What the heck are these “Federalist Papers” I’ve been hearing about, and why do they seem so important when we talk about “interpreting” The Constitution?

“I think the first duty of society is justice.” – Alexander Hamilton

The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 newspaper articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, under the pen name “Publius,” to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution.

The first 77 of these essays were published, in a series, in three different New York newspapers, between October of 1787 and April of 1788.  A two-volume compilation of these 77 essays and eight others was later published as “The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favor of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787,” in March and May of 1788.

The authors of The Federalist Papers intended to influence the voters to ratify the Constitution.  In “Federalist No. 1,” Alexander Hamilton set that argument in motion:

“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.”

“Federalist No. 10” is generally regarded as the most important of the 85 articles from a philosophical standpoint.  In it, James Madison discusses the destructive role of a faction in breaking apart the republic. The question Madison answers, then, is how to eliminate the negative effects of factions.  Madison defines a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who 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.”

According to historian Richard B. Morris, the essays that make up The Federalist Papers 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 authors of The Federalist Papers attempted to hide their identities for fear of prosecution.  The authorship of the papers breaks down like this:

Alexander Hamilton (51 articles: No. 1, 6–9, 11–13, 15–17, 21–36, 59–61, and 65–85)

James Madison (29 articles: No. 10, 14, 18–20, 37–58 and 62–63)

John Jay (5 articles: No. 2–5 and 64)

Hamilton represented New York at the Constitutional Convention, and in 1789 became the first Secretary of the Treasury, until he resigned in 1795.

Madison, who is now acknowledged as the father of the Constitution, 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.

Jay, became the first Chief Justice of the United States in 1789, until stepping down in 1795 to accept his election as the governor of New York.

The Federal Convention sent the proposed Constitution to the Confederation Congress, which in turn submitted it to the states for ratification at the end of September 1787.  On September 27, 1787, an article by an author known only as “Cato” first appeared in the New York press criticizing the proposition.  Soon after, an article by an author known as “Brutus” followed on October 18, 1787, also criticizing the newly proposed constitution.  These and other articles and public letters critical of the new Constitution would become known as the “Anti-Federalist Papers.”  These articles were the impetus for Alexander Hamilton’s response, as he decided to launch his defense and explanation of the proposed Constitution to 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.”

Alexander Hamilton chose the pen name “Publius.” While many other pieces representing both sides of the constitutional debate were written under Roman pen names such as “Publius,” “Caesar,” “Brutus” and “Cato.”  In ancient Rome, Publius Valerius helped found the ancient republic of Rome.  He was also known as Publicola, which meant “friend of the people.”

Although written and published relatively quickly, “The Federalist articles” were widely read and greatly influenced the shape of America, politically.  Hamilton, Madison and Jay published the essays at a rapid pace.  At times, three to four new essays appeared in the papers in a single week.  Hamilton also encouraged the reprinting of the essays in newspapers outside of New York State.

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.

Here is a list of The Federalist Papers in order:

#       Date, Title, Author

1       October 27, 1787, General Introduction, Alexander Hamilton

2       October 31, 1787, Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence, John Jay

3       November 3, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence, John Jay

4       November 7, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence, John Jay

5       November 10, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence, John Jay

6       November 14, 1787, Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States, Alexander Hamilton

7       November 15, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States, Alexander Hamilton

8       November 20, 1787, The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States, Alexander Hamilton

9       November 21, 1787, The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and  Insurrection, Alexander Hamilton

10     November 22, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, James Madison

11     November 24, 1787 The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and a Navy, Alexander Hamilton

12     November 27, 1787, The Utility of the Union In Respect to Revenue, Alexander Hamilton

13     November 28, 1787, Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government, Alexander Hamilton

14     November 30, 1787, Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered, James Madison

15     December 1, 1787, The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, Alexander Hamilton

16     December 4, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, Alexander Hamilton

17     December 5, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, Alexander Hamilton

18     December 7, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, James Madison

19     December 8, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, James Madison

20     December 11, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, James Madison

21     December 12, 1787, Other Defects of the Present Confederation, Alexander Hamilton

22     December 14, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: Other Defects of the Present Confederation, Alexander Hamilton

23     December 18, 1787, The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union, Alexander Hamilton

24     December 19, 1787, The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered, Alexander Hamilton

25     December 21, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered, Alexander Hamilton

26     December 22, 1787, The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered, Alexander Hamilton

27     December 25, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered, Alexander Hamilton

28     December 26, 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered, Alexander Hamilton

29     January 9, 1788, Concerning the Militia, Alexander Hamilton

30     December 28, 1787, Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

31     January 1, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

32     January 2, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

33     January 2, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

34     January 5, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

35     January 5, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

36     January 8, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, Alexander Hamilton

37     January 11, 1788, Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government, James Madison

38     January 12, 1788, The Same Subject Continued, and the Incoherence of the Objections to the New Plan Exposed, James Madison

