Federalist Papers

Federalist Papers in United States

Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51 (1787-1788)

The Federalist Papers were a series of essays published in newspapers in 1787 and 1788 by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the Constitution.

The Federalist Papers, were 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,” primarily in two New York state newspapers of the time: The New York Packet and The Independent Journal.

They were written to urge citizens of New York to support ratification of the proposed United States Constitution. Significantly, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. It is for this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were members of the Constitutional Convention, that the Federalist Papers are often used today to help understand the intentions of those drafting the Constitution.

A bound edition of the essays, with revisions and corrections by Hamilton, was published in 1788 by printers J. and A. McLean. A later edition, published by printer Jacob Gideon in 1818, with revisions and corrections by Madison, was the first to identify each essay by its author’s name. Because of the essays’ publishing history, the assignment of authorship, numbering, and exact wording may vary with different editions of The Federalist.

The essays featured here are Federalist No. 10 and Federalist No. 51. The former, written by James Madison, refuted the belief that it was impossible to extend a republican government over a large territory. It also discussed special interest groups. The later emphasized the importance of checks and balances within a government. (1)

Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51 (1787-1788) is one of the 100 Most U.S. Influential Documents

Legal Materials

The Federalist Papers is a collection of articles written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. The papers explain the original draft of the U.S. Constitution in an effort to convince the state legislators to adopt it as the basis for our Federal government. The articles are often cited to elaborate on the meaning of the Constitution, although the Papers technically do not count as legislative history.

You can buy a cheap paperback edition of The Federalist Papers in most large book stores. In addition, the Library of Congress has posted the Papers on Thomas (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/const/mdbquery.html).

About Government

Thomas Jefferson called The Federalist Papers “the best commentary on the principles of government … ever written.” For the 19th-century English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, The Federalist, (as the collection of 85 short essays was usually titled) was “the most instructive treatise we possess on federal government.” The astute French political commentator, Alexis de Tocqueville, thought it “an excellent book, which ought to be familiar to the statesmen of all countries.” In the 20th century, historians, jurists and political scientists have generally agreed that The Federalist is the most important work of political philosophy and pragmatic government ever written in the United States. It has been compared to Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics and Hobbes’ Leviathan. And it has been consulted by the leaders of many new nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa as they were preparing their own constitutions.

The delegates who signed the drafted Constitution in Philadelphia on September 16, 1787, stipulated that it would take effect only after approval by ratifying conventions in nine of 13 states. Although not stipulated, a negative vote by either of two key states — New York or Virginia — could destroy the whole enterprise because of their size and power. Both New York and Virginia delegates were sharply divided in their opinions of the Constitution. And New York governor George Clinton had already made clear his opposition.

One would imagine that a work so highly praised and so influential as The Federalist Papers was the ripe fruit of a long lifetime’s experience in scholarship and government. In fact, it was largely the product of two young men: Alexander Hamilton of New York, age 32, and James Madison of Virginia, age 36, who wrote in great haste — sometimes as many as four essays in a single week. An older scholar, John Jay, later named as first chief justice of the Supreme Court, contributed five of the letters.

Hamilton, who had been an aide to Washington during the Revolution, asked Madison and Jay to join him in this crucial project. Their purpose was to persuade the New York convention to ratify the just-drafted Constitution. They would separately write a series of letters to New York newspapers, under the shared pseudonym, “Publius.” In the letters they would explain and defend the Constitution.

Hamilton initiated the venture, outlined the sequence of topics to be discussed, and vigorously addressed most of them in 51 of the letters. But Madison’s 29 letters have proved to be the most memorable in their combination of frankness, balance and reasoning power. It is not clear whether The Federalist Papers, written between October 1787 and May 1788, had a decisive effect on New York’s grudging ratification of the Constitution. But there can be no doubt that they became, and remain, the most authoritative commentary on that document. (2)

Human Nature, Government and Individual Rights

Behind the notion of checks and balances lay a profoundly realistic view of human nature. While Madison and Hamilton believed that man at his best was capable of reason, self-discipline and fairness, they also recognized his susceptibility to passion, intolerance and greed. In a famous passage, after discussing what measures were needed to preserve liberty, Madison wrote:

“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, 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.”

