a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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Federalist Papers

By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 22, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009

HISTORY: Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays written in the 1780s in support of the proposed U.S. Constitution and the strong federal government it advocated. In October 1787, the first in a series of 85 essays arguing for ratification of the Constitution appeared in the Independent Journal , under the pseudonym “Publius.” Addressed to “The People of the State of New York,” the essays were actually written by the statesmen Alexander Hamilton , James Madison and John Jay . They would be published serially from 1787-88 in several New York newspapers. The first 77 essays, including Madison’s famous Federalist 10 and Federalist 51 , appeared in book form in 1788. Titled The Federalist , it has been hailed as one of the most important political documents in U.S. history.

Articles of Confederation

As the first written constitution of the newly independent United States, the Articles of Confederation nominally granted Congress the power to conduct foreign policy, maintain armed forces and coin money.

But in practice, this centralized government body had little authority over the individual states, including no power to levy taxes or regulate commerce, which hampered the new nation’s ability to pay its outstanding debts from the Revolutionary War .

In May 1787, 55 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to address the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation and the problems that had arisen from this weakened central government.

A New Constitution

The document that emerged from the Constitutional Convention went far beyond amending the Articles, however. Instead, it established an entirely new system, including a robust central government divided into legislative , executive and judicial branches.

As soon as 39 delegates signed the proposed Constitution in September 1787, the document went to the states for ratification, igniting a furious debate between “Federalists,” who favored ratification of the Constitution as written, and “Antifederalists,” who opposed the Constitution and resisted giving stronger powers to the national government.

The Rise of Publius

In New York, opposition to the Constitution was particularly strong, and ratification was seen as particularly important. Immediately after the document was adopted, Antifederalists began publishing articles in the press criticizing it.

They argued that the document gave Congress excessive powers and that it could lead to the American people losing the hard-won liberties they had fought for and won in the Revolution.

In response to such critiques, the New York lawyer and statesman Alexander Hamilton, who had served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, decided to write a comprehensive series of essays defending the Constitution, and promoting its ratification.

Who Wrote the Federalist Papers?

As a collaborator, Hamilton recruited his fellow New Yorker John Jay, who had helped negotiate the treaty ending the war with Britain and served as secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. The two later enlisted the help of James Madison, another delegate to the Constitutional Convention who was in New York at the time serving in the Confederation Congress.

To avoid opening himself and Madison to charges of betraying the Convention’s confidentiality, Hamilton chose the pen name “Publius,” after a general who had helped found the Roman Republic. He wrote the first essay, which appeared in the Independent Journal, on October 27, 1787.

In it, Hamilton argued that the debate facing the nation was not only over ratification of the proposed Constitution, but over the question of “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

After writing the next four essays on the failures of the Articles of Confederation in the realm of foreign affairs, Jay had to drop out of the project due to an attack of rheumatism; he would write only one more essay in the series. Madison wrote a total of 29 essays, while Hamilton wrote a staggering 51.

Federalist Papers Summary

In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison argued that the decentralization of power that existed under the Articles of Confederation prevented the new nation from becoming strong enough to compete on the world stage or to quell internal insurrections such as Shays’s Rebellion .

In addition to laying out the many ways in which they believed the Articles of Confederation didn’t work, Hamilton, Jay and Madison used the Federalist essays to explain key provisions of the proposed Constitution, as well as the nature of the republican form of government.

'Federalist 10'

In Federalist 10 , which became the most influential of all the essays, Madison argued against the French political philosopher Montesquieu ’s assertion that true democracy—including Montesquieu’s concept of the separation of powers—was feasible only for small states.

A larger republic, Madison suggested, could more easily balance the competing interests of the different factions or groups (or political parties ) within it. “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests,” he wrote. “[Y]ou make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]”

After emphasizing the central government’s weakness in law enforcement under the Articles of Confederation in Federalist 21-22 , Hamilton dove into a comprehensive defense of the proposed Constitution in the next 14 essays, devoting seven of them to the importance of the government’s power of taxation.

Madison followed with 20 essays devoted to the structure of the new government, including the need for checks and balances between the different powers.

'Federalist 51'

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison wrote memorably in Federalist 51 . “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

After Jay contributed one more essay on the powers of the Senate , Hamilton concluded the Federalist essays with 21 installments exploring the powers held by the three branches of government—legislative, executive and judiciary.

Impact of the Federalist Papers

Despite their outsized influence in the years to come, and their importance today as touchstones for understanding the Constitution and the founding principles of the U.S. government, the essays published as The Federalist in 1788 saw limited circulation outside of New York at the time they were written. They also fell short of convincing many New York voters, who sent far more Antifederalists than Federalists to the state ratification convention.

Still, in July 1788, a slim majority of New York delegates voted in favor of the Constitution, on the condition that amendments would be added securing certain additional rights. Though Hamilton had opposed this (writing in Federalist 84 that such a bill was unnecessary and could even be harmful) Madison himself would draft the Bill of Rights in 1789, while serving as a representative in the nation’s first Congress.

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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Ron Chernow, Hamilton (Penguin, 2004). Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (Simon & Schuster, 2010). “If Men Were Angels: Teaching the Constitution with the Federalist Papers.” Constitutional Rights Foundation . Dan T. Coenen, “Fifteen Curious Facts About the Federalist Papers.” University of Georgia School of Law , April 1, 2007. 

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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Introductory note: the federalist, [27 october 1787–28 may 1788], introductory note: the federalist.

[New York, October 27, 1787–May 28, 1788]

The Federalist essays have been printed more frequently than any other work of Hamilton. They have, nevertheless, been reprinted in these volumes because no edition of his writings which omitted his most important contribution to political thought could be considered definitive. The essays written by John Jay and James Madison, however, have not been included. They are available in many editions, and they do not, after all, properly belong in the writings of Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalist , addressed to the “People of the State of New-York,” was occasioned by the objections of many New Yorkers to the Constitution which had been proposed on September 17, 1787, by the Philadelphia Convention. During the last week in September and the first weeks of October, 1787, the pages of New York newspapers were filled with articles denouncing the Constitution. 1 The proposed government also had its defenders, but their articles were characterized by somewhat indignant attacks on those who dared oppose the Constitution rather than by reasoned explanations of the advantages of its provisions. 2

The decision to publish a series of essays defending the Constitution and explaining in detail its provisions was made by Alexander Hamilton. Both the reasons for his decision and the date on which he conceived the project are conjecturable. Having gone to Albany early in October to attend the fall session of the Supreme Court, he was not in New York City during the early weeks of the controversy over the Constitution. 3 He must, nevertheless, have concluded that if it were to be adopted, convincing proof of its merits would have to be placed before the citizens of New York. His decision to write the essays may have been made before he left Albany, for according to tradition he wrote the first number of The Federalist in the cabin of his sloop on the return trip to New York. 4

At some time before the appearance of the first essay, written under the pseudonym “Publius,” Hamilton sought and found collaborators, for the first essay, published in The [New York] Independent Journal: or, the General Advertiser on October 27, 1787, was followed in four days by an essay by John Jay. Neither Hamilton nor Jay left a record of any plans they might have made, but the third collaborator, James Madison, later wrote that “the undertaking was proposed by Alexander Hamilton to James Madison with a request to join him and Mr. Jay in carrying it into effect. William Duer was also included in the original plan; and wrote two or more papers, which though intelligent and sprightly, were not continued, nor did they make a part of the printed collection.” 5 Hamilton also sought the assistance of Gouverneur Morris, who in 1815 remembered that he had been “warmly pressed by Hamilton to assist in writing the Federalist.” 6

In reprinting the text of The Federalist the original manuscripts have been approximated as nearly as possible. As the first printing of each essay, despite typographical errors, was presumably closest to the original, the text published in this edition is that which was first printed. The texts of those essays among the first seventy-seven which were written by Hamilton or are of doubtful authorship are taken from the newspapers in which they first appeared; the texts of essays 78–85 are taken from the first edition of The Federalist , edited by John and Archibald McLean. 7

With the exception of the last eight numbers, all the issues of The Federalist were first printed in the newspapers of New York City. The first essay was published on October 27, 1787, in The Independent Journal: or, the General Advertiser , edited by John McLean and Company. Subsequent essays appeared in The Independent Journal and in three other New York newspapers: New-York Packet , edited by Samuel and John Loudon; The Daily Advertiser , edited by Francis Childs; and The New-York Journal, and Daily Patriotic Register , edited by Thomas Greenleaf. 8

The first seven essays, published between October 27 and November 17, 1787, appeared on Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Independent Journal , a semiweekly paper, and a day or two later in both New-York Packet and The Daily Advertiser . At the conclusion of essay 7 the following announcement appeared in The Independent Journal: “In order that the whole subject of these Papers may be as soon as possible laid before the Public, it is proposed to publish them four times a week, on Tuesday in the New-York Packet and on Thursday in the Daily Advertiser.” The intention thus was to publish on Tuesday in New-York Packet , on Wednesday in The Independent Journal , on Thursday in The Daily Advertiser , and on Saturday in The Independent Journal .

The announced plan was not consistently followed. On Thursday, November 22, The Daily Advertiser , according to the proposed schedule, published essay 10, but after its publication no other essay appeared first in that newspaper. To continue the proposed plan of publication—a plan which occasionally was altered by publishing three instead of four essays a week—the third “Publius” essay of the next week appeared on Friday in New-York Packet . After November 30 the essays appeared in the following manner: Tuesday, New-York Packet , Wednesday, The Independent Journal , Friday, New-York Packet , and Saturday, The Independent Journal . The third essay of the week appeared either on Friday in the Packet or on Saturday in The Independent Journal . This pattern of publication was followed through the publication of essay 76 (or essay 77, in the numbering used in this edition of Hamilton’s works) on April 2, 1788. The remaining essays were first printed in the second volume of McLean description begins The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. McLean, 1788). description ends ’s edition of May 28, 1788, and beginning on June 14 were reprinted, at intervals of several days, first in The Independent Journal and then in New-York Packet .

The first edition, printed by J. and A. McLean 9 and corrected by Hamilton, is the source from which most editions of The Federalist have been taken. On January 1, 1788, McLean description begins The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. McLean, 1788). description ends , having observed “the avidity” with which the “Publius” essays had been “sought after by politicians and persons of every description,” announced plans for the publication of “The FEDERALIST, A Collection of Essays, written in favour of the New Constitution, By a Citizen of New-York , Corrected by the Author, with Additions and Alterations.” 10 The promised volume, including the first thirty-six essays, was published on March 22, 1788. Hamilton was not altogether pleased with the volume, for he stated in the preface 11 that it contained “violations of method and repetitions of ideas which cannot but displease a critical reader.” Despite such imperfections, he hoped that the essays would “promote the cause of truth, and lead to a right judgment of the true interests of the community.” Interested readers were promised a second volume of essays as soon as the editor could prepare them for publication.

“This Day is published,” The Independent Journal advertised on May 28, 1788, “The FEDERALIST, VOLUME SECOND.” This volume contained the remaining essays, including the final eight which had not yet appeared in the newspapers. As in the first volume, there were editorial revisions which probably were made by Hamilton. The final eight essays, which first appeared in this volume were reprinted in The Independent Journal and in New-York Packet between June 14, 1788, and August 16, 1788.

In addition to the McLean edition, during Hamilton’s lifetime there were two French editions 12 and two American editions of The Federalist . The second American edition, printed by John Tiebout in 1799, was not a new printing but a reissue of the remaining copies of the McLean edition with new title pages. The third American edition, published in 1802, not only was a new printing; it also contained revisions presumably approved by Hamilton. It is this, the Hopkins description begins The Federalist On The New Constitution. By Publius. Written in 1788. To Which is Added, Pacificus, on The Proclamation of Neutrality. Written in 1793. Likewise, The Federal Constitution, With All the Amendments. Revised and Corrected. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by George F. Hopkins, at Washington’s Head, 1802). description ends edition, which must be taken as Hamilton’s final version of The Federalist . 13

George F. Hopkins announced his plan for a new edition of The Federalist in the January 13, 1802, issue of New-York Evening Post . “Proposals, By G. F. Hopkins, 118 Pearl Street,” read the advertisement in the Post , “For Publishing by Subscription, in Two handsome Octavo Volumes, THE FEDERALIST, ON THE CONSTITUTION, BY PUBLIUS Written in 1788. TO WHICH IS ADDED, PACIFICUS, ON THE PROCLAMATION OF NEUTRALITY. Written in 1793. The whole Revised and Corrected. With new passages and notes .” Hopkins proposed not only to issue a revised text but to give the author of each essay; by naming Hamilton, Madison, and Jay as the authors of The Federalist , he publicly broke the poorly kept secrecy surrounding its authorship. Almost a year passed before Hopkins, on December 8, 1802, offered to the public “in a dress which it is believed will meet with general approbation” the new edition.

Although it is certain that Hamilton did not himself revise the text published in the Hopkins edition, available evidence indicates that he approved the alterations which were made. In 1847 J. C. Hamilton wrote to Hopkins requesting information on the extent to which Hamilton had made or approved the revisions. Hopkins replied that the changes had been made by a “respectable professional gentleman” who, after completing his work, had “put the volumes into the hands of your father, who examined the numerous corrections, most of which he sanctioned, and the work was put to press.” The editor, who was not named by Hopkins, was identified by J. C. Hamilton as John Wells, an eminent New York lawyer. The Hopkins edition, Hamilton’s son emphatically stated, was “ revised and corrected by John Wells … and supervised by Hamilton.” 14 Henry B. Dawson in his 1864 edition of The Federalist contested J. C. Hamilton’s conclusion and argued that the changes were made by William Coleman, editor of New-York Evening Post , and that they were made without Hamilton’s authorization or approval. According to Dawson, Hopkins declared on two different occasions in later years—once to James A. Hamilton and once to John W. Francis—that Hamilton refused to have any changes made in the essays. 15 Although it is impossible to resolve the contradictory statements on Hamilton’s participation in the revisions included in the 1802 edition of The Federalist , J. C. Hamilton presents the more convincing evidence. He, after all, quoted a statement by Hopkins description begins The Federalist On The New Constitution. By Publius. Written in 1788. To Which is Added, Pacificus, on The Proclamation of Neutrality. Written in 1793. Likewise, The Federal Constitution, With All the Amendments. Revised and Corrected. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by George F. Hopkins, at Washington’s Head, 1802). description ends , while Dawson related only a conversation.

The McLean and Hopkins editions thus constitute Hamilton’s revision of the text of The Federalist . Hamilton made some minor changes in essays written by Jay and Madison—changes which in the McLean edition they presumably authorized. Jay never revised the essays he wrote, and it was not until 1818 that Madison authorized the publication of an edition which included his own corrections of his essays. This edition was published by Jacob Gideon, 16 a printer in Washington, D.C.

It is, then, from the newspapers of the day, the McLean edition of 1788, and the Hopkins edition of 1802 that a definitive text of Hamilton’s contribution to The Federalist must be reconstructed. In the present edition, as stated above, the texts of essays 1–77 have been taken from the newspapers in which they first appeared; the texts of essays 78–85 are from volume two of the McLean edition. All changes which Hamilton later made or approved in the texts of the essays he wrote have been indicated in notes. Thus in essays 1–77 all changes made in the McLean and Hopkins editions in Hamilton’s essays are given. In essays 78–85 all the changes which appeared in the Hopkins edition are noted. The edition in which a revision was made is indicated by a short title, either by the name “McLean” or “Hopkins.” To this rule there are, however, three exceptions: 1. When an obvious typographical error appears in the text taken from the newspaper, it has been corrected without annotation. 2. When in McLean there is a correction of a printer’s error which, if left unchanged, would make the text meaningless or inaccurate, that correction has been incorporated in the text; the word or words in the newspaper for which changes have been substituted are then indicated in the notes. 3. Obvious printer’s errors in punctuation have been corrected; a period at the end of a question, for example, has been changed to a question mark. When a dash is used at the end of a sentence, a period has been substituted.

Because of changes made in the McLean edition, the numbering of certain essays presents an editorial problem. When McLean, with Hamilton’s assistance, published the first edition of The Federalist , it was decided that the essay published in the newspaper as 35 should follow essay 28, presumably because the subject matter of 35 was a continuation of the subject treated in 28. It also was concluded, probably because of its unusual length, that the essay which appeared in the newspapers as essay 31 should be divided and published as two essays. When these changes were made, the original numbering of essays 29–36 was changed in the following way:

Essays 36–78 in the McLean edition thus were one number higher than the number given the corresponding essay in the newspaper.

Because McLean changed the numbers of some of the essays, later editors have questioned whether there were 84 or 85 essays. This is understandable, for there were only 84 essays printed in the newspapers, the essays 32 and 33 by McLean having appeared in the press as a single essay. The last essay printed in The Independent Journal accordingly was numbered 84. The last eight essays published in New-York Packet , on the other hand, were given the numbers used in the second volume of McLean’s edition. The last number of The Federalist printed by New-York Packet in April had been numbered “76”; the following essay, published in June, was numbered “78.” By omitting the number “77,” the editor of New-York Packet , like McLean, numbered the last of the essays “85.”

Later editions of The Federalist , except for that published by Henry B. Dawson, have followed the numbering of the McLean edition. Since no possible purpose would be served and some confusion might result by restoring the newspaper numbering, the essays in the present edition have been given the numbers used by McLean in 1788, and the newspaper number has been placed in brackets.

Almost a century and a half of controversy has centered on the authorship of certain numbers of The Federalist . Similar to most other eighteenth-century newspaper contributors, the authors of The Federalist chose to write anonymously. When The Federalist essays appeared in the press, many New Yorkers probably suspected that Hamilton, if not the sole author of the “Publius” essays, was the major contributor. Friends of Hamilton and Madison, and perhaps those of Jay, certainly knew that this was a joint enterprise and who the authors were. 17 The number of essays written by each author, if only because the question probably never arose, aroused no curiosity. The Federalist , after all, was written for the immediate purpose of persuading the citizens of New York that it was to their interest to adopt the Constitution; certainly not the authors, and probably few readers, realized that the essays which in the winter of 1788 appeared so frequently in the New York press under the signature of “Publius” would become a classic interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. In 1802, George F. Hopkins proposed to publish a new edition of The Federalist in which the authors would be identified; but because of Hamilton’s “decided disapprobation” 18 no identification of the authors was made in that edition. It was not until three years after Hamilton’s death that The Port Folio , a Philadelphia weekly, published a list of the authors of the essays, thus opening a controversy which still remains unsettled. 19

The evidence on the authorship of several of the essays is contradictory because both Hamilton and Madison made, or allegedly made, several lists in which they claimed authorship of the same essays. It is neither necessary nor instructive to discuss the minor discrepancies found in the claims by the two men in their respective lists. 20 The whole problem is simplified by keeping in mind that of the eighty-five essays the authorship of only fifteen is disputed. Despite contrary claims in several of the least credible lists published during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, it has long been accepted that Hamilton wrote essays 1, 6–9, 11–13, 15–17, 21–36, 59–61, and 65–85; that Madison was the author of essays 10, 14, 37–48; and that Jay contributed essays 2–5 and 64. 21 The authorship of only essays 18–20, 49–58, and 62–63 is therefore debatable.

