Title page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers (1788) The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788. A compilation of these and eight others, called The Federalist; or, The New Constitution, was published in two volumes in 1788 by J. and A. McLean. The series' correct title is The Federalist; the title The Federalist Papers did not emerge until the twentieth century.
The authors of The Federalist wanted both to influence the vote in favor of ratification and to shape future interpretations of the Constitution.
However, the authors of the Federalist papers also had a greater plan in mind. According to Federalist 1:
It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, 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.
According to historian Richard B. Morris, they are an "incomparable exposition of the Constitution, a classic in political science unsurpassed in both breadth and depth by the product of any later American writer."
At the time of publication, the authorship of the articles was a closely guarded secret, though astute observers guessed that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were the likely authors. Following Hamilton's death in 1804, a list that he drew up became public; it claimed fully two-thirds of the essays for Hamilton, including some that seemed more likely the work of Madison (Nos. 49-58, 62, and 63). The scholarly detective work of Douglass Adair in 1944 postulated the following assignments of authorship, corroborated in 1964 by a computer analysis of the text:
- Alexander Hamilton (51 articles: nos. 1, 6 9, 11 13, 15 17, 21 36, 59 61, and 65 85)
- James Madison (26 articles: nos. 10, 14, 37 58 and 62 63)
- John Jay (5 articles: 2 5 and 64).
- Nos. 18 20 were the result of a collaboration between Madison and Hamilton.
The authors used the pseudonym "Publius", in honor of Roman consul Publius Valerius Publicola. While some historians credit Thomas Jefferson's influence, it is Madison who often now receives greater foundational credit as the father of the Constitution despite his repeated rejection of the honor during his lifetime. Madison became a leading member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia (1789 1797), Secretary of State (1801 1809), and ultimately the fourth President of the United States. Hamilton, who had been a leading advocate of national constitutional reform throughout the 1780s and represented New York at the Constitutional Convention, in 1789 became the first Secretary of the Treasury, a post he held until his resignation in 1795. John Jay, who had been secretary for foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation from 1784 through their expiration in 1789, became the first Chief Justice of the United States in 1789, stepping down in 1795 to accept election as governor of New York, a post he held for two terms, retiring in 1801.
There are many highlights among the essays of The Federalist. Federalist No. 10, in which Madison discusses the means of preventing rule by majority faction and advocates a large, commercial republic, is generally regarded as the most important of the 85 articles from a philosophical perspective; it is complemented by Federalist No. 14, in which Madison takes the measure of the United States, declares it appropriate for an extended republic, and concludes with a memorable defense of the constitutional and political creativity of the Federal Convention. In Federalist No. 84, Hamilton makes the case that there is no need to amend the Constitution by adding a Bill of Rights, insisting that the various provisions in the proposed Constitution protecting liberty amount to a bill of rights. Federalist No. 78, also written by Hamilton, lays the groundwork for the doctrine of judicial review by federal courts of federal legislation or executive acts. Federalist No. 70 presents Hamilton's case for a one-man chief executive. In Federalist No. 39, Madison presents the clearest exposition of what has come to be called "Federalism". In Federalist No. 51, Madison distills arguments for checks and balances in a memorable essay often quoted for its justification of government as "the greatest of all reflections on human nature."
Alexander Hamilton, author of the majority of the Federalist Papers The Federal Convention sent the proposed Constitution to the Confederation Congress, which at the end of September 1787 submitted it to the states for ratification. Immediately, the Constitution became the target of many articles and public letters written by opponents of the Constitution. For instance, the important Anti-Federalist authors "Cato" and "Brutus" debuted in New York papers on September 27 and October 18, 1787, respectively. Hamilton decided to launch a measured and extensive defense and explanation of the proposed Constitution as a response to the opponents of ratification, addressing the people of the state of New York. He 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."