madisonIn the most striking and original of The Federalist Papers (Number 10), Madison addressed this double challenge. His central concern was the need “to break and control the violence of faction,” by which he meant political parties, and which he regarded as the greatest danger to popular government: “I understand a number of citizens … are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” These passions or interests that endanger the rights of others may be religious or political or, most often, economic. Factions may divide along lines of haves and have-nots, creditors and debtors, or according to the kinds of property possessed. Madison wrote:

“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 themselves into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and view. The regulations of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation…”

How can fair, rational and free people mediate so many competing claims or the factions that derive from them? Since it is impossible to outlaw passion or self-interest, a proper form of government must be able to prevent any faction, whether minority or majority, from imposing its will against the general good. One defense against an overbearing faction, Madison said, is the republican (or representative) form of government, which tends “to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens,” who are likely to be educated men of good character. Because elected representatives are at some distance from mass sentiments, they will probably also have a larger and wiser outlook.

But even more important, according to Madison, was broadening the geographic and popular basis of the republic, as would happen under the national government proposed by the new Constitution. He wrote:

“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…. 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.”

What is being urged here is the principle of pluralism, which welcomes diversity both for its own sake as a testimony to individual variety and freedom, but even more crucially for its positive effect in neutralizing conflicting passions and interests. Just as the great variety of religious faiths in the United States makes unlikely the imposition of a single established church, so the variety of states with many divergent regions and concerns makes unlikely the national victory of an inflamed and potentially oppressive faction or party. A confirmation of Madison’s argument can be found in the evolution of the major American political parties, which have tended to be moderate and non-ideological because they each encompass such a diversity of sectional and economic interests. (3)

Political Theory and Practice

The memorable observations in The Federalist Papers about government, society, liberty, tyranny and the nature of political man are not always easy to locate. Much in these essays is dated or repetitious or archaic in style. The authors had neither the time nor the inclination to put their thoughts in an orderly and comprehensive form. Yet The Federalist Papers remain indispensable to anyone seriously interested in the perennial questions of political theory and practice raised by Hamilton and Madison. “No more eloquent, tough-minded and instructive answers have ever been given by an American pen,” wrote the distinguished political historian, Clinton Rossitor.

Rossitor wrote in his commentary on the essential wisdom in The Federalist Papers: “The message of The Federalist reads: no happiness without liberty, no liberty without self-government, no self-government without constitutionalism, no constitutionalism without morality — and none of these great goods without stability and order.” (4)

Concept of Federalist Papers

In the U.S., in the context of the U.S. Constitution and Federalism, Federalist Papers has the following meaning: Newspaper columns (campaign materials) written by Publius (a pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison) in an effort to influence public opinion and state constitutional delegates to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. (Source of this definition of Federalist Papers : University of Texas)

Federalist Papers

Federalist Papers in the U.S. Legal History

Summary

These 85 newspaper essays, written in support of ratification of the Constitution of 1787 in New York by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, described the proposed plan of national government as a sure foundation for long-term political stability and enlightened legislation. Although having little effect on the ratification debate in New York, the papers soon became classics of political philosophy about the Constitution as the framework of federal government for the American republic.

Resources

See Also

  • Constitution
  • Federalism

Federalist Papers in the U.S. Legal History

Summary

These 85 newspaper essays, written in support of ratification of the Constitution of 1787 in New York by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, described the proposed plan of national government as a sure foundation for long-term political stability and enlightened legislation. Although having little effect on the ratification debate in New York, the papers soon became classics of political philosophy about the Constitution as the framework of federal government for the American republic.

Resources

Concept of Federalist Papers

In the U.S., in the context of the U.S. Constitution and Federalism, Federalist Papers has the following meaning: Newspaper columns (campaign materials) written by Publius (a pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison) in an effort to influence public opinion and state constitutional delegates to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. (Source of this definition of Federalist Papers : University of Texas)

Federalist Papers

Federalist Papers in the U.S. Legal History

Summary

These 85 newspaper essays, written in support of ratification of the Constitution of 1787 in New York by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, described the proposed plan of national government as a sure foundation for long-term political stability and enlightened legislation. Although having little effect on the ratification debate in New York, the papers soon became classics of political philosophy about the Constitution as the framework of federal government for the American republic.