The number of disputed essays can be reduced by examining the reliability of the several Madison and Hamilton lists. There are four reputed Madison lists: 1. An article, signed “Corrector,” which appeared in the National Intelligencer on March 20, 1817, and which, according to the anonymous author, was copied from “a penciled memorandum in the hand of Madison.” 22 2. A statement of authorship, supposedly endorsed by Madison, made by Richard Rush, a member of Madison’s cabinet, in his copy of The Federalist . 23 3. An article in the City of Washington Gazette , December 15, 1817, claiming to set forth a list “furnished by Madison himself.” 24 4. The edition of The Federalist published by Jacob Gideon in 1818, which based its attribution of authorship on Madison’s own “copy of the work which that gentleman had preserved for himself.” 25 There is no evidence that Madison approved the first three lists; the fourth, the Gideon edition, was not only based on Madison’s copy, but it was endorsed by him as correct.

Hamilton’s claims to authorship are more complicated. Despite statements by his partisans, there are only three Hamilton lists that merit the serious attention of the historian who applies any known tests for evaluating historical evidence. They are the so-called “Benson list,” the list allegedly preserved by Hamilton in his own copy of The Federalist , and the “Kent list.”

The Benson list, according to a story first related by William Coleman in March, 1817, was left by Hamilton, shortly before his death, between the pages of a book in the library of his long-time friend, Judge Egbert Benson. Arriving at Benson’s office, Hamilton was told by Robert Benson, Jr., Egbert’s nephew and clerk, that the Judge and Rufus King had gone to Massachusetts for a few days. As Hamilton conversed with the law clerk, he idly handled one of the volumes on the shelves in the office. After Hamilton’s death which occurred two days later, Benson remembered the incident and, looking in the book Hamilton had picked up, he found a scrap of paper, unsigned but in Hamilton’s hand, listing the essays he had written. 26 Judge Benson, according to the traditional account, pasted it on the inside cover of his copy of The Federalist but somewhat later, fearing that he might lose such a valuable document, deposited it in the New York Society Library. The memorandum was presumably stolen in 1818. 27

The existence of the Benson list was corroborated by two witnesses, Robert Benson and William Coleman. Coleman, editor of New-York Evening Post , is the less credible authority; he may have seen the Benson list, but it is significant that he never definitely stated that he did. The most emphatic statement that he made, elicited by the demands for proof made by an antagonist in a newspaper controversy over the authorship of The Federalist , was as follows:

“I, therefore, for the entire satisfaction of the public, now state, that the memorandum referred to is in General Hamilton’s own hand writing, was left by him with his friend judge BENSON, the week before his death, and was, by the latter, deposited in the city library, where it now is, and may be seen, pasted in one of the volumes of The Federalist .” 28

The statement of Robert Benson, the law clerk to whom Hamilton spoke on the day before his encounter with Burr, is more convincing, but it was made many years after the event, and it is far from being conclusive. “I was then a student in the office,” Benson recalled “and well known to the General” who called and enquired for Judge Benson.

“I replied that he had left the city with Mr. King. The General in his usual manner then went to the book case and took down a book which he opened and soon replaced, and left the office. Some time after the General’s death, a memorandum in his handwriting was found in a volume of Pliny’s letters, I think , which, I believe , was the book he took down, and which memorandum was afterwards wafered by the Judge in the inside cover of the first volume of the Federalist, and where it remained for several years. He subsequently removed it, and, as I understand , gave it to some public library.… The marks of the wafers still remain in the volume, and above them in Judge Benson’s handwriting is, what is presumed, and I believe to be , a copy of the General’s memorandum above referred to.” 29

The Benson list is suspect, then, because the claim for its authenticity is based on the evidence of two men neither of whom stated that he actually saw it. If there had not already been too much fruitless speculation on Hamilton’s thoughts and intentions, it would be interesting to explain why Hamilton chose such a roundabout method to make certain that future generations would recognize his contribution to such a celebrated book. Perhaps he knew that Robert Benson would search all the volumes in his uncle’s office on the suspicion that Hamilton, however uncharacteristically, had concealed a note on some important subject; or perhaps he thought that Benson frequently read Pliny’s Letters and thus could be sure the note would be found. One can speculate endlessly on the motives for Hamilton’s extraordinary behavior, but the significant fact is that the Benson list is inadequate as historical evidence.

Evidence of the existence of Hamilton’s own copy of The Federalist in which he supposedly listed the essays he wrote comes from a notice which appeared on November 14, 1807, in The Port Folio . “The Executors of the last will of General Hamilton,” the Philadelphia weekly announced, “have deposited in the Publick Library of New-York a copy of ‘ The Federalist ,’ which belonged to the General in his lifetime, in which he has designated in his own handwriting, the parts of that celebrated work written by himself, as well as those contributed by Mr. JAY and Mr. MADISON.” No one has seen Hamilton’s copy in the last 150 years; whether it existed or what happened to it, if it did exist, cannot now be known. 30

While the numbers claimed by Hamilton in the Benson list and in his own copy of The Federalist are the same, the list by Chancellor James Kent disagrees in several particulars from the other two. The Kent list, in the Chancellor’s own writing, was found on the inside cover of his copy of The Federalist , now in the Columbia University Libraries. Because of differences in the ink and pen he used, Kent’s statement may be divided into three parts, each of which was written at a different time. In the following copy of Kent’s notes the three parts are indicated by Roman numerals:

The numbers which were written over the numbers Kent first wrote are not in Kent’s writing. However familiar one is with the handwriting of another, it is difficult to determine if a single numeral is in his writing. But despite the impossibility of positive identification, a close comparison of numerals made by Hamilton with the numerals which were added to the Kent list strongly indicates that the changes are in the writing of Hamilton. The Kent list thus becomes the only evidence in Hamilton’s writing which now exists. See also James Kent to William Coleman, May 12, 1817 ( ALS , Columbia University Libraries).

Certain reasonable deductions can be made from the evidence presented by Kent’s notes. The ink clearly reveals that the three notes were made at different times. The information in part I of the notes was obtained from someone other than Hamilton, for otherwise Kent would not have written in part II “that Mr. Hamilton told me.” The information in part II must have been given to Kent in a conversation, for it is evident that Kent was not sure that he remembered what Hamilton had said or that Hamilton could remember, without reference to a copy of The Federalist , which essays he had written.

Part III—because it refers to Hamilton as “general” (a rank which he attained in 1798), and because the conversation alluded to took place in Albany—must have been made between 1800, the year in which Hamilton resumed his law practice after completing his duties as inspector general of the Army, and his death in 1804. The third section of Kent’s memorandum also indicates that Hamilton corrected and approved the Kent list. It constitutes, therefore, the most reliable evidence available on Hamilton’s claims of authorship. It should be noted, however, that Kent later doubted the accuracy of Hamilton’s memory, for on the page opposite his memorandum he pasted a copy of the article from the City of Washington Gazette , which stated that Madison had written essays 10, 14, 17, 18, 19, 21, 37–58, 62–63, and that Jay was the author of essays 2, 3, 4, 5, 64. Underneath this clipping Kent wrote:

“I have no doubt Mr. Jay wrote No 64 on the Treaty Power—He made a Speech on that Subject in the NY Convention, & I am told he says he wrote it. I suspect therefore from internal Ev. the above to be the correct List, & not the one on the opposite page.” 31

A comparison of the Kent list (for those essays claimed by Hamilton) with the Gideon edition (for those essays claimed by Madison) makes it clear that there is room for doubt only over the authorship of essays 18, 19, 20, 50, 51, 52, 54–58, and 62–63. About three of these—18, 19, and 20—there should be no dispute, for there is a statement by Madison which Hamilton’s claim does not really controvert. On the margin of his copy of The Federalist opposite number 18 Madison wrote:

“The subject matter of this and the two following numbers happened to be taken up by both Mr. H and Mr. M. What had been prepared by Mr. H who had entered more briefly into the subject, was left with Mr. M on its appearing that the latter was engaged in it, with larger materials, and with a view to a more precise delineation; and from the pen of the latter, the several papers went to the Press.”

The problem of determining the authorship of these three essays is merely one of deciding on the comparative contributions of the two men. Although there are several sentences which are very similar to remarks Hamilton recorded in the outline for his speech of June 18, 1787, on the Constitution, most of the material was undoubtedly supplied by Madison who without doubt wrote these essays. Essay 20, for example, is virtually a copy of notes which Madison had taken in preparation for the Constitutional Convention. 32 On the other hand, Hamilton, however slight his contribution, did contribute to these essays. The authorship of 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, and 63 is more difficult to determine, 33 but Madison’s claim as represented by the Gideon edition appears more convincing than Hamilton’s claim as represented by the Kent list.

Internal evidence has proved to be of little assistance in determining the authorship of The Federalist . The ablest studies in this field are those by Edward G. Bourne 34 and J. C. Hamilton. 35 Bourne attributes all disputed essays to Madison; J. C. Hamilton asserts that they were written by his father. Bourne and J. C. Hamilton attempt to prove their respective cases by printing excerpts from the disputed essays parallel to similar, and sometimes identical, passages from other writings by each man. Bourne presents very convincing evidence for Madison’s authorship of numbers 49, 51, 53, 62, 63, and a fair case for Madison having written numbers 50 and 52; his case for 54, 55, 56, 57, and 58 is particularly weak as he offers no evidence from Madison’s other writings and relies on the argument that, as essays 48–58 are a group, the author who wrote the earlier essays must also have written the later ones in the group. J. C. Hamilton, on the other hand, produces some evidence that Hamilton wrote essays 55–58, and he offers contrived and unconvincing arguments in support of Hamilton’s authorship of the remaining disputed essays. The significant point, however, is that each man was able to find evidence that his candidate wrote all the disputed essays. The contradictory conclusions of these two men—one of whom studied intensively the previous writings of Madison and the other whose life-long study of his father gave him a knowledge of Hamilton’s writings which never has been excelled—point up the difficulties of deciding this dispute on the basis of internal evidence.

The problems posed by internal evidence are made even more difficult by the fact that both Hamilton and Madison defended the Constitution with similar arguments and by the fact that they both had a remarkably similar prose style. To attempt to find in any of the disputed essays words which either man used and which the other never employed is futile, if only because the enormous amount which each wrote allows the assiduous searcher to discover almost any word in the earlier or subsequent writings of both. 36 The search for parallel statements in the disputed essays and in earlier writings is also an unrewarding enterprise. Madison doubtless did not approve of the ideas expressed in Hamilton’s famous speech on June 18, 1787, to the Convention; but before 1787 both men agreed on the weaknesses of the Confederation and the necessity of a stronger central government. 37 The similarity of their thinking is particularly apparent to one who examines their collaboration when they were both members of the Continental Congress in 1783. Their later political differences prove little about what they wrote in 1787–88.

If one were to rely on internal evidence, it would be impossible to assign all the disputed essays to either Hamilton or Madison. While such evidence indicates that Madison surely wrote numbers 49–54 and probably 62–63, it also suggests that Hamilton wrote 55–58. In this edition of Hamilton’s writings, however, greater weight is given to the claims made by the disputants than to internal evidence. Madison’s claims were maturely considered and emphatically stated; Hamilton, on the other hand, showed little interest in the question, and he died before it had become a matter of acrimonious controversy. But the fact remains that Hamilton’s claims have never been unequivocally refuted, and the possibility remains that he could have written essays 50–52, 54–58, 62–63. As a consequence, these essays have been printed in this edition of Hamilton’s writings. Madison’s adherents may, however, derive some consolation from the fact that in the notes to each of these essays it is stated that Madison’s claims to authorship are superior to those of Hamilton.

1 .  The most important of these was by “Cato,” presumably George Clinton. The first “Cato” letter was published in The New-York Journal, and Weekly Register on September 27, 1787.

2 .  See, for example, the two articles by “Caesar” ( September 28 and October 15, 1787 ), which erroneously have been attributed to H.

3 .  An anonymous newspaper article, signed “Aristides” and published in The [New York] Daily Advertiser on October 6, stated that H’s absence from the city prevented him from defending himself against newspaper attacks. An entry in H’s Cash Book dated November 4 (see “Cash Book,” March 1, 1782–1791 ) indicates that he attended the October session of the Supreme Court in Albany.

4 .  The story was first related in Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends III, 369, and has been repeated in most works on The Federalist .

5 .  A memorandum by Madison entitled “The Federalist,” quoted in J. C. Hamilton, ed., The Federalist: a Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also, The Continentalist and Other Papers by Hamilton (Philadelphia, 1865), I, lxxxv.

The essays by William Duer, signed “Philo-Publius,” are published at the end of the second volume of J. C. Hamilton’s edition of The Federalist .

6 .  Morris to W. H. Wells, February 24, 1815, in Sparks, The Life of Gouverneur Morris description begins Jared Sparks, The Life of Gouverneur Morris (Boston, 1832). description ends , III, 339.

7 .  Drafts of only two essays, 5 and 64, both of which were written by John Jay, have been found. The draft of essay 5 is in the John Jay Papers, Columbia University Libraries. The draft of essay 64 is in the New-York Historical Society, New York City. The draft of essay 3 is now owned by Mr. Ruddy Ruggles of Chicago.

8 .  Most writers have stated that all the essays first appeared in The Independent Journal: or, the General Advertiser or New-York Packet . Others (J. C. Hamilton and Henry B. Dawson, for example) were aware that they appeared first in different newspapers, but they did not determine accurately the newspaper in which each essay first appeared.

The Independent Journal and New-York Packet carried the entire series of essays, while The Daily Advertiser ceased to print them after essay 51. The New-York Journal carried only essays 23 through 39. At no time, however, did an essay appear in The New-York Journal without appearing in at least one of the three other papers at the same time. On January 1, 1788, Thomas Greenleaf, editor of the Journal and supporter of George Clinton, printed a letter signed “45 Subscribers” which complained about Greenleaf’s publication of “Publius,” which was already appearing in three newspapers. Shortly after this, on January 30, 1788, Greenleaf discontinued publication of the essays with number 39 (numbered by him 37).

9 .  The full title is The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. McLean, No. 41, Hanover-Square. MDCCLXXXVIII). This is referred to hereafter as the “McLean edition.”

10 .  The Independent Journal: or, the General Advertiser January 1, 1788.

11 .  There is no question that H was the author of the preface and that he corrected the essays. Not only was this stated by McLean’s advertisement, but Madison, writing years later, said that the essays “were edited as soon as possible in two small vols. the preface to the 1st. vol. drawn up by Mr. H., bearing date N. York Mar. 1788” ( Hunt, Writings of Madison description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (New York, 1902). description ends , VIII, 411).

12 .  The first French edition, published in two volumes in 1792, listed the authors as “MM. Hamilton, Madisson et Gay, Citoyens de l’Etat de New-York.” The second edition, published in 1795 and also in two volumes, named “MM. Hamilton, Madisson et Jay” as the authors. For a description of these editions, see The Fœderalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favor of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Fœderal Convention, September 17, 1787. Reprinted from the Original Text . With an Historical Introduction and Notes by Henry B. Dawson. In Two Volumes (Morrisania, New York, 1864), I, lxiv–lxvi.

13 .  The FEDERALIST, On the New Constitution. By Publius. Written in 1788. To Which is Added, PACIFICUS, On the Proclamation of Neutrality. Written in 1793. Likewise, The Federal Constitution, With All the Amendments. Revised and Corrected. In Two Volumes (New York: Printed and Sold by George F. Hopkins, At Washington’s Head, 1802). Cited hereafter as the “Hopkins edition.”

14 .  J. C. Hamilton, The Federalist description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also, The Continentalist and Other Papers by Hamilton (Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , I, xci, xcii.

15 .  Henry B. Dawson, The Fœderalist , I, lxx–lxxi.

16 .  The Federalist, on The New Constitution, written in the year 1788, By Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Jay with An Appendix, containing The Letters of Pacificus and Helvidius, on the Proclamation of Neutrality of 1793; Also the Original Articles of Confederation, and The Constitution of the United States, with the Amendments Made Thereto. A New Edition. The Numbers Written by Mr. Madison corrected by Himself (City of Washington: Printed and Published by Jacob Gideon, Jun., 1818). Cited hereafter as the “Gideon edition.”

17 .  Three days after the publication of the first essay, Hamilton sent George Washington a copy of it. Hamilton wrote that the essay was “the first of a series of papers to be written in its [the Constitution’s] defense.” Washington, of course, knew that H was the author, for H customarily sent to Washington anonymous newspaper articles which he wrote. On December 2, 1787, Madison wrote to Edmund Randolph:

“The enclosed paper contains two numbers of the Federalist. This paper was begun about three weeks ago, and proposes to go through the subject. I have not been able to collect all the numbers, since my return to Philad, or I would have sent them to you. I have been the less anxious, as I understand the printer means to make a pamphlet of them, when I can give them to you in a more convenient form. You will probably discover marks of different pens. I am not at liberty to give you any other key, than, that I am in myself for a few numbers; and that one, besides myself was a member of the Convention.” ( Hunt, Writings of Madison description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (New York, 1902). description ends , V, 60–61.)

18 .  The first edition of The Federalist which attributed specific essays to individual authors appeared as the second and third volumes of a three-volume edition of H’s writings published in 1810 ( The Federalist, on the new constitution; written in 1788, by Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Jay, and Mr. Madison … A new edition, with the names and portraits of the several writers . In Two Volumes [New York, published by Williams & Whiting, 1810]).

19 .  The letter in The Port Folio of November 14, 1807, reads as follows:

“Mr. OLDSCHOOL,

“The Executors of the last will of General HAMILTON have deposited in the Publick Library of New-York a copy of ‘ The Federalist ,’ which belonged to the General in his lifetime, in which he has designated, in his own hand-writing, the parts of that celebrated work written by himself, as well as those contributed by Mr. JAY and Mr. MADISON. As it may not be uninteresting to many of your readers, I shall subjoin a copy of the General’s memorandum for publication in ‘The Port Folio.’   M.

“Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 54 Mr. JAY. Nos. 10, 14, 37, to 48 inclusive, Mr. MADISON. Nos. 18, 19, 20, Mr. HAMILTON and Mr. MADDISON jointly—all the rest by Mr. HAMILTON.”

20 .  There are several lists other than those subsequently discussed in the text. On the flyleaf of volume 1 of his copy of The Federalist , Thomas Jefferson wrote the following: “No. 2. 3. 4. 5. 64 by Mr. Jay. No. 10. 14. 17. 18. 19. 21. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 62. 63. by Mr. Madison. The rest of the work by Alexander Hamilton.” Jefferson’s copy of The Federalist , now in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress, came to him indirectly from H’s wife, Elizabeth. It bears the inscription: “For Mrs. Church from her Sister . Elizabeth Hamilton.” The words, “For Mrs. Church from her Sister ,” are in the handwriting of Elizabeth Hamilton. Angelica Schuyler Church, despite her admiration for her brother-in-law, had long been a friend of Jefferson and must have sent her copy of The Federalist to him. It is not known from whom Jefferson got his information on the authorship of the essays, but presumably it was from Madison. It will be noted that there is only one minor difference between Jefferson’s attribution of the essays and that made by Madison: Jefferson attributed essay 17 to Madison. A facsimile is printed in E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalog of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C., 1953), III, 228.

On the title page of George Washington’s copy of The Federalist there is an assignment of authorship which reads as follows: “Jay author—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 54. Madison—10, 14, 37–48 exclusive of last. 18, 19, 20, productive of Jay, AH and Madison. All rest by Gen’l Hamilton.” This memorandum is in an unidentified handwriting. Except for two differences it conforms to the Benson list. Without more information on the source of the list, its reliability is highly suspect (Washington’s copy of The Federalist is in the National Archives).

Henry Cabot Lodge in his edition of The Federalist ( HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , XI, xxvii), placed in evidence lists of authors which he found in copies of The Federalist owned by Fisher Ames and George Cabot. Both correspond to the Benson list.

21 .  Jay’s authorship of these essays is incontestable. H supposedly stated in the Benson list that he wrote 64 and that Jay was the author of 54. The draft of 64, in the writing of Jay, is in the New-York Historical Society, New York City. Both H and Madison agreed that Jay wrote 2, 3, 4, and 5.

That Jay contributed only five essays was due to an attack of rheumatism which lasted through the winter of 1787. It was not due, as his earlier biographers stated, to an injury which he received in the “Doctors’ Riot” in New York. The riot did not occur until April, 1788, by which time most of the “Publius” essays had been written (Frank Monaghan, John Jay [New York, 1935], 290).

22 .  “I take upon me to state from indubitable authority,” Corrector wrote “that Mr. Madison wrote Nos. 10, 14, 18, 19, 20, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, 63, and 64. Mr. Jay wrote Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5; and Mr. Hamilton the residue” ([Washington] National Intelligencer , March 20, 1817).

23 .  Benjamin Rush, the oldest son of Richard, sent Henry B. Dawson the following description of the notes in the edition of The Federalist owned by his father: “On a fly-leaf of the second volume there is the following memorandum in my father’s handwriting. I copy it exactly as it appears: ‘The initials, J.M. J.J. and A.H. throughout the work, are in Mr. Madison’s hand, and designate the author of each number. By these it will be seen, that although the printed designations are generally correct, they are not always so’” (Benjamin Rush to Dawson, August 29, 1863, New-York Historical Society, New York City).

Madison’s attribution of authorship, according to Benjamin Rush, was exactly the same as that which the Virginian authorized in the Gideon edition.

24 .  The anonymous author of the article in the City of Washington Gazette stated that Madison wrote essays 10, 14, 17, 18, 19, 21, 37–58, 62–63, that Jay was the author of essays 2, 3, 4, 5, and 64, and that H wrote the rest.

25 .  Gideon, p. 3. In this edition, essays 10, 14, 18–20, 37–58, 62–63 are assigned to Madison; 2, 3, 4, 5, and 64 to Jay; and the remainder to H. Madison’s copy of The Federalist , with corrections in his handwriting, is in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress.

26 .  The memorandum by H, as printed by William Coleman, reads as follows: “Nos. 2. 3. 4. 5. 54, Mr. Jay; Nos. 10, 14, 37 to 48 inclusive, Mr. Madison; Nos. 18, 19, 20, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison jointly; all the rest by Mr. Hamilton” ( New-York Evening Post , March 25, 1817).

27 .  According to Coleman the memorandum was deposited by Egbert Benson in “the city library,” as the New York Society Library was then sometimes known. The remainder of the story related in this paragraph is taken from J. C. Hamilton’s account of a “ Copy of a statement in my possession made for me by Egbert Benson, Esq., a nephew of Judge Benson.” It is quoted in Hamilton, The Federalist description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also, The Continentalist and Other Papers by Hamilton (Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , I, xcvi–xcvii.

28 .  New-York Evening Post , January 23, 1818.

The volume from which the memorandum was stolen may have been at one time in the New York Society Library; however, it is no longer there. That library has no McLean edition of The Federalist that bears any marks which indicate that a piece of paper once had been pasted on the inside cover.

29 .  Hamilton, The Federalist description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also, The Continentalist and Other Papers by Hamilton (Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , I, xcvi–xcvii. The italics have been inserted.

J. C. Hamilton did not get this statement from Robert Benson. It was, as has been stated, from the “ Copy of a statement in my possession made for me by Egbert Benson, Esq., a nephew of Judge Benson” ( ibid. , xcvii).

30 .  For the attribution of authorship which H made in his copy of The Federalist , see note 20.

H’s copy is now in neither the New York Society Library, the New-York Historical Society, nor the New York Public Library, and those libraries have no record of ever having owned it. G. W. Cole, ed., A Catalogue of Books Relating to the Discovery and Early History of North and South America, The E. D. Church Library (New York, 1907), V, Number 1230, lists an item purporting to be H’s copy of The Federalist with notes in his writing. According to the librarian of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, which acquired the Church library, the notes were not in the writing of H. The book, which is no longer in the Huntington Library, was sold to an unknown purchaser.

J. C. Hamilton, probably unintentionally, contradicts the statement that the names of the authors in his father’s copy of The Federalist were in H’s handwriting. He stated that his father dictated to him the authors of the essays which he then copied into H’s copy ( The Federalist description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also, The Continentalist and Other Papers by Hamilton (Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , I, xcvi–xcvii).

31 .  Not too much reliance should be placed on Kent’s endorsement of the Madison list in the City of Washington Gazette . According to that list, Madison wrote not only all the disputed essays but also essay 17. As Madison’s most ardent defenders assign this essay to H, it seems that Kent’s statement indicated nothing more than his suspicion that H may have made errors in his assignment of authors of the essays.

While Kent’s statement shows that he doubted the accuracy of the attribution of essays made by H, it raises several questions that cannot satisfactorily be answered. The clipping from the City of Washington Gazette was dated December 15, 1817, and the notes on the opposite page of the flyleaf, as stated in the text, could not have been written later than 1804. How, then, could Kent have written that he doubted that Jay wrote essay 64 when the essay was attributed to Jay on a page which was in front of Kent as he wrote? The only possible answer is that Kent, when writing in 1817 or later, failed to look carefully at the changes which had been made in his earlier memorandum and had his uncorrected list in mind. Whatever the explanation for his later statement, it is at least certain that he did not change the earlier list after he saw the article in the City of Washington Gazette .

32 .  “Notes of Ancient and Modern Confederacies, preparatory to the federal Convention of 1787” ( Madison, Letters description begins James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (Philadelphia, 1867). description ends , I, 293–315).

33 .  A favorite argument of those who support Madison’s claim to essays 49–58 of The Federalist is that since those essays constitute a unit, one man must have written all of them. The essays deal with: 1. the necessity of the departments of government having checks on each other, and 2. the House of Representatives. Madison’s defenders, in their desire to prove his authorship, forget that essays 59, 60, and 61, essays which they attribute to H, also deal with the House of Representatives. There are, furthermore, several obvious breaks in continuity among the essays from 48 to 58, at which a change of authors could have taken place. Essay 51, for example, ends the discussion of the necessity that “these departments shall be so far connected and blended as to give to each a constitutional control over the others,” and essay 52 begins the discussion of the House of Representatives. A change could also have occurred after essay 54 or essay 57. This is not to say that changes in authorship did occur; it is to indicate that the “unit” argument will not stand up under scrutiny.

34 .  “The Authorship of the Federalist,” The American Historical Review , II (April, 1897), 443–60.

35 .  The fact that only Bourne and J. C. Hamilton are cited does not mean that other studies of the authorship of The Federalist have been ignored or overlooked. It means rather that other authors, while sometimes introducing new arguments, have relied heavily on the research of Bourne and J. C. Hamilton. To cite all those who have agreed with Bourne or Hamilton would be redundant; to summarize all the arguments of the numerous students of The Federalist —based for the most part on Bourne and Hamilton’s original research—is a task best left to the historiographer of that work.

There have been, of course, other able studies of the authorship of the disputed essays. Among the defenders of H’s claim, Henry Cabot Lodge (“The Authorship of the Federalist,” HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , XI, xv–xlv) and Paul L. Ford (“The Authorship of The Federalist,” The American Historical Review , II [July, 1897], 675–82) have been the most able advocates. The most convincing exponent of Madison’s claim since Bourne is Douglass Adair (“The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers,” The William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd. ser., Vol. I, Numbers 2 and 3 [April and July, 1944], 97–122, 235–64). In two essays which brilliantly summarize the century-old controversy over the authorship of the disputed essays, Adair amplifies the research of Bourne and attempts to assign the disputed essays on the basis of the political philosophy which they reveal.

36 .  See, for example, S. A. Bailey, “Notes on Authorship of Disputed Numbers of the Federalist,” Case and Comment , XXII (1915), 674–75. Bailey credits Madison with sole authorship of the disputed essays on the basis of the use of the word “while” by H and “whilst” by Madison. Although the evidence for Bailey’s conclusion is convincing—and there is far more evidence than he produces—his argument is destroyed by H’s occasional use of “whilst.” In essay 51, for example, H, who himself edited the essays for publication by McLean, substituted “whilst” for “and.” In essay 81, certainly written by H, the word “whilst” is used. Edward G. Bourne (see note 35), to give another example, offers as evidence for Madison’s authorship of essay 56 his use of the word “monitory,” which, according to Bourne, was “almost a favorite word with Madison.” Yet in essay 26, H, in revising the essays for publication in the McLean edition, changed “cautionary” to “monitory.” Similarly, to assign authorship on the basis of differences in the spelling of certain words in different essays—for example, “color” or “colour,” “federal” or “fœderal”—would be hazardous. The editors of the various newspapers in which the essays appeared obviously changed the spelling of certain words to conform to their individual preferences.

37 .  Similarity between a statement in one of the disputed essays and an earlier remark in the writings of either Madison or H is perhaps valid evidence. It does not seem relevant, however, to attempt to prove authorship by reference to the later writings of either of the men. As both presumably read all the essays, they might later have borrowed a statement from a number of The Federalist written by the other without being aware of its source.

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The Federalist Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay | Published 1787-1788

The Federalist  is the title given to a series of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay defending the Constitution to New Yorkers in an effort to promote its ratification.  The Federalist  stands as the most comprehensive and systematic articulation by the Founders of the reasoning behind the design of the United States Constitution. The second to last essay in the  Federalist  (No. 84) offers a defense of the Constitutional Convention’s unpopular decision to omit a bill of rights, and therefore not to recognize explicitly the freedom of speech or press.

The Argument Against the Bill of Rights

In  Federalist  No. 84 , Alexander Hamilton, under the pseudonym “Publius,” argues that a bill of rights is not only unnecessary in a well designed constitution but is even dangerous. These arguments reflect a consistent theme in the  The Federalist  that the principal means of protecting the liberty of the individual are institutions of government designed in such a manner as to limit and frustrate its power to infringe on such liberties. The two most famous examples of this kind of institutional thinking in the  Federalist  are its defense of checks and balances and its defense of the large republic as a measure against majority faction. By granting each branch of government a certain limited power over other branches, the Constitution channels the ambition of office-holders, which normally causes them to abuse their power and exceed their lawful limits, toward guarding their powers against the illegitimate expansion of the  other  branches of government. As each branch jealously prevents the other branches from usurping any power not lawfully granted to it, the whole government is kept within its limited mandate. Similarly, by enlarging the representatives’ districts and the total number of representatives, the Constitution uses the dangerous narrow-minded tendencies of political actors against themselves. As the number of narrow and frequently selfish interest groups multiplies, it becomes more difficult for any one of them to dominate an election or to seize control over any part of the government.

In general, then, the Constitution as understood by the  Federalist  does not primarily aim at articulating the legal rights of individuals but at limiting the government’s ability to exceed the narrow boundaries of the powers that are entrusted to it. For this reason, the Constitution seeks to be clear about which specific powers the government  does  have, on the understanding that it does  not  have  any  powers beyond these. Thus, Hamilton argues in  Federalist  84 that to include a bill of rights would suggest, by implication, that if the bill of rights were not there, the government would be permitted to infringe on those rights. It would suggest, in other words, that the government has a great deal of power that is nowhere granted to it in the Constitution.

Justice Scalia on the Federalists’ view of the Bill of Rights

1.   Federalist No. 84

2.   Federalist  No. 38

3.   Federalist  No. 10

4.   Federalist No. 51

5.  Recommended Editions

6.  Footnotes

Federalist  No. 84: “Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered” (Alexander Hamilton)

The text below is courtesy of the Avalon Project . A two-page edited version focusing on the freedom of the press that is suitable for classroom use can be found in The First Amendment: Freedom of the Press. Edited by Garrett Epps. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2008.   Find it on Amazon.  It is also in The Founders’ Constitution. Vol. 5 (Doc. 4). Edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.  Read it online at the Founder’s Constitution through the Liberty Fund , or  Find it on Amazon .

To the People of the State of New York:

IN THE course of the foregoing review of the Constitution, I have taken notice of, and endeavored to answer most of the objections which have appeared against it. There, however, remain a few which either did not fall naturally under any particular head or were forgotten in their proper places. These shall now be discussed; but as the subject has been drawn into great length, I shall so far consult brevity as to comprise all my observations on these miscellaneous points in a single paper.

The most considerable of the remaining objections is that the plan of the convention contains no bill of rights. Among other answers given to this, it has been upon different occasions remarked that the constitutions of several of the States are in a similar predicament. I add that New York is of the number. And yet the opposers of the new system, in this State, who profess an unlimited admiration for its constitution, are among the most intemperate partisans of a bill of rights. To justify their zeal in this matter, they allege two things: one is that, though the constitution of New York has no bill of rights prefixed to it, yet it contains, in the body of it, various provisions in favor of particular privileges and rights, which, in substance amount to the same thing; the other is, that the Constitution adopts, in their full extent, the common and statute law of Great Britain, by which many other rights, not expressed in it, are equally secured.

To the first I answer, that the Constitution proposed by the convention contains, as well as the constitution of this State, a number of such provisions.

Independent of those which relate to the structure of the government, we find the following: Article 1, section 3, clause 7 “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States; but the party convicted shall, nevertheless, be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment according to law.” Section 9, of the same article, clause 2 “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Clause 3 “No bill of attainder or ex-post-facto law shall be passed.” Clause 7 “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States; and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” Article 3, section 2, clause 3 “The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.” Section 3, of the same article “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” And clause 3, of the same section “The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason; but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attainted.”

It may well be a question, whether these are not, upon the whole, of equal importance with any which are to be found in the constitution of this State. The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus, the prohibition of ex-post-facto laws, and of TITLES OF NOBILITY, TO WHICH WE HAVE NO CORRESPONDING PROVISION IN OUR CONSTITUTION, are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it contains. The creation of crimes after the commission of the fact, or, in other words, the subjecting of men to punishment for things which, when they were done, were breaches of no law, and the practice of arbitrary imprisonments, have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious Blackstone,[Footnote 1] in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital: “To bereave a man of life, says he, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore A MORE DANGEROUS ENGINE of arbitrary government.” And as a remedy for this fatal evil he is everywhere peculiarly emphatical in his encomiums on the habeas-corpus act, which in one place he calls “the BULWARK of the British Constitution.”[Footnote 2]

Nothing need be said to illustrate the importance of the prohibition of titles of nobility. This may truly be denominated the corner-stone of republican government; for so long as they are excluded, there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people.

To the second that is, to the pretended establishment of the common and state law by the Constitution, I answer, that they are expressly made subject “to such alterations and provisions as the legislature shall from time to time make concerning the same.” They are therefore at any moment liable to repeal by the ordinary legislative power, and of course have no constitutional sanction. The only use of the declaration was to recognize the ancient law and to remove doubts which might have been occasioned by the Revolution. This consequently can be considered as no part of a declaration of rights, which under our constitutions must be intended as limitations of the power of the government itself.

It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the PETITION OF RIGHT assented to by Charles I., in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations. “WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ORDAIN and ESTABLISH this Constitution for the United States of America.” Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.

But a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns. If, therefore, the loud clamors against the plan of the convention, on this score, are well founded, no epithets of reprobation will be too strong for the constitution of this State. But the truth is, that both of them contain all which, in relation to their objects, is reasonably to be desired.

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.

On the subject of the liberty of the press, as much as has been said, I cannot forbear adding a remark or two: in the first place, I observe, that there is not a syllable concerning it in the constitution of this State; in the next, I contend, that whatever has been said about it in that of any other State, amounts to nothing. What signifies a declaration, that “the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved”? What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable; and from this I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.[Footnote 3] And here, after all, as is intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights.

There remains but one other view of this matter to conclude the point. The truth is, after all the declamations we have heard, that the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS. The several bills of rights in Great Britain form its Constitution, and conversely the constitution of each State is its bill of rights. And the proposed Constitution, if adopted, will be the bill of rights of the Union. Is it one object of a bill of rights to declare and specify the political privileges of the citizens in the structure and administration of the government? This is done in the most ample and precise manner in the plan of the convention; comprehending various precautions for the public security, which are not to be found in any of the State constitutions. Is another object of a bill of rights to define certain immunities and modes of proceeding, which are relative to personal and private concerns? This we have seen has also been attended to, in a variety of cases, in the same plan. Adverting therefore to the substantial meaning of a bill of rights, it is absurd to allege that it is not to be found in the work of the convention. It may be said that it does not go far enough, though it will not be easy to make this appear; but it can with no propriety be contended that there is no such thing. It certainly must be immaterial what mode is observed as to the order of declaring the rights of the citizens, if they are to be found in any part of the instrument which establishes the government. And hence it must be apparent, that much of what has been said on this subject rests merely on verbal and nominal distinctions, entirely foreign from the substance of the thing.