Hamilton recruited collaborators for the project. He enlisted John Jay, who after four strong essays (Federalist Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5), fell ill and contributed only one more essay, Federalist No. 64, to the series; though he wrote a pamphlet in the spring of 1788, An Address to the People of the State of New-York, that made his distilled case for the Constitution (Hamilton cited it approvingly in Federalist No. 85). James Madison, present in New York as a Virginia delegate to the Confederation Congress, was recruited by Hamilton and Jay, and became Hamilton's major collaborator. Gouverneur Morris and William Duer were also apparently considered; Morris turned down the invitation, and Hamilton rejected three essays written by Duer. Duer later wrote in support of the three Federalist authors under the name "Philo-Publius", or "Friend of Publius".
Hamilton chose "Publius" as the pseudonym under which the series would be written. While many other pieces representing both sides of the constitutional debate were written under Roman names, Albert Furtwangler contends that "'Publius' was a cut above 'Caesar' or 'Brutus' or even 'Cato.' Publius Valerius was not a late defender of the republic but one of its founders. His more famous name, Publicola, meant 'friend of the people.'" It was not the first time Hamilton had used this pseudonym: in 1778, he had applied it to three letters attacking Samuel Chase.
An advertisement for The Federalist The Federalist Papers appeared in three New York newspapers: the Independent Journal, the New-York Packet, and the Daily Advertiser, beginning on October 27, 1787. Between them, Hamilton, Madison and Jay kept up a rapid pace, with at times three or four new essays by Publius appearing in the papers in a week. Garry Wills observes that the pace of production "overwhelmed" any possible response: "Who, given ample time could have answered such a battery of arguments? And no time was given." Hamilton also encouraged the reprinting of the essay in newspapers outside New York state, and indeed they were published in several other states where the ratification debate was taking place. However, they were only irregularly published outside New York, and in other parts of the country they were often overshadowed by local writers.
The high demand for the essays led to their publication in a more permanent form. On January 1, 1788, the New York publishing firm J. & A. McLean announced that they would publish the first thirty-six essays as a bound volume; that volume was released on March 2 and was titled The Federalist. New essays continued to appear in the newspapers; Federalist No. 77 was the last number to appear first in that form, on April 2. A second bound volume containing the last forty-nine essays was released on May 28. The remaining eight papers were later published in the newspapers as well.
A number of later publications are worth noting. A 1792 French edition ended the collective anonymity of Publius, announcing that the work had been written by "MM Hamilton, Maddisson E Gay", citizens of the State of New York. In 1802, George Hopkins published an American edition that similarly named the authors. Hopkins wished as well that "the name of the writer should be prefixed to each number," but at this point Hamilton insisted that this was not to be, and the division of the essays among the three authors remained a secret. James Madison, Hamilton's major collaborator, later President of the United States and "Father of the Constitution"
The first publication to divide the papers in such a way was an 1810 edition that used a list left by Hamilton to associate the authors with their numbers; this edition appeared as two volumes of the compiled "Works of Hamilton". In 1818, Jacob Gideon published a new edition with a new listing of authors, based on a list provided by Madison. The difference between Hamilton's list and Madison's formed the basis for a dispute over the authorship of a dozen of the essays.
Both Hopkins's and Gideon's editions incorporated significant edits to the text of the papers themselves, generally with the approval of the authors. In 1863, Henry Dawson published an edition containing the original text of the papers, see [//en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=The_Federalist_(Dawson)&oldid=2331531 The Federalist (Dawson)], arguing that they should be preserved as they were written in that particular historical moment, not as edited by the authors years later.
Modern scholars generally use the text prepared by Jacob E. Cooke for his 1961 edition of The Federalist; this edition used the newspaper texts for essay numbers 1 76 and the McLean edition for essay numbers 77 85.
