile capital, would not be unlikely to do it. As a nursery of
seamen, it now is, or when time shall have more nearly assimilated the
principles of navigation in the several States, will become, a universal
resource. To the establishment of a navy, it must be indispensable.

To this great national object, a NAVY, union will contribute in various
ways. Every institution will grow and flourish in proportion to the
quantity and extent of the means concentred towards its formation and
support. A navy of the United States, as it would embrace the resources
of all, is an object far less remote than a navy of any single State or
partial confederacy, which would only embrace the resources of a single
part. It happens, indeed, that different portions of confederated
America possess each some peculiar advantage for this essential
establishment. The more southern States furnish in greater abundance
certain kinds of naval stores -- tar, pitch, and turpentine. Their wood
for the construction of ships is also of a more solid and lasting
texture. The difference in the duration of the ships of which the navy
might be composed, if chiefly constructed of Southern wood, would be of
signal importance, either in the view of naval strength or of national
economy. Some of the Southern and of the Middle States yield a greater
plenty of iron, and of better quality. Seamen must chiefly be drawn from
the Northern hive. The necessity of naval protection to external or
maritime commerce does not require a particular elucidation, no more
than the conduciveness of that species of commerce to the prosperity of
a navy.

An unrestrained intercourse between the States themselves will advance
the trade of each by an interchange of their respective productions, not
only for the supply of reciprocal wants at home, but for exportation to
foreign markets. The veins of commerce in every part will be
replenished, and will acquire additional motion and vigor from a free
circulation of the commodities of every part. Commercial enterprise will
have much greater scope, from the diversity in the productions of
different States. When the staple of one fails from a bad harvest or
unproductive crop, it can call to its aid the staple of another. The
variety, not less than the value, of products for exportation
contributes to the activity of foreign commerce. It can be conducted
upon much better terms with a large number of materials of a given value
than with a small number of materials of the same value; arising from
the competitions of trade and from the fluctations of markets.
Particular articles may be in great demand at certain periods, and
unsalable at others; but if there be a variety of articles, it can
scarcely happen that they should all be at one time in the latter
predicament, and on this account the operations of the merchant would be
less liable to any considerable obstruction or stagnation. The
speculative trader will at once perceive the force of these
observations, and will acknowledge that the aggregate balance of the
commerce of the United States would bid fair to be much more favorable
than that of the thirteen States without union or with partial unions.

It may perhaps be replied to this, that whether the States are united or
disunited, there would still be an intimate intercourse between them
which would answer the same ends; this intercourse would be fettered,
interrupted, and narrowed by a multiplicity of causes, which in the
course of these papers have been amply detailed. A unity of commercial,
as well as political, interests, can only result from a unity of

There are other points of view in which this subject might be placed, of
a striking and animating kind. But they would lead us too far into the
regions of futurity, and would involve topics not proper for a newspaper
discussion. I shall briefly observe, that our situation invites and our
interests prompt us to aim at an ascendant in the system of American
affairs. The world may politically, as well as geographically, be
divided into four parts, each having a distinct set of interests.
Unhappily for the other three, Europe, by her arms and by her
negotiations, by force and by fraud, has, in different degrees, extended
her dominion over them all. Africa, Asia, and America, have successively
felt her domination. The superiority she has long maintained has tempted
her to plume herself as the Mistress of the World, and to consider the
rest of mankind as created for her benefit. Men admired as profound
philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a
physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and
with them the human species, degenerate in America -- that even dogs
cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere.[1] Facts
have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It
belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach
that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it.
Disunion will will add another victim to his triumphs. Let Americans
disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! Let the thirteen
States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in
erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all
transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the
connection between the old and the new world!

"Recherches philosophiques sur les Americains."