Another objection which has been made, and which, from the frequency of its repetition, it is to be presumed is relied on, is of this nature: “It is improper Õsay the objectorsÃ¥ to confer such large powers, as are proposed, upon the national government, because the seat of that government must of necessity be too remote from many of the States to admit of a proper knowledge on the part of the constituent, of the conduct of the representative body.” This argument, if it proves any thing, proves that there ought to be no general government whatever. For the powers which, it seems to be agreed on all hands, ought to be vested in the Union, cannot be safely intrusted to a body which is not under every requisite control. But there are satisfactory reasons to show that the objection is in reality not well founded. There is in most of the arguments which relate to distance a palpable illusion of the imagination. What are the sources of information by which the people in Montgomery County must regulate their judgment of the conduct of their representatives in the State legislature? Of personal observation they can have no benefit. This is confined to the citizens on the spot. They must therefore depend on the information of intelligent men, in whom they confide; and how must these men obtain their information? Evidently from the complexion of public measures, from the public prints, from correspondences with theirrepresentatives, and with other persons who reside at the place of their deliberations. This does not apply to Montgomery County only, but to all the counties at any considerable distance from the seat of government.

It is equally evident that the same sources of information would be open to the people in relation to the conduct of their representatives in the general government, and the impediments to a prompt communication which distance may be supposed to create, will be overbalanced by the effects of the vigilance of the State governments. The executive and legislative bodies of each State will be so many sentinels over the persons employed in every department of the national administration; and as it will be in their power to adopt and pursue a regular and effectual system of intelligence, they can never be at a loss to know the behavior of those who represent their constituents in the national councils, and can readily communicate the same knowledge to the people. Their disposition to apprise the community of whatever may prejudice its interests from another quarter, may be relied upon, if it were only from the rivalship of power. And we may conclude with the fullest assurance that the people, through that channel, will be better informed of the conduct of their national representatives, than they can be by any means they now possess of that of their State representatives.

It ought also to be remembered that the citizens who inhabit the country at and near the seat of government will, in all questions that affect the general liberty and prosperity, have the same interest with those who are at a distance, and that they will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point out the actors in any pernicious project. The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union.

Among the many curious objections which have appeared against the proposed Constitution, the most extraordinary and the least colorable is derived from the want of some provision respecting the debts due TO the United States. This has been represented as a tacit relinquishment of those debts, and as a wicked contrivance to screen public defaulters. The newspapers have teemed with the most inflammatory railings on this head; yet there is nothing clearer than that the suggestion is entirely void of foundation, the of

fspring of extreme ignorance or extreme dishonesty. In addition to the remarks I have made upon the subject in another place, I shall only observe that as it is a plain dictate of common-sense, so it is also an established doctrine of political law, that “STATES NEITHER LOSE ANY OF THEIR RIGHTS, NOR ARE DISCHARGED FROM ANY OF THEIR OBLIGATIONS, BY A CHANGE IN THE FORM OF THEIR CIVIL GOVERNMENT.”4 The last objection of any consequence, which I at present recollect, turns upon the article of expense. If it were even true, that the adoption of the proposed government would occasion a considerable increase of expense, it would be an objection that ought to have no weight against the plan.

The great bulk of the citizens of America are with reason convinced, that Union is the basis of their political happiness. Men of sense of all parties now, with few exceptions, agree that it cannot be preserved under the present system, nor without radical alterations; that new and extensive powers ought to be granted to the national head, and that these require a different organization of the federal government a single body being an unsafe depositary of such ample authorities. In conceding all this, the question of expense must be given up; for it is impossible, with any degree of safety, to narrow the foundation upon which the system is to stand. The two branches of the legislature are, in the first instance, to consist of only sixty-five persons, which is the same number of which Congress, under the existing Confederation, may be composed. It is true that this number is intended to be increased; but this is to keep pace with the progress of the population and resources of the country. It is evident that a less number would, even in the first instance, have been unsafe, and that a continuance of the present number would, in a more advanced stage of population, be a very inadequate representation of the people.

Whence is the dreaded augmentation of expense to spring? One source indicated, is the multiplication of offices under the new government. Let us examine this a little.

It is evident that the principal departments of the administration under the present government, are the same which will be required under the new. There are now a Secretary of War, a Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a Secretary for Domestic Affairs, a Board of Treasury, consisting of three persons, a Treasurer, assistants, clerks, etc. These officers are indispensable under any system, and will suffice under the new as well as the old. As to ambassadors and other ministers and agents in foreign countries, the proposed Constitution can make no other difference than to render their characters, where they reside, more respectable, and their services more useful. As to persons to be employed in the collection of the revenues, it is unquestionably true that these will form a very considerable addition to the number of federal officers; but it will not follow that this will occasion an increase of public expense. It will be in most cases nothing more than an exchange of State for national officers. In the collection of all duties, for instance, the persons employed will be wholly of the latter description. The States individually will stand in no need of any for this purpose. What difference can it make in point of expense to pay officers of the customs appointed by the State or by the United States? There is no good reason to suppose that either the number or the salaries of the latter will be greater than those of the former.

Where then are we to seek for those additional articles of expense which are to swell the account to the enormous size that has been represented to us? The chief item which occurs to me respects the support of the judges of the United States. I do not add the President, because there is now a president of Congress, whose expenses may not be far, if any thing, short of those which will be incurred on account of the President of the United States. The support of the judges will clearly be an extra expense, but to what extent will depend on the particular plan which may be adopted in regard to this matter. But upon no reasonable plan can it amount to a sum which will be an object of material consequence.

Let us now see what there is to counterbalance any extra expense that may attend the establishment of the proposed government. The first thing which presents itself is that a great part of the business which now keeps Congress sitting through the year will be transacted by the President. Even the management of foreign negotiations will naturally devolve upon him, according to general principles concerted with the Senate, and subject to their final concurrence. Hence it is evident that a portion of the year will suffice for the session of both the Senate and the House of Representatives; we may suppose about a fourth for the latter and a third, or perhaps half, for the former. The extra business of treaties and appointments may give this extra occupation to the Senate. From this circumstance we may infer that, until the House of Representatives shall be increased greatly beyond its present number, there will be a considerable saving of expense from the difference between the constant session of the present and the temporary session of the future Congress.

But there is another circumstance of great importance in the view of economy. The business of the United States has hitherto occupied the State legislatures, as well as Congress. The latter has made requisitions which the former have had to provide for. Hence it has happened that the sessions of the State legislatures have been protracted greatly beyond what was necessary for the execution of the mere local business of the States. More than half their time has been frequently employed in matters which related to the United States. Now the members who compose the legislatures of the several States amount to two thousand and upwards, which number has hitherto performed what under the new system will be done in the first instance by sixty-five persons, and probably at no future period by above a fourth or fifth of that number. The Congress under the proposed government will do all the business of the United States themselves, without the intervention of the State legislatures, who thenceforth will have only to attend to the affairs of their particular States, and will not have to sit in any proportion as long as they have heretofore done. This difference in the time of the sessions of the State legislatures will be clear gain, and will alone form an article of saving, which may be regarded as an equivalent for any additional objects of expense that may be occasioned by the adoption of the new system.

The result from these observations is that the sources of additional expense from the establishment of the proposed Constitution are much fewer than may have been imagined; that they are counterbalanced by considerable objects of saving; and that while it is questionable on which side the scale will preponderate, it is certain that a government less expensive would be incompetent to the purposes of the Union.

Federalist  No. 38: “…the Incoherence of the Objections to the New Plan Exposed” (James Madison)

The following are two excerpts from Federalist No. 38 that touch on Anti-federalist complaints about the absence of a bill of rights in the Constitution. They are edited from the text found on  the Avalon Project.

[Of the Anti-federalists:]

This one tells us that the proposed Constitution ought to be rejected, because it is not a confederation of the States, but a government over individuals. Another admits that it ought to be a government over individuals to a certain extent, but by no means to the extent proposed. A third does not object to the government over individuals, or to the extent proposed, but to the want of a bill of rights. A fourth concurs in the absolute necessity of a bill of rights, but contends that it ought to be declaratory, not of the personal rights of individuals, but of the rights reserved to the States in their political capacity. A fifth is of opinion that a bill of rights of any sort would be superfluous and misplaced, and that the plan would be unexceptionable but for the fatal power of regulating the times and places of election.

It is a matter both of wonder and regret, that those who raise so many objections against the new Constitution should never call to mind the defects of that which is to be exchanged for it. It is not necessary that the former should be perfect; it is sufficient that the latter is more imperfect. No man would refuse to give brass for silver or gold, because the latter had some alloy in it. No man would refuse to quit a shattered and tottering habitation for a firm and commodious building, because the latter had not a porch to it, or because some of the rooms might be a little larger or smaller, or the ceilings a little higher or lower than his fancy would have planned them. But waiving illustrations of this sort, is it not manifest that most of the capital objections urged against the new system lie with tenfold weight against the existing Confederation? Is an indefinite power to raise money dangerous in the hands of the federal government? The present Congress can make requisitions to any amount they please, and the States are constitutionally bound to furnish them; they can emit bills of credit as long as they will pay for the paper; they can borrow, both abroad and at home, as long as a shilling will be lent. Is an indefinite power to raise troops dangerous? The Confederation gives to Congress that power also; and they have already begun to make use of it. Is it improper and unsafe to intermix the different powers of government in the same body of men? Congress, a single body of men, are the sole depositary of all the federal powers. Is it particularly dangerous to give the keys of the treasury, and the command of the army, into the same hands? The Confederation places them both in the hands of Congress.  Is a bill of rights essential to liberty? The Confederation has no bill of rights.  Is it an objection against the new Constitution, that it empowers the Senate, with the concurrence of the Executive, to make treaties which are to be the laws of the land? The existing Congress, without any such control, can make treaties which they themselves have declared, and most of the States have recognized, to be the supreme law of the land. Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old it is permitted forever.

Federalist  No. 10: “…The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection” (James Madison)

The text below is  courtesy of the Avalon Project.

AMONG the  numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations. The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected. Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good. The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.

By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.

It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.

The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,–is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.

Federalist  No. 51: “The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments” (James Madison)

The text below is  courtesy of the Avalon Project .

TO WHAT expedient , then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. Without presuming to undertake a full development of this important idea, I will hazard a few general observations, which may perhaps place it in a clearer light, and enable us to form a more correct judgment of the principles and structure of the government planned by the convention.

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigorously adhered to, it would require that all the appointments for the supreme executive, legislative, and judiciary magistracies should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels having no communication whatever with one another. Perhaps such a plan of constructing the several departments would be less difficult in practice than it may in contemplation appear. Some difficulties, however, and some additional expense would attend the execution of it. Some deviations, therefore, from the principle must be admitted. In the constitution of the judiciary department in particular, it might be inexpedient to insist rigorously on the principle: first, because peculiar qualifications being essential in the members, the primary consideration ought to be to select that mode of choice which best secures these qualifications; secondly, because the permanent tenure by which the appointments are held in that department, must soon destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.

It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal. But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified.

An absolute negative on the legislature appears, at first view, to be the natural defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed. But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe nor alone sufficient. On ordinary occasions it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness, and on extraordinary occasions it might be perfidiously abused. May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the latter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department? If the principles on which these observations are founded be just, as I persuade myself they are, and they be applied as a criterion to the several State constitutions, and to the federal Constitution it will be found that if the latter does not perfectly correspond with them, the former are infinitely less able to bear such a test.

There are, moreover, two considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America, which place that system in a very interesting point of view. First. In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself. Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradnally induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

[Link]  Transcription courtesy of the Avalon Project .

Recommended Editions

Kesler, Charles R. and Clinton Rossiter, eds.  The Federalist Papers.  New York: Signet Classics, 2003.

Recommended print edition of the complete  Federalist .

Find it on Amazon.

The complete  Federalist  online.

Read it at the Avalon Project.

[Footnote 1] Vide Blackstone’s “Commentaries,” vol. 1., p. 136.

[Footnote 2] Vide Blackstone’s “Commentaries,” vol. iv., p. 438.

[Footnote 3] To show that there is a power in the Constitution by which the liberty of the press may be affected, recourse has been had to the power of taxation. It is said that duties may be laid upon the publications so high as to amount to a prohibition. I know not by what logic it could be maintained, that the declarations in the State constitutions, in favor of the freedom of the press, would be a constitutional impediment to the imposition of duties upon publications by the State legislatures. It cannot certainly be pretended that any degree of duties, however low, would be an abridgment of the liberty of the press. We know that newspapers are taxed in Great Britain, and yet it is notorious that the press nowhere enjoys greater liberty than in that country. And if duties of any kind may be laid without a violation of that liberty, it is evident that the extent must depend on legislative discretion, respecting the liberty of the press, will give it no greater security than it will have without them. The same invasions of it may be effected under the State constitutions which contain those declarations through the means of taxation, as under the proposed Constitution, which has nothing of the kind. It would be quite as significant to declare that government ought to be free, that taxes ought not to be excessive, etc., as that the liberty of the press ought not to be restrained.

Weiner, Greg. “Federalist 84: Completing the Declaration of Independence.”  Library of Law and Liberty . July 17, 2017.

Read it at the Library of Law and Liberty.

Gotchy, Joseph R. “Federalists and Anti-Federalists: Is a Bill of Rights Essential to a Free Society?”  OAH Magazine of History  8, no. 4 (1994): 45-48.

This is a lesson plan meant to introduce students to the controversial origins of the bill of rights.

Find it on JSTOR (restricted access).

Rakove, Jack N. “James Madison and the Bill of Rights: A Broader Context.”  Presidential Studies Quarterly  22, no. 4 (1992): 667-677.

This article examines Madison’s attitudes toward the bill of rights in comparison with the other federalists, and therefore touches upon Hamilton’s argument from  Federalist  84.

Find it on JSTOR (free access).

Slonim, Shlomo. “The  Federalist Papers  and the Bill of Rights.”  Constitutional Commentary  20 (2003): 151-161.

Download from the University of Montana Digital Conservancy (pdf).

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a series of essays written to defend the constitution

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays arguing in support of the United States Constitution . Alexander Hamilton , James Madison , and John Jay were the authors behind the pieces, and the three men wrote collectively under the name of Publius .

Seventy-seven of the essays were published as a series in The Independent Journal , The New York Packet , and The Daily Advertiser between October of 1787 and August 1788. They weren't originally known as the "Federalist Papers," but just "The Federalist." The final 8 were added in after.

Alexander Hamilton author of the Federalist Papers

At the time of publication, the authorship of the articles was a closely guarded secret. It wasn't until Hamilton's death in 1804 that a list crediting him as one of the authors became public. It claimed fully two-thirds of the essays for Hamilton. Many of these would be disputed by Madison later on, who had actually written a few of the articles attributed to Hamilton.

Once the Federal Convention sent the Constitution to the Confederation Congress in 1787, the document became the target of criticism from its opponents. Hamilton, a firm believer in the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 1 that the series would "endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention."

Alexander Hamilton was the force behind the project, and was responsible for recruiting James Madison and John Jay to write with him as Publius. Two others were considered, Gouverneur Morris and William Duer . Morris rejected the offer, and Hamilton didn't like Duer's work. Even still, Duer managed to publish three articles in defense of the Constitution under the name Philo-Publius , or "Friend of Publius."

Hamilton chose "Publius" as the pseudonym under which the series would be written, in honor of the great Roman Publius Valerius Publicola . The original Publius is credited with being instrumental in the founding of the Roman Republic. Hamilton thought he would be again with the founding of the American Republic. He turned out to be right.

John Jay author of the Federalist Papers

John Jay was the author of five of the Federalist Papers. He would later serve as Chief Justice of the United States. Jay became ill after only contributed 4 essays, and was only able to write one more before the end of the project, which explains the large gap in time between them.

Jay's Contributions were Federalist: No. 2 , No. 3 , No. 4 , No. 5 , and No. 64 .

James Madison author of the Federalist Papers

James Madison , Hamilton's major collaborator, later President of the United States and "Father of the Constitution." He wrote 29 of the Federalist Papers, although Madison himself, and many others since then, asserted that he had written more. A known error in Hamilton's list is that he incorrectly ascribed No. 54 to John Jay, when in fact Jay wrote No. 64 , has provided some evidence for Madison's suggestion. Nearly all of the statistical studies show that the disputed papers were written by Madison, but as the writers themselves released no complete list, no one will ever know for sure.

Opposition to the Bill of Rights

The Federalist Papers, specifically Federalist No. 84 , are notable for their opposition to what later became the United States Bill of Rights . Hamilton didn't support the addition of a Bill of Rights because he believed that the Constitution wasn't written to limit the people. It listed the powers of the government and left all that remained to the states and the people. Of course, this sentiment wasn't universal, and the United States not only got a Constitution, but a Bill of Rights too.