39     January 18, 1788, The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles, James Madison

40     January 18, 1788, The Powers of the Convention to Form a Mixed Government Examined and Sustained, James Madison

41     January 19, 1788, General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution, James Madison

42     January 22, 1788, The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered, James Madison

43     January 23, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered, James Madison

44     January 25, 1788, Restrictions on the Authority of the Several States, James Madison

45     January 26, 1788, The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered, James Madison

46     January 29, 1788, The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared, James Madison

47     January 30, 1788, The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts, James Madison

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

49     February 2, 1788, Method of Guarding Against the Encroachments of Any One Department of Government, James Madison

50     February 5, 1788, Periodic Appeals to the People Considered, James Madison

51     February 6, 1788, The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments, James Madison

52     February 8, 1788, The House of Representatives, James Madison

53     February 9, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: The House of Representatives, James Madison

54     February 12, 1788, The Apportionment of Members Among the States, James Madison

55     February 13, 1788, The Total Number of the House of Representatives, James Madison

56     February 16, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: The Total Number of the House of Representatives, James Madison

57     February 19, 1788, The Alleged Tendency of the New Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many, James Madison

58     February 20, 1788, Objection That The Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands Considered, James Madison

59     February 22, 1788, Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members, Alexander Hamilton

60     February 23, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members, Alexander Hamilton

61     February 26, 1788, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members, Alexander Hamilton

62     February 27, 1788, The Senate, James Madison

63     March 1, 1788, The Senate Continued, James Madison

64     March 5, 1788, The Powers of the Senate, John Jay

65     March 7, 1788, The Powers of the Senate Continued, Alexander Hamilton

66     March 8, 1788, Objections to the Power of the Senate To Set as a Court for Impeachments Further Considered, Alexander Hamilton

67     March 11, 1788, The Executive Department, Alexander Hamilton

68     March 12, 1788, The Mode of Electing the President, Alexander Hamilton

69     March 14, 1788, The Real Character of the Executive, Alexander Hamilton

70     March 15, 1788, The Executive Department Further Considered, Alexander Hamilton

71     March 18, 1788, The Duration in Office of the Executive, Alexander Hamilton

72     March 19, 1788, The Same Subject Continued, and Re-Eligibility of the Executive Considered, Alexander Hamilton

73     March 21, 1788, The Provision For The Support of the Executive, and the Veto Power, Alexander Hamilton

74     March 25, 1788, The Command of the Military and Naval Forces, and the Pardoning Power of the Executive, Alexander Hamilton

75     March 26, 1788, The Treaty Making Power of the Executive, Alexander Hamilton

76     April 1, 1788, The Appointing Power of the Executive, Alexander Hamilton

77     April 2, 1788, The Appointing Power Continued and Other Powers of the Executive Considered, Alexander Hamilton

78     May 28, 1788 (book) June 14, 1788 (newspaper), The Judiciary Department, Alexander Hamilton

79     May 28, 1788 (book) June 18, 1788 (newspaper), The Judiciary Continued, Alexander Hamilton

80     June 21, 1788, The Powers of the Judiciary, Alexander Hamilton

81     June 25, 1788 and June 28, 1788, The Judiciary Continued, and the Distribution of the Judicial Authority, Alexander Hamilton

82     July 2, 1788, The Judiciary Continued, Alexander Hamilton

83     July 5, 1788, July 9, 1788 and July 12, 1788, The Judiciary Continued in Relation to Trial by Jury, Alexander Hamilton

84     July 16, 1788, July 26, 1788 and August 9, 1788, Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered, Alexander Hamilton

85     August 13, 1788 and August 16, 1788, Concluding Remarks, Alexander Hamilton

As you can see, the list of constitutional topics covered in “The Papers” is quite extensive and very encompassing.  “The Papers” can sometimes help us when interpreting The Constitution by providing the original intentions of the framers and by giving us a little extra insight.

By 2000, The Federalist Papers had been quoted 291 times in Supreme Court decisions.

If you had any questions about The Federalist Papers…, hopefully they’ve now been answered.

Stay thirsty my friends!  It’s always better to be more knowledgeable than not.

“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” – James Madison, 4th President of The Unites States

“The loss of liberty to a generous mind is worse than death.” – Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington

“America belongs to ‘We the People.’  It does not belong to The Congress.  It does not belong to special interest groups.  It does not belong to The Courts.   It belongs to ‘We the People.'” – John Jay, First Chief Justice of The United States Supreme Court

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Thank you, MrEricksonRules.

federalist papers

 

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