Resources

See Also

  • Constitution
  • Federalism

Federalist Papers in the U.S. Legal History

Summary

These 85 newspaper essays, written in support of ratification of the Constitution of 1787 in New York by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, described the proposed plan of national government as a sure foundation for long-term political stability and enlightened legislation. Although having little effect on the ratification debate in New York, the papers soon became classics of political philosophy about the Constitution as the framework of federal government for the American republic.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Source: The People’s Vote, National Archives of the United States
  2. “An outline of American government” (1980), by Richard C. Schroeder
  3. Id.
  4. Id.

See Also

Further Reading (Books)

Adair, Douglass. “The Tenth Federalist Revisited.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 8 (1951): 48-67.

‘That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science’: David Hume, James Madison, and the Tenth Federalist.” Huntington Library Quarterly, 20 (1957): 343-360.

Cooke, Jacob, ed. The Federalist. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961.

Epstein, David F. The Political Theory of The Federalist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Furtwangler, Albert. The Authority of Publius: A Reading of the Federalist Papers. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984.

Kesler, Charles R. ed. Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding. New York: Free Press, 1987.

JackRakove

Further Reading (Articles)

RECOMMENDED READING SCHOLARS ARE SPLIT ON THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S USE OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS TO JUSTIFY ITS POSITION ON PRESIDENTIAL WAR POWERS, The Boston Globe (Boston, MA); June 11, 2006; Charlie Savage

`FEDERALIST PAPERS’ TO SHOW PUPILS ERROR OF OUR WAYS.(EDITORIAL)(Editorial), Daily News (Los Angeles, CA); January 17, 1997

The New Federalist Papers., The Washington Monthly; September 1, 1997; Cutler, Lloyd N.

Liberty’s Blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton Wrote the Federalist Papers, Defined the Constitution, and Made Democracy Safe for the World.(Book review), The Historian; December 22, 2010; McDonough, Daniel

The New Federalist Papers: Essays in Defense of the Constitution.(Review), The Historian; March 22, 1999; Hall, Kermit L.

‘The Federalist Papers’ earliest important columns; Writings helped make Constitution accepted, Telegraph – Herald (Dubuque); October 26, 2003; BRUCE KAUFFMANN

The Political Science Shelf.(The Federalist Papers Revisited and Chronicle of Catastrophe: A Contemporaneous History of the Bush Years)(Brief article)(Book review), Small Press Bookwatch; November 1, 2010

The Federalist Papers, the Commerce Clause, and Federal Tort Reform, Suffolk University Law Review; March 22, 2012; Taylor, Paul

Gun rights and the Federalist Papers.(LETTERS), The Washington Times (Washington, DC); July 24, 2007

Annals of impeachment; Sex, lies and Federalist Papers.(NEWS), Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN); November 19, 1998; Black, Eric

Outlawing the Federalist Papers: Can Free Speech Be Anonymous Too?, Reason; April 1, 1995; Doherty, Brian

Paper Federalists, The Nation; June 12, 2000; Cole, David

The Most-Cited Federalist Papers, Constitutional Commentary; December 22, 1998; Lupu, Ira C.

The Supreme Court and Opinion Content: The Use of the Federalist Papers, Political Research Quarterly; June 1, 2005; Corley, Pamela C. Howard, Robert M. Nixon, David C.

Federalist Papers often quoted on impeachment, AP Online; December 18, 1998; DOUGLAS KIKER Associated Press Writer

Both Impeachment Sides Cite Federalist Papers, The Washington Times (Washington, DC); January 24, 1999; Harper, Jennifer

Federalist Papers, Encyclopedia of the New American Nation; January 1, 2006

New Federalist Papers: Essays in Defense of the Constitution., The Yale Law Journal; May 1, 1998; Iwasaka, Ryan M.T.

Anti-Federalists, U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History; January 1, 2009

‘Publius’: The Federalist Papers, The World and I; October 1, 1998; Teti, Dennis

Federalist Papers: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Federalist Papers. This part provides references, in relation to Federalist Papers, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Federalist Papers by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Federalist Papers and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Federalist Papers or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Federalist Papers and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Federalist Papers. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Federalist Papers should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Federalist Papers when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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