No. 1: General Introduction Written by: Alexander Hamilton October 27, 1787

No.2: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence Written by: John Jay October 31, 1787

No. 3: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence Written by: John Jay November 3, 1787

No. 4: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence Written by: John Jay November 7, 1787

No. 5: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence Written by: John Jay November 10, 1787

No. 6:Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 14, 1787

No. 7 The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 15, 1787

No. 8: The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 20, 1787

No. 9 The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 21, 1787

No. 10 The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection Written by: James Madison November 22, 1787

No. 11 The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 24, 1787

No 12: The Utility of the Union In Respect to Revenue Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 27, 1787

No. 13: Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government Written by: Alexander Hamilton November 28, 1787

No. 14: Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered Written by: James Madison November 30, 1787

No 15: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 1, 1787

No. 16: The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 4, 1787

No. 17: The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 5, 1787

No. 18: The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: James Madison December 7, 1787

No. 19: The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: James Madison December 8, 1787

No. 20: The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union Written by: James Madison December 11, 1787

No. 21: Other Defects of the Present Confederation Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 12, 1787

No. 22: The Same Subject Continued: Other Defects of the Present Confederation Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 14, 1787

No. 23: The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 18, 1787

No. 24: The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 19, 1787

No. 25: The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 21, 1787

No. 26: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 22, 1787

No. 27: The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 25, 1787

No. 28: The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 26, 1787

No. 29: Concerning the Militia Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 9, 1788

No. 30: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton December 28, 1787

No. 31: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 1, 1788

No. 32: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 2, 1788

No. 33: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 2, 1788

No. 34: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 5, 1788

No. 35: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 5, 1788

No. 36: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 8, 1788

No. 37: Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government Written by: Alexander Hamilton January 11, 1788

No. 38: The Same Subject Continued, and the Incoherence of the Objections to the New Plan Exposed Written by: James Madison January 12, 1788

No. 39: The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles Written by: James Madison January 18, 1788

No. 40: The Powers of the Convention to Form a Mixed Government Examined and Sustained Written by: James Madison January 18, 1788

No. 41: General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution Written by: James Madison January 19, 1788

No. 42: The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered Written by: James Madison January 22, 1788

No. 43: The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered Written by: James Madison January 23, 1788

No. 44: Restrictions on the Authority of the Several States Written by: James Madison January 25, 1788

No. 45: The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered Written by: James Madison January 26, 1788

No. 46: The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared Written by: James Madison January 29, 1788

No. 47: The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts Written by: James Madison January 30, 1788

No. 48: These Departments Should Not Be So Far Separated as to Have No Constitutional Control Over Each Other Written by: James Madison February 1, 1788

No. 49: Method of Guarding Against the Encroachments of Any One Department of Government Written by: James Madison February 2, 1788

No. 50: Periodic Appeals to the People Considered Written by: James Madison February 5, 1788

No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments Written by: James Madison February 6, 1788

No. 52: The House of Representatives Written by: James Madison February 8, 1788

No. 53: The Same Subject Continued: The House of Representatives Written by: James Madison February 9, 1788

No. 54: The Apportionment of Members Among the States Written by: James Madison February 12, 1788

No. 55: The Total Number of the House of Representatives Written by: James Madison February 13, 1788

No. 56: The Same Subject Continued: The Total Number of the House of Representatives Written by: James Madison February 16, 1788

No. 57: The Alleged Tendency of the New Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many Written by: James Madison February 19, 1788

No. 58: Objection That The Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands Considered Written by: James Madison February 20, 1788

No. 59: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members Written by: Alexander Hamilton February 22, 1788

No. 60: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members Written by: Alexander Hamilton February 23, 1788

No. 61: The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members Written by: Alexander Hamilton February 26, 1788

No. 62: The Senate Written by: James Madison February 27, 1788

No. 63: The Senate Continued Written by: James Madison March 1, 1788

No. 64: The Powers of the Senate Written by: John Jay March 5, 1788

No. 65: The Powers of the Senate Continued Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 7, 1788

No. 66: Objections to the Power of the Senate To Set as a Court for Impeachments Further Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 8, 1788

No. 67: The Executive Department Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 11, 1788

No. 68: The Mode of Electing the President Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 12, 1788

No. 69: The Real Character of the Executive Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 14, 1788

No. 70: The Executive Department Further Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 15, 1788

No. 71: The Duration in Office of the Executive Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 18, 1788

No. 72: The Same Subject Continued, and Re-Eligibility of the Executive Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 19, 1788

No. 73: The Provision For The Support of the Executive, and the Veto Power Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 21, 1788

No. 74: The Command of the Military and Naval Forces, and the Pardoning Power of the Executive Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 25, 1788

No. 75: The Treaty Making Power of the Executive Written by: Alexander Hamilton March 26, 1788

No. 76: The Appointing Power of the Executive Written by: Alexander Hamilton April 1, 1788

No. 77: The Appointing Power Continued and Other Powers of the Executive Considered Written by: Alexander Hamilton April 2, 1788

No. 78: The Judiciary Department Written by: Alexander Hamilton June 14, 1788

No. 79: The Judiciary Continued Written by: Alexander Hamilton June 18, 1788

No. 80: The Powers of the Judiciary Written by: Alexander Hamilton June 21, 1788

No. 81: The Judiciary Continued, and the Distribution of the Judicial Authority Written by: Alexander Hamilton June 25, 1788

No. 82: The Judiciary Continued Written by: Alexander Hamilton July 2, 1788

No. 83: The Judiciary Continued in Relation to Trial by Jury Written by: Alexander Hamilton July 5, 1788

No. 84: Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered Written by: Alexander Hamilton July 16, 1788

No. 85: Concluding Remarks Written by: Alexander Hamilton August 13, 1788

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1.6: The Federalist Papers and Constitutional Government

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Authors of the Federalist Papers Illustaration

What is Federalism?

Federalism is the system of government in which sovereignty (the authority and power to govern over a group of people) is constitutionally divided between a central, or national government, and individual regional political units generally referred to as states. It is based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and state governments, creating a federation.

Debating a Federal System: The Federalist Papers

The most forceful defense of the new Constitution was The Federalist Papers , a compilation of 85 anonymous essays published in New York City to convince the people of the state to vote for ratification. These articles were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They examined the benefits of the new Constitution and analyzed the political theory and function behind the various articles of the Constitution. Those opposed to the new Constitution became known as the Anti-Federalists. They generally were local rather than cosmopolitan in perspective, oriented to plantations and farms rather than commerce or finance, and wanted strong state governments and a weak national government. The Anti-Federalists believed that the Legislative Branch had too much power, and that they were unchecked. Also, the Executive Branch had too much power, they believed that there was no check on the President. The final belief was that a Bill of Rights should be coupled with the Constitution to prevent a dictator from exploiting citizens. The Federalists argued that it was impossible to list all the rights and those that were not listed could be easily overlooked because they were not in the official Bill of Rights.

What Were The Federalist Papers and Why are They Important?

The Federalist Papers were a series of essays by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison written for the Federalist newspaper.

The convention in Virginia began its debate before nine states had approved the Constitution, but the contest was so close and bitterly fought that it lasted past the point when the technical number needed to ratify had been reached. Nevertheless, Virginia's decision was crucial to the nation. Who can imagine the early history of the United States if Virginia had not joined the union? What if leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison had not been allowed to hold national political office? In the end Virginia approved the Constitution, with recommended amendments, in an especially close vote (89-79). Only one major state remained; the Constitution was close to getting the broad support that it needed to be effective.

Perhaps no state was as deeply divided as New York. The nationalist-urban artisan alliance could strongly carry New York City and the surrounding region while more rural upstate areas were strongly Anti-Federalist. The opponents of the Constitution had a strong majority when the convention began and set a tough challenge for Alexander Hamilton, the leading New York Federalist. Hamilton managed a brilliant campaign that narrowly won the issue (30-27) by combining threat and accommodation. On the one hand, he warned that commercial down state areas might separate from upstate New York if it didn't ratify. On the other hand, he accepted the conciliatory path suggested by Massachusetts; amendments would be acceptable after ratification.

The debate in New York produced perhaps the most famous exploration of American political philosophy, now called The Federalist Papers . Originally they were a series of 85 anonymous letters to newspapers that were co-written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Together, they tried to assure the public of the two key points of the Federalist agenda. First, they explained that a strong government was needed for a variety of reasons, but especially if the United States was to be able to act effectively in foreign affairs. Second, they tried to convince readers that because of the "separation" of powers in the central government, there was little chance of the national government evolving into a tyrannical power. Instead of growing ever stronger, the separate branches would provide a "check and balance" against each other, so that none could rise to complete dominance.

The influence of these newspaper letters in the New York debate is not entirely known, but their status as a classic of American political thought is beyond doubt. Although Hamilton wrote the majority of the letters, James Madison authored the ones that are most celebrated today, especially Federalist No. 10.

Here Madison argued that a larger republic would not lead to greater abuse of power (as had traditionally been thought), but actually could work to make a large national republic a defense against tyranny. Madison explained that the large scope of the national republic would prevent local interests from rising to dominance and therefore the larger scale itself limited the potential for abuse of power. By including a diversity of interests (he identified agriculture, manufacturing, merchants, and creditors, as the key ones), the different groups in a larger republic would cancel each other out and prevent a corrupt interest from controlling all the others.

Madison was one of the first political theorists to offer a profoundly modern vision of self-interest as an aspect of human nature that could be employed to make government better, rather than more corrupt. In this, he represents a key figure in the transition from a traditional Republican vision of America, to a modern Liberal one where self-interest has a necessary role to play in public life.

A Closer Look at the Federalist Papers

Let’s closely examine just three of these important documents.

Federalist #10: In this, the most famous of the Federalist Papers , James Madison begins by stating that one of the strongest arguments in favor of the Constitution is the establishment of a government capable of controlling the violence and damage caused by factions which Madison defines as groups of people who gather together to protect and promote their special economic interests and political opinions (basically political parties and special interests today). Although these factions are at odds with each other, they frequently work against the public interest and infringe upon the rights of others.

Both sides of the Constitutional debate (federalists AND anti-federalists alike) have been concerned with the political instability that these rival factions may cause. Under the Articles of Confederation, the state governments have not succeeded in solving this problem. As a matter of fact, the situation has become such a problem that people have become disillusioned with all politicians and blame the government for their problems (sound familiar?). Consequently, a form of popular government that can deal successfully with this problem has a great deal to recommend it.

Federalist #39: This essay was written to explain and defend the new form of Republican government which the Founding Fathers envisioned to be different than any other “Republic” in Europe. In the mind of Madison and the other founders, no other form of government is suited to the particular genius of the American people; only a Republican form of government can carry forward the principles fought for in the Revolution or demonstrate that self-government is both possible and practical.

Madison sees a Republican form of government as one which derives its powers either directly or indirectly from the people (which distinguishes this new form of republicanism from others that had been used in Europe). This form is administered by people who hold elected public office for a limited period of time or during good behavior. He goes on to say that no government can be called Republican that derives its power from a few people or from a favored and wealthy class (as many governments in Europe did). The Constitution conforms to these Republican principles by ensuring that the people will directly elect the House of Representatives. Additionally, the people indirectly select the senators and the president. Even the judges will reflect the choice of the people since the president appoints them, and the Senate confirms their appointment. The president, senators, and representatives hold office for a specified and limited term. Judges are appointed for life ­but subject to good behavior. The constitutional prohibition against granting titles of nobility and the guarantee to the states that they shall enjoy a republican form of government is further proof that the new government is Republican in nature.

These facts do not satisfy all people. Some people claim that the new Constitution destroyed the federal aspect of the government by taking away too much power from the states. Opponents (anti-federalists) believed that the framers established a national (unitary) form of government where the citizens' are directly acted upon by a central government as citizens of the nation rather than as citizens of the states. But the proposed government (a federal republic) would contain both national and federal characteristics and would allow for a sharing and careful balance of powers between the national government and the states. The principle of federalism (a division of power between the states and the national government) is integrated into the new Constitution and reflected in the suggested method of ratification. The delegates to the ratifying conventions would directly participate (through voting) as citizens of their states, not as citizens of the nation. Madison also points out that this new form of federal republic is also reflected in the structure of the Senate in which the states are equally represented. Since the states would retain certain exclusive and important powers, this is to be considered further proof of the federal nature of the proposed government.

Madison goes on to concede that the new Constitution does exhibit national (central government) features. Madison finishes by reaching the conclusion that the government would be BOTH national and federal. In the operation of its powers, it is a nation; in the extent of its power, it is federal.

Federalist # 51: In this essay, James Madison explains and defends the checks and balances system which would prove to be one of the most important protections and limits included in the Constitution. Each branch of government would be constructed so that its power would have checks over the power of the other two branches. Also, each branch of government is to be subject to the authority of the people who are the legitimate source of authority for the United States government and its new Constitution.

Madison also goes on to discuss the way a republican government can serve as a check on the power of factions, and the tyranny of the majority which would limit the ability of the majority from imposing their will on the minority unjustly (like a tyrant or despot imposing his will over his subjects).

Madison’s conclusion is that all of the Constitution’s checks and balances would serve to preserve liberty by ensuring justice. Madison explained, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.” Madison’s political theory is based on Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws on the Founders .

The Impact of the Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers had an immediate impact on the ratification debate in New York and in the other states. The demand for reprints was so great that one New York newspaper publisher printed the essays together in two volumes entitled The Federalist, A Collection of Essays Written in Favor of the New Constitution, By a Citizen of New York . By this time, the identity of "Publius," never a well-kept secret, was pretty well known. The Federalist , also called The Federalist Papers , has served two very different purposes in American history. The 85 essays succeeded in persuading doubtful New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution. Today, The Federalist Papers help us to more clearly understand what the writers of the Constitution had in mind when they drafted that amazing document over 200 years ago.

From these essays, Americans have received a gift from our Founding Fathers. Whenever we, as a nation, need to consider what the original intent and meaning of the Constitution was more than 200 years ago, we simply can go back to these documents and remind ourselves exactly what our founders were thinking and what was intended without any question as to meaning or design.

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Study/Discussion Questions

For each of the following terms, write a sentence which uses or describes the term in your own words.

1. Why has federalism been such a major source of conflict throughout the history of the United States?

2. Why are the Federalist Papers important to our Constitutional system?

3. Compare the views of the Federalists with those of the Anti-Federalists.

4. How do Federalist Papers 10, 39 and 51 contribute to our understanding of the Constitution and the issue of federalism?

5. How would you describe the impact of the Federalist Papers on American government today? What do you think our governmental system would be like without them?

The Federalist Papers

Appearing in New York newspapers as the New York Ratification Convention met in Poughkeepsie, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote as Publius and addressed the citizens of New York through the Federalist Papers.  These essays subsequently circulated and were reprinted throughout the states as the Ratification process unfolded in other states.  Initially appearing as individual items in several New York newspapers, all eighty-five essays were eventually combined and published as The Federalist .  Click here to view a chronology of the Printing and Reprintings of The Federalist .   

Considerable debate has surrounded these essays since their publication. Many suggest they represent the best exposition of the Constitution to date. Their conceptual design would affirm this view.  Others contend that they were mere propaganda to allay fears of the opposition to the Constitution. Regardless, they are often included in the canon of the world’s great political writings. A complete introduction exploring the purpose, authorship, circulation, and reactions to The Federalist  can be found here.

General Introduction

  • No. 1 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 27 October 1787

Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

  • No. 2 (Jay) New York Independent Journal , 31 October 1787
  • No. 3 (Jay) New York Independent Journal , 3 November 1787
  • No. 4 (Jay) New York Independent Journal , 7 November 1787
  • No. 5 (Jay) New York Independent Journal , 10 November 1787

Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States

  • No. 6 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 14 November 1787
  • No. 7 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 17 November 1787
  • No. 8 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 20 November 1787
  • No. 9 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 21 November 1787

The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

  • No. 10 (Madison) New York Daily Advertiser , 22 November 1787

The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy

  • No. 11 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 24 November 1787

The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue

  • No. 12 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 27 November 1787

Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government

  • No. 13 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 28 November 1787

Objections to the Proposed Constitution from Extent of Territory Answered

  • No. 14 (Madison) New York Packet , 30 November 1787

The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

  • No. 15 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 1 December 1787
  • No. 16 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 4 December 1787
  • No. 17 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 5 December 1787
  • No. 18 (Madison with Hamilton) New York Packet , 7 December 1787
  • No. 19 (Madison with Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 8 December 1787
  • No. 20 (Madison with Hamilton) New York Packet , 11 December 1787
  • No. 21 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 12 December 1787
  • No. 22 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 14 December 1787

The Necessity of Energetic Government to Preserve of the Union

  • No. 23 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 18 December 1787

Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

  • No. 24 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 19 December 1787
  • No. 25 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 21 December 1787

Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense

  • No. 26 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 22 December 1787
  • No. 27 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 25 December 1787
  • No. 28 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 26 December 1787

Concerning the Militia

  • No. 29 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 9 January 1788

Concerning the General Power of Taxation

  • No. 30 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 28 December 1787
  • No. 31 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 1 January 1788
  • Nos. 32–33 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 2 January 1788
  • No. 34 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 4 January 1788
  • No. 35 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 5 January 1788
  • No. 36 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 8 January 1788

The Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government

  • No. 37 (Madison) New York Daily Advertiser , 11 January 1788
  • No. 38 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 12 January 1788

The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles

  • No. 39 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 16 January 1788

The Powers of the Convention to Form a Mixed Government Examined

  • No. 40 (Madison) New York Packet , 18 January 1788

General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution

  • No. 41 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 19 January 1788
  • No. 42 (Madison) New York Packet , 22 January 1788
  • No. 43 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 23 January 1788

Restrictions on the Authority of the Several States

  • No. 44 (Madison) New York Packet , 25 January 1788

Alleged Danger from the Powers of the Union to the State Governments

  • No. 45 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 26 January 1788

Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared

  • No. 46 (Madison) New York Packet , 29 January 1788

Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Powers

  • No. 47 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 30 January 1788

Departments Should Not Be So Far Separated

  • No. 48 (Madison) New York Packet , 1 February 1788

Guarding Against the Encroachments of Any One Department of Government

  • No. 49 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 2 February 1788

Periodic Appeals to the People Considered

  • No. 50 (Madison) New York Packet , 5 February 1788

Structure of Government Must Furnish Proper Checks and Balances

  • No. 51 (Madison) New York Independent Journal , 6 February 1788

The House of Representatives

  • No. 52 (Madison?) New York Packet , 8 February 1788
  • No. 53 (Madison or Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 9 February 1788

The Apportionment of Members Among the States

  • No. 54 (Madison) New York Packet , 12 February 1788

The Total Number of the House of Representatives

  • No. 55 (Madison?) New York Independent Journal , 13 February 1788
  • No. 56 (Madison?) New York Independent Journal , 16 February 1788

The Alleged Tendency of the Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many

  • No. 57 (Madison?) New York Packet , 19 February 1788

Objection That the Numbers Will Not Be Augmented as Population Increases

  • No. 58 (Madison?) New York Independent Journal , 20 February 1788

Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members

  • No. 59 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 22 February 1788
  • No. 60 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 23 February 1788
  • No. 61 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 26 February 1788
  • No. 62 (Madison?) New York Independent Journal , 27 February 1788
  • No. 63 (Madison?) New York Independent Journal , 1 March 1788
  • No. 64 (Jay) New York Independent Journal , 5 March 1788
  • No. 65 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 7 March 1788

Objections to the Power of the Senate to Set as a Court for Impeachments

  • No. 66 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 8 March 1788

The Executive Department

  • No. 67 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 11 March 1788

The Mode of Electing the President

  • No. 68 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 12 March 1788

The Real Character of the Executive

  • No. 69 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 14 March 1788

The Executive Department Further Considered

  • No. 70 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 15 March 1788

The Duration in Office of the Executive

  • No. 71 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 18 March 1788

Re-Eligibility of the Executive Considered

  • No. 72 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 19 March 1788

Provision for The Support of the Executive, and the Veto Power

  • No. 73 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 21 March 1788

The Command of the Military and Naval Forces, and the Pardoning Power

  • No. 74 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 25 March 1788

The Treaty Making Power of the Executive

  • No. 75 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 26 March 1788

The Appointing Power of the Executive

  • No. 76 (Hamilton) New York Packet , 1 April 1788

Appointing Power and Other Powers of the Executive Considered

  • No. 77 (Hamilton) New York Independent Journal , 2 April 1788

The Judiciary Department

  • No. 78 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788
  • No. 79 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

The Powers of the Judiciary

  • No. 80 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

The Judiciary Continued, and the Distribution of the Judicial Authority

  • No. 81 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

The Judiciary Continued

  • No. 82 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

The Judiciary Continued in Relation to Trial by Jury

  • No. 83 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered

  • No. 84 (Hamilton) Book Edition, Volume II, 28 May 1788

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The first amendment, we the people, james madison, ratification, and the federalist papers.