The authorship of seventy-three of the Federalist essays is fairly certain. Twelve of these essays are disputed over by some scholars, though the modern consensus is that Madison wrote essays Nos. 49 58, with Nos. 18 20 being products of a collaboration between him and Hamilton; No. 64 was by John Jay. Some newer evidence suggests James Madison as the author. The first open designation of which essay belonged to whom was provided by Hamilton, who in the days before his ultimately fatal gun duel with Aaron Burr provided his lawyer with a list detailing the author of each number. This list credited Hamilton with a full sixty-three of the essays (three of those being jointly written with Madison), almost three quarters of the whole, and was used as the basis for an 1810 printing that was the first to make specific attribution for the essays. John Jay, author of five of the Federalist Papers, later became the first Chief Justice of the United States
Madison did not immediately dispute Hamilton's list, but provided his own list for the 1818 Gideon edition of The Federalist. Madison claimed twenty-nine numbers for himself, and he suggested that the difference between the two lists was "owing doubtless to the hurry in which [Hamilton's] memorandum was made out." A known error in Hamilton's list Hamilton incorrectly ascribed No. 54 to John Jay, when in fact Jay wrote No. 64 has provided some evidence for Madison's suggestion.
Statistical analysis has been undertaken on several occasions to try to decide the authorship question based on word frequencies and writing styles. Nearly all of the statistical studies show that the disputed papers were written by Madison.
Influence on the ratification debates
The Federalist was written to support the ratification of the Constitution, specifically in New York. Whether they succeeded in this mission is questionable. Separate ratification proceedings took place in each state, and the essays were not reliably reprinted outside of New York; furthermore, by the time the series was well underway, a number of important states had already ratified it, for instance Pennsylvania on December 12. New York held out until July 26; certainly The Federalist was more important there than anywhere else, but Furtwangler argues that it "could hardly rival other major forces in the ratification contests"--specifically, these forces included the personal influence of well-known Federalists, for instance Hamilton and Jay, and Anti-Federalists, including Governor George Clinton. Further, by the time New York came to a vote, ten states had already ratified the Constitution and it had thus already passed only nine states had to ratify it for the new government to be established among them; the ratification by Virginia, the tenth state, placed pressure on New York to ratify. In light of that, Furtwangler observes, "New York's refusal would make that state an odd outsider."
As for Virginia, which only ratified the Constitution at its convention on June 25, Hamilton writes in a letter to Madison that the collected edition of The Federalist had been sent to Virginia; Furtwangler presumes that it was to act as a "debater's handbook for the convention there," though he claims that this indirect influence would be a "dubious distinction." Probably of greater importance to the Virginia debate, in any case, were George Washington's support for the proposed Constitution and the presence of Madison and Edmund Randolph, the governor, at the convention arguing for ratification.
Another purpose that The Federalist was supposed to serve was as a debater's handbook during the ratification controversy, and indeed advocates for the Constitution in the conventions in New York and Virginia used the essays for precisely that purpose.
Structure and content
In Federalist No. 1, Hamilton listed six topics to be covered in the subsequent articles:
- "The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity" covered in No. 2 through No. 14
- "The insufficiency of the present Confederation to preserve that Union" covered in No. 15 through No. 22
- "The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed to the attainment of this object" covered in No. 23 through No. 36
- "The conformity of the proposed constitution to the true principles of republican government" covered in No. 37 through No. 84
- "Its analogy to your own state constitution" covered in No. 85
- "The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty and to prosperity" covered in No. 85.
Furtwangler notes that as the series grew, this plan was somewhat changed. The fourth topic expanded into detailed coverage of the individual articles of the Constitution and the institutions it mandated, while the two last topics were merely touched on in the last essay.
The papers can be broken down by author as well as by topic. At the start of the series, all three authors were contributing; the first twenty papers are broken down as eleven by Hamilton, five by Madison and four by Jay. The rest of the series, however, is dominated by three long segments by a single writer: No. 21 through No. 36 by Hamilton, No. 36 through 58 by Madison, written while Hamilton was in Albany, and No. 65 through the end by Hamilton, published after Madison had left for Virginia.