September 16, 2021

September 17 is Constitution Day—the anniversary of the framers signing the Constitution in 1787. This week’s episode dives into what happened after the Constitution was signed—when it had to be approved by “we the people,” a process known as ratification—and the arguments made on behalf of the Constitution. A major collection of those arguments came in the form of a series of essays, today often referred to as The Federalist Papers, which were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay using the pen name Publius and published initially in newspapers in New York. Guests Judge Gregory Maggs, author of the article “A Concise Guide to The Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution,” and Colleen Sheehan, professor and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to The Federalist, shed light on the questions: What do The Federalist Papers say? What did their writers set out to achieve by writing them? How do they explain the ideas behind the Constitution’s structure and design—and where did those ideas come from? And why is it important to read The Federalist Papers today?

FULL PODCAST

This episode was produced by Jackie McDermott and engineered by Kevin Kilbourne. Research was provided by Sam Desai, John Guerra, and Lana Ulrich.

PARTICIPANTS

Colleen Sheehan is the Director of Graduate Studies at the Arizona State School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. She is author of numerous books, including several on James Madison, and she co-edited The Cambridge Companion to The Federalist .

Judge Gregory E. Maggs is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. He was a member of the full-time faculty at GW Law School from 1993 to 2018. He is the author of numerous works including the article “A Concise Guide to The Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution.”

Jeffrey Rosen   is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor of law at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of  The Atlantic .

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Questions or comments about the show? Email us at [email protected] .

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This transcript may not be in its final form, accuracy may vary, and it may be updated or revised in the future.

 [00:00:00] Jeffrey Rosen: I'm Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, and welcome to We the People, a weekly show of constitutional debate. The National Constitution Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit chartered by Congress to increase awareness and understanding of the constitution among the American people. September 17th is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the framers signing of the constitution in 1787.

This week, we dive into the philosophy of the Federalist Papers written by Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay to support the ratification of the constitution after it was signed. I'm so excited to be joined by two of America's leading experts on the Federalist Papers. Colleen Sheehan is director of graduate studies at the Arizona State School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. She's the author of many books, including several on James Madison, and she co-edited The Cambridge Companion to The Federalist. Colleen, it is wonderful to have you back on the show.

[00:01:05] Colleen Sheehan: Always happy to be here with you, Jeff.

[00:01:07] Jeffrey Rosen: And Judge Gregory Maggs is a judge on the US court of appeals for the armed forces. He was my colleague as a member of the full-time faculty of GW Law School from 1993 to 2018, still teaches. And he's the author of many works including the article, A Concise Guide to the Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution. Greg, thank you so much for joining.

[00:01:34] Gregory Maggs: I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

[00:01:36] Jeffrey Rosen: Colleen, in your wonderful essay in the Cambridge Companion to the Federalist Papers, you write that the Federalist Papers can be traced back to Aristotle and the declaration of independence. And for Madison and Jefferson, you write, the freedom of the mind is the basis of all other liberties and rights. Each person has the right and responsibility to exercise freedom in a manner that accords with reason and manages to govern passions. And therefore, you say the rightful exercise of majority rule as described by the Federalist Papers is the accomplishment of the cool and deliberate sense of the community or the reason of the public. Tell us, distill the essence of the Federalist Papers and its classical antithesis between reason and passion.

[00:02:28] Colleen Sheehan: Well, that's a small question to start with. Thank you, Jeff. [laughs]

[00:02:32] Jeffrey Rosen: That, that's why I ask it.

[00:02:33] Colleen Sheehan: ... So the reason it goes back to Aristotle is because Aristotle comprehensively looked at the problems of politics, and the problems of politics have to do with human nature, that we don't always get along with each other, and that if we're gonna live in some kind of community so that there could be something more than just mere survival, but possibly more than safety, possibly freedom, even possibly happiness or the pursuit of happiness, then we have to find ways to live together. We have to do the kind of things that lawyers wanna do, make laws. But of course, not all laws are good laws not all laws are just.

And as Publius says in Federalist 51, justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty will be lost in its pursuit. And that's the challenge. How do we live together in such a way that we treat each other decently, fairly, justly? Well, if we want to have free government, government based on consent of the governed, on what we might call popular government or democratic republicanism, then the majority is going to rule. But of course, the age old problem is that a majority can be just as unjust as one individual. And when they have, when you have power in your hands, it's likely to be abused.

So the challenge Publius sets out for himself if we wanna speak of him, the three of them as one person, because they all signed the, the Federalist Papers under one name, Publius then we have to see that their challenge is they're, they're dedicated to the people ruling, government by the people, but it has to be also government for the people that is for all the people for the common good. So that's the challenge Publius sets for himself. And in other words, what we have to do is find a way for the majority to rule not on the basis of mere interest, self-interest, not on the basis of mere passion and prejudice, but on the basis of justice and the general good that is reasoning the, the thing that human beings have that the other animals don't have, that we can reason together to come to understand not simply what this abstract idea of justice is, because justice is really about it's, it's the social virtue. It's how we treat one another.

The American Republic that Publius is trying to describe as they've thought about it and framed at the Constitutional Convention in that long, hot summer of 1787 in Independence Hall was really about one thing, how can the people govern themselves, genuinely govern themselves? That is in such a way that they treat one another well. That's the American experiment.

[00:05:44] Jeffrey Rosen: Beautiful [inaudible 00:05:51]. And thank you so much for that. Greg, why should we care about the Federalist Papers as a legal source? In your important article in the Boston University Law Review, The Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution, you respond to the familiar arguments about why the Federalist Papers are not a good source of original meaning, including the idea that delegates to the state ratifying conventions didn't read many of them, they're often self-contradictory and so forth. You run through the objections and you refute them. Tell us why the Federalist Papers are a reliable guide to be original meaning of the constitution according to several different definitions of original meaning and original understanding.

[00:06:35] Gregory Maggs: Well, first of all, I, I don't think I refute the counter-arguments. There are arguments against it. I, I, I merely point out that it's sort of a mixed bag, that the Federalist Papers are a very important source of the original meaning of the constitution, but they are certainly not a perfect source and they are subject to many, very valid obje- claims made based on them are subject to many, very valid objections. However these objections also have counter-arguments which sort of mix the picture together.

You know, I think building on what Professor Sheehan said the Federalist Papers is a rich source of political philosophy. And I think one of the genius aspects of this was that the framer that the Madison and Hamilton and just sponsors and Jay, they had one mission, which was to convince the people of New York to ratify the constitution. And in order to do that, they had to take certain practical steps. They had to explain why the Articles of Confederation were problematic. They had to explain why we needed an important strong union. They had to explain the structure of the government, that it wasn't going to be a national government, it wasn't gonna be a federation. It was gonna be a federal system.

They had to also describe the Senate, describe the house, describe the judiciary and so forth. And at the same time, they included all the kinds of very important philosophical and political science arguments that Professor Sheehan remarked, so sort of ingenious meshing together of the two things. Well, in the process of doing this, they describe nearly every aspect of the constitution. And so if you're interested in knowing something about the original meaning of the constitution a source that is perhaps the most frequently cited source is the Federalist Papers because nearly everything that we talk about today has something said about it in the Federalist Papers.

Now, I should point out though it is not necessarily a perfect source. So for example, many people cite the Federalist Papers as a source of evidence of the original understanding of the constitution. That is to say, well, what did the people who ratified the constitution at the various state ratifying conventions, what did they think it meant? And I think a strong counterargument is most of them didn't read the Federalist Papers. In fact, half of the Federalist Papers weren't written until over half of the states had already ratified it. And one of the most cited papers paper number 78, it wasn't written until after eight of the states had already ratified the constitution.

But, you know, I think a counterargument to that is that it is a repository of the arguments that supporters of the constitution were making. And we know that the supporters won the day and something must have persuaded the ratifiers to adopt the constitution, and it was probably something similar to the arguments that were in the Federalist Papers. In other words, even if people didn't directly read the Federalist Papers, the Federalist Papers is a repository of the kinds of arguments that strong supporters of the constitution were making. And of course, ultimately the constitution was ratified.

[00:09:33] Jeffrey Rosen: Colleen, you have honored the NCC by joining a really exciting project called The Founders Library. We're putting online the sources that inspired the founders, and having the pleasure of learning from you about what Madison read before the convention and while writing the Federalist Papers, and how that influenced his distinctive understanding of faction as the triumph of, of, of passion over reason, of self interest over devotion to public good. We were brainstorming this now, but give we the people listeners a sense of some of the main books that Madison read before and during and after the convention that influenced the Federalist Papers.

[00:10:14] Colleen Sheehan: Sure. Before, before I talk about that, Jeff, let me just follow up on the, the last question momentarily. Jefferson said about the Federalist Papers that they're the best commentary on the principles of government that were ever written. And so I agree with Judge Maggs that you have to look deeper than just one argument here or there in terms of what people at the ratifying conventions were talking about and whether or not they'd read the Federalist Papers or any one particular one was published yet, because what Hamilton, Madison and Jay, mostly Hamilton and Madison did was they understood the principles that they were, that, that they at the federal convention were trying to implement into this document.

You know, it's not just words on paper. Those words are there for a purpose, are meant to accomplish something. And the Federalist Papers has a depth of commentary that's more than just describing article one, article two, article three. It's telling us what they are trying to accomplish and how the founders went about that. And I don't know a better commentary than the Federalist Papers that does that in terms of the purpose and design, the argument and action of the United States constitution. So what did Madison read? Madison read most everything. He, he, he didn't read every book in Jefferson's library, but he was constantly borrowing books from Jefferson's library whenever they lived in the same city.

For example, in Philadelphia when the, when the new government was just started Jefferson as was, was [inaudible 00:12:16] had to remodel his rental, rental property. And he built a whole library in it. And Madison was constantly borrowing books from him, in addition to the hundreds of books Madison had packed and taken with him. Imagine that, how, how long it took to get from Montpelier to Phi- Philadelphia. And what you take with you mostly is your books. I mean, that's Madison. He had a rented room in Mrs. Houses boarding house, because he's a bachelor. He's there in this boarding house with all these other folks. And, and basically his room is just full of books.

Madison was the scholar scholar of all the founders. John Adams wanted to be, but I think it's Madison who truly was. He read Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Thucydides for, for as examples of the classics, Cicero. He read, oh, he really studied Montesquieu. Of course, Locke, Hufendor, Sydney. The list goes on and on. They all read Hobbes and didn't like him that, that... and, and, and Madison comments on, on Rousseau once, and in not very kind terms. He didn't care much for Rousseau. So Madison's idea of how the majority rules is not the Rousseau in general will. He thought about all these things and he agreed with some people about some things and, and disagreed about other things, but he also had this independence thought, this spark of brilliance, and which he's the one, I believe, and I'd love to hear what Judge Maggs says Madison thinks that what he's discovered is a way to make popular government good government.

In other words, they talked about liberty hangs in the balance. The eyes of the world are upon us. We are engaged in the great experiment of self-government. And what that means is can a people govern themselves in a way that truly respects one another? And it's not just majority faction injustice and oppression. Madison thinks that he's found a way to do that, and has to do as you know, Jeff with this idea of an extensive territory and a larger number of population. And so the faction can counteract faction.

But it's more than just that negative faction counteracting faction. That's a big part of it, but there's a reason you want factions to be thwarted. It's so that the ma- there's time for the majority to refine and enlarge its views, to refine and enlarge the public views so that justice will reign rather than injustice. That's the goal of that Publius sets for himself in the Federalist Papers to show that Republican government can really work. And that when the eyes of the world are upon America, we're going to show the world as Robert Frost once put it not just how things work, but how democracy is meant.

[00:15:12] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much for that. Greg, do you agree with Colleen's statement that Madison discovered for the first time in the history of the world a way of making popular government by good governments, and the way that he did that was by floating factions to give majorities time to refine and enlarge the public views of the justice and reason could prevail? And then after you tell us whether you, you agree with that, or wanna amplify on it, maybe introduce us to the idea of how Madison achieved that goal.

[00:15:43] Gregory Maggs: Well, you know there, there are probably s- I, I do agree with it, and I think there are probably several examples that could be given. But I think perhaps the best one concerns the idea of federalism. And Madison's idea or at least explanation of the idea that having two governments rather than one preserves individual liberty. It's been a very influential idea an idea that Justice Kennedy cited in various ways. And it seems counterintuitive when you first hear about it, that well, all of a sudden, there's gonna be two governments regulating. But when you realize that certain things will be left to the national government and others will be left to the states you realize that this has a tendency to break apart factions but to still allow local interests to be governed.

And, you know, we really didn't have a federal system of the kind that was developed in the world before this. And certainly, there wasn't a political science experiment or explication of this system until the Madison described what the different theory would be. In addition, there were of course, many debates about whether you could have a Republican government in a large country as opposed to say a small city state, and Madison of course, came up with the idea that well, actually, it's gonna work better in a large territory, because it'll have the the benefit of breaking apart factions. We'll have delegates who have to represent many people, and it will be difficult for factions to control in such an area.

I mean, again, I think this was original thought. This was, this was not something that had been tried and done before. And certainly the theory behind it hadn't been explained. Now, whether Madison completely invented it, or whether it's a joint product of all the people at the convention you know, I think that's a fair subject of, of debate. I don't think Madison claimed to be the sole inventor but I think he was one of the original explainers of the system and perhaps the best advocate for the system.

You know, just and I mentioned in my article that courts often cite the Federalist Papers, and there seem to be two sort of strands of citations at the Supreme Court. Some justices like Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas look at it for details. You know, when they use the word commerce, do they just mean trade or do they mean something broader? And then there are others like Justice Kennedy, who's obviously now retired but he looked at it for the big principles. He looked at it for questions of state sovereignty, of of federalism, of what was the overall picture of what they were trying to accomplish. And I think that's probably most in line with the kinds of things that Madison was trying to get at in his essays.

[00:18:20] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much for that. Colleen, Greg mentions Madison's refinement of Montesquieu's view that a Republic is only possible in a small territory. You've written a wonderful article, Madison and the French Enlightenment. The Authority of Public Opinion, where you describe the influence of his thought on thinkers, including one you've recently called my attention to [foreign language 00:19:39]. So we'd love you to help us understand what Madison was reading that influenced his view of public opinion and how that affected his refinement of Montesquieu, and whether or not that was original Madison or not.

[00:19:01] Colleen Sheehan: Yeah. So, so Jefferson is in Paris as minister to France, right, in the late 1780s. And he's there. Well, Madison is with everyone else at the Philadelphia convention framing the constitution, and Jefferson will come back after the formation of the new government under President Washington. So during that time, Jefferson is sending cargo box, boxes full of books to Madison. And Madison is not just reading, but as Hamilton might have said, imbibing that French philosophy, the, the, that Jefferson and Madison have drunk too deeply from the well of French philosophy, Hamilton once said. And Madison was doing that and he wasn't agreeing with all of it, but there was a whole group of French thinkers, especially in the 1770s, 1780s, who were developing this new theory called a theory of public opinion, the opinion publique, that public opinion is queen of the world, because there's actually this new phenomenon called the public.

Why? What makes this different in the, in the, in the history of all the world? It has to do with communication, not just the commerce of goods, but the commerce of ideas, that you can spread ideas more than just from in one assembly in ancient Greece, for example, or just one salon in Paris. But through the printed word, you can get these ideas out to a much broader audience, a much broader public that can then communicate and have an influence on the center of government. And so the, the kings and queens of France had to watch out because there was a new power in the world, and it was predicted that it would be more powerful than anything else, and it's called public opinion. And it paved the way for what Tocqueville would later talk about in terms of public opinion when by then, by the late 1820s and 1830s, it's clear that public opinion is queen of the world, and that equality is a well-known irresistible principle of modern times.

And so Madison is reading all of this, and it's, he said, Montesquieu has a glimp- had a glimpse of it, but he lived a little too early and he really didn't quite understand the ramifications of it, that more than just the institutional arrangements of government checks and balances separation of powers, all those things are important, but there's something even more important going on here, and it has to do with not just stifling unjust opinion, but actually building, educating, shaping, forming the public into one that is not only clean of the world, but deserves to be queen of the world, capable, a people.

Think of that, a people coming into their own, a people capable of governing themselves. And this had never been possible in the history of the world before. This is partly why it's so new and why Madison is so excited about the discovery, how these things can work together, because you couldn't have government by the people over a large territory before this ability to communicate through the printed word because all large governments were considered empires, and empires, as Montesquieu said, tend to be despotic. But communication, the commerce of ideas changes the face of politics, the potential for, for popular government actually being successful in the modern world.

[00:23:01] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much for that. I'm just reading your article on Rousseau now, and it's so exciting to see the connection between Rousseau's conclusion, public opinion has its source in the opinion of enlightened men, where we're in some gains partisans and becomes the general conviction. And Madison's conclusions, as you say, in his national gazette essays in 1791 that enlightened journalists and literati would communicate with the public through essays like the Federalist Papers and, and other 18th century version of long Atlantic articles, and would refine public opinion so it's guided by reason rather than passion.

Greg as, as you hear Madison's theory of public opinion as, as Colleen has helped us understand it w- w- wa- was it vindicated first of all in, in Madison's era by the thoughtful debates over ramification, where people actually did read the Federalist Papers and were guide and, and were able to engage complicated arguments? And, and does it seem too optimistic today in the age of Twitter?

[00:24:03] Gregory Maggs: Well, you know it's interesting if you if you look at the commentary on the Federalist Papers at the time they were written it was very mixed. They were recognized as being very scholarly. They the Supreme Court cited them and, and Chief Justice Marshall said that there's no greater explanation of our government than you'll find there by no greater minds. And, and yet when you look at other commentary there were people who said, well, they're kind of hard to get through. They're kind of boring. They're kind of long. I really doubt anybody has been able to read and digest all of them. Some said, for educated people, they don't really add that much, and for uneducated they're just too difficult to read.

So, you know, I again I, I think it's somewhat of a mixed picture. Certainly, their views did carry a lot of weight. We, we, we created the government according to the structure that they had adopted that they had proposed when we had the debates in Congress and the first cons- in the first Congress they passed, I don't know, about 80 or 90 laws in which they set up the structure of government, and they were all influenced by these ideas that were expressed in the Federalist Papers. Whether they actually read the Federalist papers or not they were certainly influenced by those kinds of thinking.

So, you know, whether everybody was able to read the printed word and, and learn about these ideas and the possibility of communication, we don't know. Interesting one scholar wrote a very interesting paper called Publius in the Provinces, and look to see where the Federalist Papers actually penetrated. And about half the states, none of the essays were ever reprinted. And maybe some of them were mailed there. We know that Madison and Hamilton took copies of the Federalists and mailed them to Virginia and elsewhere, but communication was still very difficult at the time. One estimate is that the newspapers that published the Federalist Papers only could print about 600 copies, 'cause that's, that's, it was a daily paper. And and the daily paper just physically could print 600 copies. And that's not a lot of copies.

Now, they floated around they floated around taverns and other places where people could read them. I think people who were interested could find them. Whether there was the penetration that would be ideal I don't think there was. I mean, I again, I think it's not so much the Federalist Papers were actually read by a large number of people and influence them as opposed to just the idea that they are repository of the kinds of arguments that were circulating, and that ultimately did pers- turn out to be persuasive.

[00:26:38] Jeffrey Rosen: Colleen, the greatest challenge to Madison's definition of both faction as any group of majority or a minority animated by passion rather than reason devoted to self-interest rather than the public good w- was the rise of political parties. And of course, Madison played a central role in the rise of the, the first party, the, the Republican Democratic Party. And yet, Madison had a philosophical defense of the rise of parties that he managed to reconcile with his views about public opinion and the refining powers of reason. Tell us how Madison justified the rise of political parties that seem to clash with this definition of faction.

[00:27:16] Colleen Sheehan: Ah, that's a great question. I ha- I have to say when, when Judge Maggs was talking about some, sometimes some people thought that the Federalist Papers are a little hard to get through, a little boring. I had to laugh to myself. We've heard that in the classroom from our students once or twice, haven't we, [laughs] when we teach the Federalists. But hopefully is that they get into the text. It's a little bit like Shakespeare. It seems foreign at first, but when you see there's actually a story there about a people, and let it, let the texts come alive, because I think the Federalist Papers are a vision for America, not just about the nuts and bolts of government. That's one thing, but the nuts and bolts are there to make them, to make this machine in this country full of this dynamic people to set forth the environment that allows us to live a certain kind of life, an ethos, to be a certain kind of people.

So I, I try to, try to get the students to see that there's more there than some 18th century tough language, but I admit it's a challenge. So, so all factions are parties. They're a part, not a whole. But not all parties are factions. That is a faction by definition whether a majority or minority is adverse to the rights of others or to the permanent and aggregate interest of the community. So faction is unjust or contrary to the common good by definition.

When Madison, who is one of the founders, he and Jefferson, the founders of the first Republican Party in the United States, the Federalist Party really becomes a party in the 1790s with the rise of the Republican Party. The Republican Party makes these federalists into a party, I would say. It's the Republicans who, who it's Jefferson and Madison, right, actually think it's led by Madison in the beginning more than Jefferson. In, in the spring of 1792, Madison is talking about the Republican cause, and he finally says, okay, it's the Republican Party we're talking about. It has to be an organized opposition to what he sees as the Hamiltonian plan of government that is focused on the money men in New York city. And he says, Hamilton is trying to interpret this constitution in the way he sees fit whereas what we have to do like it or not is understand those who ratified it and abide by that fundamental opinion of the American people as they understood this document.

In other words, Madison is taking seriously from day one that who... he asks the question, who are the best keepers of the people's liberties? And his answer is the people themselves. They are not just to have confidence in their rulers, submit and obey, which he thought some of the federalists believed was the, their understanding of representative government. Madison said, no, the people have to actually be their own governors. They have to be a part. They have to participate. They have to be attached to this government, which is of their own making. And then those laws that are made, they obey.

And so it really had to do the difference between the re- this newly established Republican Party and the federalist opposition had to do with what is the role of the people themselves as Larry Kramer put it in a wonderful article, the people themselves, what is the role of the people themselves in this new republic? Is it a ghostly body politic where we talk about popular sovereignty, but in the end, it's really a few elites ruling? Well, some of the federalists thought that was really the best way to go. I mean, Reed Fisher Ames, his speech at the Massachusetts ratifying convention, and he, you know, your people, sir, your people, sir, can be a great beast. We need we need a sober second thought. We've gotta be so careful of thi- this thing we call the people.

So there was a lot of skepticism about the people. Madison had his own skepticism, and he's not in favor of fleeting passions and interests ruling in the form of factions. That's why this whole processes of what we might call deliberative republicanism, where the space and time that he sees built into the American constitutional system is there for a reason. It's there... How do we refine and enlarge the public views? Well, in newspapers, as you said, Jeff, newspapers circulate laying among the great body of the people.

And look at the newspapers that are developing in the early 1790s in all the, the major cities across the 13 states. It's between the representatives and the people going back and forth to Congress. It's within Congress within the house itself, within the Senate, between the house and Senate, between the Congress and the presidency, between the presidency and the people. So this is great amount of communication that is happening over a period of time, because it takes a while to build a coalition of the majority. And during that time, people are talking, communicating. It's a kind of Socratic method at the civic level of weeding out the the unjust and erroneous notions to build a consensus among the majority that is a more just and refined notion of the public good.

[00:33:10] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much for that. Greg, what is your reaction to Madison's defense of the rise of political parties? Is it persuasively consistent with the broader philosophy that he articulated in the Federalist, or was it a self-interested effort to justify the party that he was increasingly to have?

[00:33:35] Gregory Maggs: Well, you know, I, it's tempting to say, well, it looks like Madison was hypocritical or inconsistent. He opposed factions, and then he was part of a, a, a political party. But I think, I think in fairness if you look at Federalist 10 Madison recognized that there's always going to be different political interests. There are always gonna be fractions. So for example, he said, people who own property are gonna have different interests from people who don't own property, and that's always going to be the case. And really what he was talking about was, or what his goal was, was to create a system that would weaken the power of faction. Sort of behind the veil without knowing what was going to happen, he said, you know, if we have a federal system, if we have a republic where we have representatives who have to represent large numbers of people if we have the different components of government elected at different times all of these things will weaken faction and address their bad effects.

I don't think he had any illusion that there were going to be factions or groups with different interests. But from behind the veil without knowing whether his side was gonna be the majority or some other side was gonna be the majority, he was thinking of a system that would counteract the pernicious effects of faction. Now to say that after that system got going, he got involved in a political party is not really to say that he's hypocritical. And in fact, if he had been nefarious, he would have designed a system that would have favored his interests but I don't think that he did that. I, I think he did the opposite, which was to try to create a system that would further democracy, not direct democracy, but representative democracy, which would have the have counteracting effects on faction.

So I don't, I don't view him as being inconsistent or hypocritical. In fact on the contrary, he created a system behind the veil of not knowing what was gonna happen in the future that he thought would be best for the country by weakening fraction. And even if he later got involved in a faction, he was subject to those rules that the constituency would be divided. It would be represented by large numbers of people and so forth.

[00:35:41] Jeffrey Rosen: Thanks so much for that. Colleen, are you persuaded?

[00:35:44] Colleen Sheehan: Well, I don't think I answered the question you asked me very well. So let me give another shot at that. Madison deliberately establishes the Republican Party in the United States in 1792, and Jefferson as his cohort in this. And he writes a couple of articles about this and explains himself. One is called Parties, and one is called A Candid State of Parties. And he sees the opposition, the Federalist Party as the anti-Republican party.

By this point in 1792, he's so frustrated with the Hamiltonian federalists thrust of, of government that he feels it's necessary to organize this Republican Party not, it's not in the contemporary sense of just organization to be a part to win elections. Madison sees it as putting the country on the right track on the Republican smaller Republican tract, where we're not ignoring the people out in the countryside and just letting the stop jobbers in New York control things or these enlightened statesmen, or people who think they're enlightened statesmen at the seat of government. That for this kind of Republican government to work the way he's envisioned it, requires a genuine attention by the people and participation and governing by the people, not just when you vote, not just at election time, but to be real citizens, not like the ancient Greeks, where that's all you do with your life is go to the assembly every day but to have a real meaningful part in this thing called self-government.

And so for Madison, the Republican Party he's founding is not a faction. It's the opposite. It's meant to promote republicanism against what he sees as a tendency towards anti-republicanism in the early days of the Republic to set America on a course in which we could actually... You know, they were so afraid when Washington was in office that this would fail and that we can't do it without Washington. We were not ready to walk alone, as Jefferson put it. Washington had to stay a second term because the country wasn't ready to walk alone. And it's during this period that Madison and Jefferson are founding the Republican Party to bring the Republican cause into the workings of government. And so for them, it's, it's the culmination of the founding it republicanism so that it's not factions that will rule, but a just majority that will rule.

[00:38:36] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you very much for that. Greg I wanna put on the table the main ideas of the Federalist Papers, and there are different ways to organize them. Do you have any particular papers? We've talked about of course 10 and, and 1. And, and are there any particular ones or groups of papers that you want with the people listeners to read and learn about?

[00:39:01] Gregory Maggs: Well you, you know, I, I think it's hard to single out any. I mean, it'd be like if you gave me the Bible and said w- which books are important and which ones are not, it would be hard to, to pick one or another, but you know, what I've always found to be very interesting are the initial essays where they describe the weaknesses of the articles of the government under the Articles of Confederation and the need for a stronger union. These these are not as philosophically deep as some of the other ones. And yet, when you do read them you recognize what they were trying to accomplish was to make the system better.

And I think without fully understanding some of the weaknesses of the the Articles of Confederation and also the article, the the the ones that were comparing the government to state governments that already existed. I think it's hard to understand, you know, what, what were they specifically trying to do.

One of the things that's very interesting is that nearly every provision in the Articles of Confederation has a corelative provision in the constitution often exchanged but you can sort of map the Articles of Confederation to the constitution. There are provisions in the constitution that are nowhere found in the Articles of Confederation. But you can look very carefully at these different provisions, because they weren't starting from scratch. They were, they had a system and they were trying to persuade people to change the system. The system had flaws, but they had to identify those flaws. And I think that in many ways although they're somewhat overlooked these are some of the most important ones.

And let me just give you some of the numbers. 15 to 22 are really the ones that mostly talk about the difficulties with the Articles of Confederation. And I think it, it's kind of the background that you need to to understand why they were undertaking this project. Now, this doesn't necessarily tell you what they were trying to accomplish but it does give you the background. So I, I think 15 to 22 are a very good place to start to get an idea of why they were trying to create a new constitution. It wasn't that we didn't have a government, it was that we wanted a better one.

[00:41:08] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you very much for that. Colleen, in your introduction with Jack Rikove to the Cambridge Companion to the Federalist, you know, two ways of organizing the Federalists, one flags the division that, that Greg just did focusing on half A, the essays concerned with making the case for the national government and, and half B, the essays focused on the exposition of the constitution itself. And then you say another approach focuses on the broader political thought and vision of each of the authors including Madison's emphasis on republican government and Hamils- Hamilton's interests in state building like commerce and foreign affairs and so forth.

So maybe tell us more about that taxonomy. But also when I asked you which papers you wanted to talk about today, you said beside 10 and 51, I think 1, 14 39, 49, 57 and 63 are especially interesting. That's so tantalizing, and you c- you can't talk about all of them, but maybe give us a sense of why you picked some of those numbers that you did.

[00:42:11] Colleen Sheehan: Well, in terms of studying the Federalist Papers I think either and both, either and both is the answer to your question there that it's, it's, it's good to, to study it the way it was originally thought to be laid out by Hamilton. Of course, it doesn't quite work out as planned because this is a work in progress, right, as they're, they're writing these papers, staying up burning the midnight oil to get it in by the deadline, to publish it in the, in the newspapers. And so sometimes the plan didn't go quite as, as, as planned to begin with. So they don't really follow Hamilton's original plan perfectly.

And it is interesting to see the different personalities coming through despite the fact that they all sign the each paper Publius as if there's one persona writing these papers. Publius speaks with one voice, but you can discover in the pages of the Federalists when you see how Hamilton and Madison will disagree and be on different sides of the party line later on, you can see the seeds of some of that in, in their essays. For example, Madison, one of the essays talks about trade, h- how it has to take its natural, agriculture and trade, it has to take its natural course.

Well, that's exactly his argument in the 1790s against Hamilton's report on manufacturers. Hamilton wants to jumpstart manufacturers. Madison says, no, trade should take its natural course. Madison was with the physiocrats then, where he would be much of a free market kind of guy. Don't get government involved in subsidizing this. And Hamilton is saying, we have to, we have to in order to compete with England. Don't you understand economics? Madison and Jefferson, you guys don't get it. So you can see some of the seeds of that in the Federalist Papers.

I think Federalist number one, when Hamilton says, you know, seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide the important question, whether or not societies of men are really capable of establishing good government on the basis of reflection and choice, or whether they're forever destined for their political constitutions to depend on accident and force. That one sentence, a long sentence, but if you parse it out, think about that, our choices, I mean, it's either gonna be accident and force in some form, material near another, or the possibility of establishing good government on the basis of reflection and choice. That is exactly the dichotomy put before us in book one of Plato's Republic.

[00:44:56] Jeffrey Rosen: Hmm.

[00:44:57] Colleen Sheehan: This, that's, that's exactly what's going on in the pro-am of Plato's Republic, power, is it gonna be on the basis of power or is it gonna be on the basis of persuasion? Is it gonna be ballots ultimately or bullets? And are we facing that in the United States today? We're asking ourselves that question. Can we go on? Can we talk to each other so we can persuade each other and be one people rather than resort to force? Once we resort to force, the rule of law is in danger, as Lincoln tells us in the Lyceum address, and it's a very easy slide downhill, and just some kind of chaos, anarchy and disrespect for government and disrespect for each other.

So that opening salvo of Federalist number one is more than mere words. It's more than rhetoric. It's puts before us the question of politics, which is the question for each of us as citizens. What are we going to choose? And how we act is that choice. How we act with one another is making that choice. I have to say one word about Federalist 49, it's my favorite, though I like, though I have others that, that come in close seconds but Federalists 49 is Madison's disagreement with Jefferson, and he takes him to task, and he really kind of points out, he shows us that the seeds of his theory of public opinion are in Federalist 49. But there's another thing I like about it. And Jack Rikove, if he's listening will laugh at this.

So at Montpelier, that beautiful farm that you can, Madison's home that you can walk around, there are these, these gorgeous horses there. And Jack and I were ruminating one time about these horses, if, if any of them were race horses, wouldn't you wanna name one of them ticklish experiment?

[00:46:51] Jeffrey Rosen: [inaudible 00:49:26].

[00:46:54] Colleen Sheehan: Madison says, Madison says, you know, calling a second convention, you shouldn't do that. It's a ticklish experiment. So we, we thought that if there was a race horse from Montpelier, it ought to be named ticklish experiment. Let me con- let me just conclude with my favorite passage in the Federalist Papers. It's actually from Federalist 39, which I think sums up the vision of the Federalist. The first question that offers itself is whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America, with the fundamental principles of the revolution, or with the honorable determination, which animates every votary of, of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government. That's the project of the Federalist, that's the challenge of the Federalist, that's our challenge still today.

[00:47:58] Jeffrey Rosen: So inspiring. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for reminding us that it all comes back to Plato and Aristotle, power and persuasion, reason and passion reflected in Federalist one. And thanks for sharing your favorites, including 49. Greg, I, I know it's very hard to pick one, but s- so, so much fun to hear which ones especially speak to you. Can you single out one or two Federalist Papers that you like especially?

[00:48:26] Gregory Maggs: Well, you know, the one that that captures the imagination as a, as a judge and as a legal scholar of constitutional laws Federalist 78. Now, as I mentioned earlier, Federalist 78, it's one of the most cited in the courts. Whether anybody actually read it at the time as I mentioned, eight states had already ratified before it was published. It was one of the last ones published. It was, wasn't first published in the newspaper. It was published in the, in the second volume of the Federalist and it was only later published in the newspapers. But it talks about the judiciary, and it says two things which both seem eminently reasonable until you think about them, and then you wonder whether they're contradictory.

One is it says that the, the courts, the judiciary is the least dangerous branch, because all they do is apply the law. They just decide the questions, and they don't have their own force or their own political will. And then in a very interesting passage, they expressly discuss judicial review, that if there are provisions that are contrary to the constitution, the courts have no choice but to enforce the constitution over the provisions. Now, this is somewhat remarkable because while there is the supremacy clause, which says that the constitution is supreme over state law, there's, there's nothing that really says what the relationship of the constitution to laws passed by Congress are. But the unmistakable implication of Federalist 78 is that they're talking about judicial review.

And those two propositions seem evident to us and, and reasonable that they're not like the president, they're not like the Congress. They, they take cases that come to them and they decide them according to law, and they're there for the least dangerous branch. And then at the same time, it says, and of course, they get to decide when there's a conflict between legislation and the constitution. And I don't think at the time they understood that that could be seen as making it perhaps one of the most dangerous branches. If not one of the most dangerous, one of the most powerful. And you know, it, it was difficult for them in their mindset to see things that would transpire later on. It doesn't make them wrong but it's very interesting.

And certainly any lawyer who's interested in judicial review and, and charges of judicial activism or arguments that there is in judicial activism should read the Federalist 78.

[00:50:43] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much for that. So great to read Federalist 78 and also to hear [inaudible 00:53:36] recommendation of Federalist 49. Well, it is time for closing arguments in this wonderful discussion of the Federalist Papers on Constitution Day. Your homework with the people listeners is, is obvious read the Federalist Papers. And if you find you have a favorite, write to me and tell me what it is and why, [email protected] . And in order to inspire you to do that homework, I'm gonna ask for closing statements from Professor Sheehan and Judge Maggs. Colleen, the first one is to you, why should We the People listeners read the Federalist Papers on Constitution Day, and why are the Federalist Papers important?