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. The idea of adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution was originally controversial because the Constitution, as written, did not specifically enumerate or protect the rights of the people, rather it listed the powers of the government and left all that remained to the states and the people. Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist No. 84, feared that such an enumeration, once written down explicitly, would later be interpreted as a list of the only rights that people had.
However, Hamilton's opposition to a Bill of Rights was far from universal. Robert Yates, writing under the pseudonym Brutus, articulated this view point in the so-called Anti-Federalist No. 84, asserting that a government unrestrained by such a bill could easily devolve into tyranny. Other supporters of the Bill, such as Thomas Jefferson, argued that a list of rights would not and should not be interpreted as exhaustive; i.e., that these rights were examples of important rights that people had, but that people had other rights as well. People in this school of thought were confident that the judiciary would interpret these rights in an expansive fashion. The matter was further clarified by the Ninth Amendment.
Modern approaches and interpretations
Federal judges, when interpreting the Constitution, frequently use the Federalist Papers as a contemporary account of the intentions of the framers and ratifiers. They have been applied on issues ranging from the power of the federal government in foreign affairs (in Hines v. Davidowitz) to the validity of ex post facto laws (in the 1798 decision Calder v. Bull, apparently the first decision to mention The Federalist). , The Federalist had been quoted 291 times in Supreme Court decisions.
The amount of deference that should be given to the Federalist Papers in constitutional interpretation has always been somewhat controversial. As early as 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall noted in the famous case McCulloch v. Maryland, that "the opinions expressed by the authors of that work have been justly supposed to be entitled to great respect in expounding the Constitution. No tribute can be paid to them which exceeds their merit; but in applying their opinions to the cases which may arise in the progress of our government, a right to judge of their correctness must be retained." Madison believed The Federalist Papers were the ideas of the Founders and not just mere expressions. In a letter he wrote in 1821, he stated "the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses." 
- American philosophy
- The Anti-Federalist Papers
- Adair, Douglass. Fame and the Founding Fathers. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1974. A collection of essays; that used here is "The Disputed Federalist Papers".
- Frederick Mosteller and David L. Wallace. Inference and Disputed Authorship: The Federalist. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1964.
- Furtwangler, Albert. The Authority of Publius: A Reading of the Federalist Papers. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1984.
- Wills, Gary. Explaining America: The Federalist, Garden City, NJ: 1981.
- Meyerson, Michael I. Liberty's Blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton Wrote the Federalist Papers, Defined the Constitution, and Made Democracy Safe for the World, New York: Basic Books, 2008.
- Dietze, Gottfried. The Federalist: A Classic on Federalism and Free Government, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1960.
- Epstein, David F. The Political Theory of the Federalist, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.
- Gray, Leslie, and Wynell Burroughs. "Teaching With Documents: Ratification of the Constitution", Social Education, 51 (1987): 322-324.
- Kesler, Charles R. Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding, New York: 1987.
- Patrick, John J., and Clair W. Keller. Lessons on the Federalist Papers: Supplements to High School Courses in American History, Government and Civics, Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians in association with ERIC/ChESS, 1987. ED 280 764.
- Schechter, Stephen L. Teaching about American Federal Democracy, Philadelphia: Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University, 1984. ED 248 161.
- Sunstein, Cass R. The Enlarged Republic Then and Now, New York Review of Books, (March 26, 2009): Volume LVI, Number 5, 45. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22453
- Webster, Mary E. The Federalist Papers: In Modern Language Indexed for Today's Political Issues. Bellevue, WA.: Merril Press, 1999.
- White, Morton. Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution, New York: 1987.
- Yarbrough, Jean. "The Federalist". This Constitution: A Bicentennial Chronicle, 16 (1987): 4-9. SO 018 489
- Zebra Edition. The Federalist Papers: (Or, How Government is Supposed to Work), Edited for Readability. Oakesdale, WA: Lucky Zebra Press, 2007.
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