[00:51:29] Colleen Sheehan: We the people would find it in our interest, if not for the purpose of simply of edification and amazement to read the Federalist, I think, because we don't depend on others to govern us. We have the responsibility to govern ourselves. And as Madison once put it, liberty and learning lean on each other. You can't have liberty without learning for free people. Otherwise, he says it's a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Well, I don't want either of those things to be the end of the American story. So one of the places that we can educate ourselves in both our rights and our responsibilities as citizens is by reading the Federalist. I think Jefferson's right, it's the best commentary on the principles of government that ever was written.

Let me just say one word about Constitution Day in 1787. I went back and looked at the weather map that day. It was a gloomy day in Philadelphia, September 17th, 1787. It was overcast. And you can just imagine the men in what we today call leggings, all these men walking around Independence Hall in leggings walking up to Washington's desk and putting their signature on that parchment. And then afterwards, they adjourned, e- except, I don't know if Elbridge Gary, Edmund Rudolf, and George Mason went with them, maybe to, probably to the city tavern over on, on, on second street, and they celebrated. But as, as Ben Franklin said, yes, it's a republic if we can keep it. I think there's never been a time more than today that that question is real for us. It was certainly the case in 1860, but it's again, the case in 2021. Do we wanna keep it? Are we willing to do the work to keep it? I think it's something that we as Americans have to give them a serious thought to. And Constitution is a good day to spend a little time thinking about that.

[00:53:48] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you very much for that. Greg, the last words are to you. Why should We the People listeners read the Federalist Papers on Constitution Day, and why are they important?

[00:53:59] Gregory Maggs: You know, in in the 1820s Chief Justice Marshall in the case of Cohens v. Virginia said this about the Federalist Papers, it is a complete commentary on our constitution, and it is appealed to by all parties in the questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank, and the part of two of its members, and he was speaking about Hamilton and Madison, performed in the framing of the constitution put it very much in their power to explain the views with which it was framed. The Federalist Papers are not the final word. They are not a perfect source of the original meaning of the constitution. And yet, I think it's almost impossible to get ahold of the original meaning without at least considering what the Federalist Papers have to offer.

And I think if you're interested in the constitution, if you're interested in what they, the framers intended to accomplish, the ratifiers wanted I think you have to include the Federalist Papers in your study.

[00:54:58] Jeffrey Rosen: Thank you so much, Colleen Sheehan and Judge Gregory Maggs for a wonderful discussion of the Federalist Papers, the philosophy that inspired them, and the reasons for reading them today. Thank you We the People listeners for reading the Federalist Papers, and if you find a favorite, let me know. Colleen, Greg, thank you so much for joining, and happy Constitution Day.

[00:55:24] Gregory Maggs: Happy Constitution Day.

[00:55:26] Colleen Sheehan: Thank you very much. Happy Constitution Day, September 17th.

[00:55:31] Jeffrey Rosen: Today's show was produced by Jackie McDermott and engineered by Kevin Kilbourne. Research was provided by Sam Desai, John Guerra and Lana Ulrich. Please rate, review, and subscribe to We the People on Apple, and recommend the show to friends, colleagues, or anyone anywhere who is eager for a weekly dose of constitutional illumination and debate. And always remember that the National Constitution Center is a private nonprofit. Thanks so much to those of you who have been sending in donations of any amounts, $5, $10 to show your support for the mission. In honor of Constitution Day, it would be so great if you would go online and make a donation as a sign of your support. You can do that by becoming a member at constitutioncenter.org/membership, or give a donation of any amount at constitutioncenter.org/donate. On behalf of the National Constitution Center. I'm Jeffrey Rosen, and happy Constitution Day.

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The Federalist

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a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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a series of essays written to defend the constitution

https://ximage.c-spanvideo.org/eyJlZGl0cyI6eyJyZXNpemUiOnsiZml0IjoiaW5zaWRlIiwiaGVpZ2h0IjoxMDI0LCJ3aWR0aCI6MTAyNH19LCJidWNrZXQiOiJwaWN0dXJlcy5jLXNwYW52aWRlby5vcmciLCJrZXkiOiJidHNhL2dhbGxlcmllcy9nYWxsZXJpZXNfcHViNC5qcGcifQ==

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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Publius

Library of Congress Historian Julie Miller on James Madison Letters  

Library of Congress Historian Julie Miller shows letters between James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Library of Congress Curator Mark Manivong on James Madison's Bill of Rights}

Library of Congress Curator Mark Manivong on James Madison's Bill of Rights  

Library of Congress Curator Mark Manivong shows James Madison's copy of the Bill of Rights.

Walking Tour of Alexander Hamilton's New York}

Walking Tour of Alexander Hamilton's New York  

Context Travel guide Ben Rubin takes us to sites related to the Federalists Papers, where Alexander Hamilton worked, where they were published, and a tavern where they might have been read and discussed.

[The Federalist Papers]}

The Federalist Papers  

Mark Dimunation talked about The Federalist Papers . The collection of 85 essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were written in 1787-88 to encourage the states to ratify the United States Constitution. The Federalist Papers continue to be cited in legislative and legal proceedings. This was a Constitution Week noon gallery talk for the "Creating the United States" exhibition in the Southwest Gallery of the Library of Congress.

[The Federalist]}

The Federalist  

Professor Robert Scigliano talked about the new edition of The Federalist , published by Modern Library, which he has edited with an introduction. The series of essays also known as The Federalist Papers were written in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote ratification of the proposed Constitution.

Alexander Hamilton and the Early Republic}

Alexander Hamilton and the Early Republic  

Professor Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman talked about Alexander Hamilton's role in the creation of the federal government. She described how, after the American Revolution, states operated as separate countries, which often caused problems. Alexander Hamilton, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, argued during the Constitutional Convention for a strong central government to mediate between the states. This class was part of a course called "World History."

Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention}

Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention  

National Park Service Park Ranger Matthew Ifill tells the story of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention from the room inside Independence Hall where the events took place.

Constitution and Bill of Rights Debate}

Constitution and Bill of Rights Debate  

Richard Brookhiser talked about the Constitutional Convention and the debate over whether to include a bill of rights in the founding document. When the Constitution was being drafted, James Madison - a member of Congress, an intellectual, and a politician extraordinaire - was initially skeptical that a "Bill of Rights" was necessary. But by 1789, after being lobbied by his dearest friend Thomas Jefferson, Madison was determined to include it. Celebrated historian Richard Brookhiser recounted the "Father of the Constitution's" evolution and how, after a hot summer of arguing and bargaining, he persuaded Congress to agree.

Constitutional Convention and Pamphlet War}

Constitutional Convention and Pamphlet War  

Professor Gordon Lloyd talked about the Constitutional Convention and the pamphlet war between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists. He spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

Principles of the U.S. Constitution}

Principles of the U.S. Constitution  

Grove City College president Paul McNulty taught a class about the development of the U.S. Constitution and what he believes are its main principles: republicanism, the separation of powers, and federalism. Mr. McNulty served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration from 2006 to 2007.

  • History , History of United States

The Federalist Papers: In Defense of the Constitution

In 1783, the Revolutionary War ended: after seven long, hard years, Americans had won their independence from Great Britain and could begin constructing a new nation. This, however, proved to be no easy feat. The country’s first written constitution, the Articles of Confederation, created a federal government that had little authority over the individual states and no ability to levy taxes or regulate commerce. Many believed this government was inefficient and ineffective, and in May 1787 a Constitutional Convention was called to address these problems. Instead of simply editing the Articles, however, the delegates to the convention wrote an entirely new constitution that outlined a strong central government and established a system of checks and balances. 

Explanation

Before this document could become the new constitution of the country, nine out of the thirteen states had to ratify, or approve, it. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that attempted to convince the people of New York to support the proposed Constitution. 

The Federalist Papers 

The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison that aimed to convince the people of New York to support the new Constitution. They were published under the pseudonym “Publius” in various New York newspapers from 1787 - 1788. 

The History

Before the new Constitution could be instituted, nine out of the thirteen states had to ratify it. Americans were split into two main camps: Anti-federalists, who opposed ratification and worried that giving the federal government more power would make it susceptible to tyranny, and Federalists, who supported ratification. New York was a hub of anti-federalist sentiment: many Anti-federalists published articles in New York newspapers arguing that the proposed Constitution gave Congress too much power and would threaten American citizens’ hard-won freedoms. 

In the midst of this, New York lawyer and Federalist Alexander Hamilton decided to write a series of anonymous essays defending the Constitution. He recruited fellow Convention delegates John Jay and James Madison to help. Plagued by rheumatism, John Jay wrote only five essays, while Madison penned 29 and Hamilton authored 51. 

The overarching argument of the Federalist Papers is that the Articles of Confederation were weak and ineffective, and that the proposed Constitution would remedy these problems by creating a stronger federal government without threatening the rights and freedoms of American citizens. 

The first group of essays explains that under the system set by the Articles, the federal government was too decentralized for America to be a strong international presence or effectively address internal rebellions. Subsequent sections defend the proposed Constitution, including a group of essays devoted to the importance of the federal government’s power to levy taxes. Another large portion of the essays provides a comprehensive overview of the new structure of government proposed by the Constitution, including the system of checks and balances. 

Some of the essays are more famous than others. One of the most influential was Federalist 10, written by Madison, which argues against the idea that republican governments, or governments in which political authority comes from the people, can only be successful in small countries. Madison argues that, in fact, larger countries are more conducive to successful republican governments because they are more heterogeneous and better able to balance the competing interests of different factions. Another particularly famous essay, Federalist 51, details the importance of checks and balances, arguing that this system protects against tyranny similar to what Americans suffered at the hands of the British. “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself,” Madison wrote, explaining that since both individuals and governments are fallible and prone to mistakes, a government must have checks on its power.

At the time of publication, the Federalist Papers were not enormously influential. Few people outside of New York read them, and they were not successful in convincing a majority of New Yorkers to support the Constitution; the state sent more Anti-federalists than Federalists to the state ratification convention. However, New York did end up voting to support the new document: in July 1788, a small majority of delegates voted for ratification on the condition that a list of amendments detailing additional rights was added to the Constitution. This list became the Bill of Rights, and was drafted by Madison in 1789. 

Today, the Federalist Papers are one of the most important resources we have for interpreting and understanding the original meaning of the Constitution. The essays provide a comprehensive explanation of the principles and structure of government laid out in the Constitution, and have been cited in Supreme Court cases for centuries. In 1803, for instance, the Supreme Court cited Federalist 78 in its decision in Marbury v Madison, which affirmed judicial review, or the power of federal courts to determine if a statute is unconstitutional. In the years since, the Court has cited the essays dozens of times in a variety of decisions, and it will undoubtedly continue to do so, demonstrating the importance of the Federalist Papers to the country today. 

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

Think Further

  • What are some other documents that were used to convince the American public of something during the Revolutionary War period? How do they compare to the Federalist Papers ?
  • Why do you think the authors of the Federalist Papers used a pseudonym?
  • How might the country look different today if the Constitution had not been ratified?

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

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Accountability

Tara Ross Historian of Electoral College

  • Oct 31, 2023

The Federalist Papers: No. 2

On this day in 1787, the second in a series of essays defending the Constitution was published in New York’s Independent Journal. Ultimately, 85 of these Federalist Papers would be written: They have been called “the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States.”

a series of essays written to defend the constitution

Federalist Paper no. 2 was written by John Jay, a prominent lawyer of the time who had helped to draft the New York Constitution of 1777. Alexander Hamilton had recruited Jay to help him throughout the project, but Jay unfortunately fell ill early in the process and was able to complete only five papers. Hamilton and Jay had also recruited the assistance of James Madison, although it is not known whether they recruited him before or after Jay first became ill. The assistance of the academic Madison undoubtedly helped the project a great deal. In the end, Hamilton and Madison did the vast majority of the work on the 85-essay series.

The first fourteen Federalist Papers laid the foundation for the papers to follow: Why does it benefit America to keep the Union? Why is this better than breaking up into many confederacies?

In Federalist No. 2, Jay started by reminding people that they had appointed trusted men to the Constitutional Convention. These delegates were educated men, with much “accumulated knowledge and experience”; they had earned the confidence of the people because of “their patriotism, virtue and wisdom” during the difficult days of the Revolution. Now, these same trusted men had spent “many months in cool, uninterrupted, and daily consultation” and produced a proposed new system of government.

Jay reminded his readers that this Constitution was “only RECOMMENDED, not imposed.” It should be “neither recommended to BLIND approbation, nor to BLIND reprobation.” In other words, Americans should not automatically endorse it! But they should not automatically reject it, either. Instead, they should submit the plan “to that sedate and candid consideration which the magnitude and importance of the subject demand.”

Good advice today, too, right? There is no reason to blindly approve—or disapprove—something simply because it was proposed by a particular political party. Instead, simply think about it. Consider the pros and cons as best you can, independent of partisan considerations.

  • Federalist & Anti-Federalist Papers

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  1. Federalist Papers: Summary, Authors & Impact

    The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays written in the 1780s in support of the proposed U.S. Constitution and the strong federal government it advocated. In October 1787, the first in a ...

  2. The Federalist Papers

    The Federalist Papers is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the collective pseudonym "Publius" to promote the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. The collection was commonly known as The Federalist until the name The Federalist Papers emerged in the ...

  3. The Federalist Papers (article)

    The Federalist was originally planned to be a series of essays for publication in New York City newspapers, but ultimately expanded into a collection of 85 essays, which were published as two volumes in March and May 1788. They did not become known as "The Federalist Papers" until the 20th century. The essays were aimed at convincing opponents of the US Constitution to ratify it so that it ...

  4. Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History

    The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, the essays originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name "Publius."

  5. Introductory Note: The Federalist, [27 October 1787-28 May 1788]

    Hamilton wrote that the essay was "the first of a series of papers to be written in its [the Constitution's] defense." Washington, of course, knew that H was the author, for H customarily sent to Washington anonymous newspaper articles which he wrote. On December 2, 1787, Madison wrote to Edmund Randolph:

  6. Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History

    The Federalist, commonly referred to as the Federalist Papers, is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788.The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name "Publius," in various New York state newspapers of the time. The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed ...

  7. Federalist papers

    The Federalist. The Federalist (1788), a book-form publication of 77 of the 85 Federalist essays. Federalist papers, series of 85 essays on the proposed new Constitution of the United States and on the nature of republican government, published between 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in an effort to persuade New ...

  8. The Federalist

    Synopsis . The Federalist is the title given to a series of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay defending the Constitution to New Yorkers in an effort to promote its ratification. The Federalist stands as the most comprehensive and systematic articulation by the Founders of the reasoning behind the design of the United States Constitution.

  9. Federalist 1 (1787)

    On October 27, 1787, Alexander Hamilton published the opening essay of The Federalist Papers—Federalist 1.The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays printed in newspapers to persuade the American people (and especially Hamilton's fellow New Yorkers) to support ratification of the new Constitution. These essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—with all ...

  10. Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History

    The Federalist Papers were a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pen name "Publius." This guide compiles Library of Congress digital materials, external websites, and a print bibliography. ... a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution, as agreed upon by the Federal ...

  11. The Federalist Papers

    The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays arguing in support of the United States Constitution.Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were the authors behind the pieces, and the three men wrote collectively under the name of Publius.. Seventy-seven of the essays were published as a series in The Independent Journal, The New York Packet, and The Daily Advertiser between October ...

  12. 1.6: The Federalist Papers and Constitutional Government

    The most forceful defense of the new Constitution was The Federalist Papers, a compilation of 85 anonymous essays published in New York City to convince the people of the state to vote for ratification. These articles were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They examined the benefits of the new Constitution and analyzed the ...

  13. Federalist No. 10

    Federalist No. 10 is an essay written by James Madison as the tenth of The Federalist Papers, a series of essays initiated by Alexander Hamilton arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution.It was first published in The Daily Advertiser (New York) on November 22, 1787, under the name "Publius".Federalist No. 10 is among the most highly regarded of all American political writings.

  14. The Federalist Papers

    The Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers. Appearing in New York newspapers as the New York Ratification Convention met in Poughkeepsie, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote as Publius and addressed the citizens of New York through the Federalist Papers. These essays subsequently circulated and were reprinted throughout the ...

  15. The Federalist Papers: A Collection of Essays Written in Favour of the

    The Federalist Papers are a collection of eighty-five articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in favor of ratifying the United States Constitution. First appearing in 1787 as a series of letters to New York newspapers, this collective body of work is widely considered to be among the most important historical collections of all time.

  16. The Federalist Papers

    "The Federalist, commonly referred to as The Federalist Papers, is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788. The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name "Publius," in various New York state newspapers of the time. "The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed ...

  17. 3.5 Info Brief: The Federalist Papers

    The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays printed in newspapers to persuade critics of the Constitution and those on the fence to support ratification. Alexander Hamilton wrote 51 of these essays, James Madison 29, and John Jay five. All three authors wrote under the same famous pen name—"Publius.".

  18. James Madison, Ratification, and The Federalist Papers

    September 17th is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the framers signing of the constitution in 1787. This week, we dive into the philosophy of the Federalist Papers written by Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay to support the ratification of the constitution after it was signed. I'm so excited to be joined by two of America's leading experts on ...

  19. The Federalist

    The series of essays also known as The Federalist Papers were written in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote ratification of the proposed Constitution ...

  20. PDF The US Constitution: Federalists v. Anti-Federalists

    Most famously, writing under the name of "Publius," Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay defended the Constitution in a series of eighty-five essays in New York newspapers between October 1787 and August 1788. In the spring of 1788, a collection of the essays was published as The Federalist,

  21. The Federalist Papers: In Defense of the Constitution

    The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison that aimed to convince the people of New York to support the new Constitution. They were published under the pseudonym "Publius" in various New York newspapers from 1787 - 1788. ... Subsequent sections defend the proposed Constitution ...

  22. The Federalist Papers: No. 2

    On this day in 1787, the second in a series of essays defending the Constitution was published in New York's Independent Journal. Ultimately, 85 of these Federalist Papers would be written: They have been called "the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States."

  23. Separation of Powers Under the Constitution

    Footnotes Jump to essay-1 The Federalist No. 48 (James Madison) ([T]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Jump to essay-2 See id. No. 47 (James Madison) (explaining that the preservation of liberty ...

  24. Civics

    a series of essays written to explain and defend the proposed U.S. Constitution. Federalists. a group of people in the early United States who favored the establishment of a strong national government and who worked for ratification of the U.S. Constitution. About us. About Quizlet;