- Debate on the Constitution
- The rise of Publius
- What Federalist Newspapers Said
- Impact of federalist articles
In October 1787, the first in a series of 85 essays arguing for the ratification of the draft Constitution of the United States appeared in the Independent newspaper, under the pseudonym “Publius”. Addressed to the “people of New York”, the essays – now known as the Federalist Papers – were in fact written by the main proponents of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay and the strong national government it created. . They were published in series from 1787 to 1788 in several New York newspapers.
The first 77 trials, including the famous Madison Federalist ten, published as a book in 1788. Entitled The federalistit has been hailed as one of the most important political documents in the history of the United States.
Debate on the Constitution
As the first written constitution of the newly independent United States, the Articles of Confederation theoretically granted Congress the power to conduct foreign policy, to maintain the military and money. But in practice, this centralized body of government had little authority over the individual states, including no power to levy taxes or regulate trade, which hampered the new nation’s ability to pay its unpaid war debts. revolutionary.
In May 1787, 55 delegates met in Philadelphia to remedy the shortcomings of the articles of Confederation and the problems which had arisen from this weakened central government. However, the document resulting from the Constitutional Convention goes far beyond amending the articles. Instead, it established an entirely new system, comprising a robust central government divided into legislative, executive and judicial powers.
As soon as 39 delegates signed the draft Constitution in September 1787, the document went to the States for ratification, triggering a furious debate between the “federalists”, who favored the ratification of the Constitution as it was written, and the “Anti-federalists”, 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 considered particularly important. Immediately after the document was adopted, anti-federalists began publishing articles in the press criticizing him. They argued that the document gave Congress excessive powers and that it could lead the American people to lose the hard-won freedoms for which they had fought and won during the Revolution.
In response to these criticisms, New York lawyer and statesman Alexander Hamilton, who had been a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, decided to write a complete series of essays to defend the Constitution and promote its ratification. As a collaborator, Hamilton recruited fellow New Yorker John Jay, who had helped negotiate the end-of-war treaty with Britain and was secretary of foreign affairs under articles of Confederation. The two men later called on James Madison, another delegate to the Constitutional Convention who was in New York at the time at the Confederation Congress.
To avoid opening himself and Madison to charges of betraying the confidentiality of the Convention, 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 newspaper October 27, 1787. In it, Hamilton argued that the debate facing the nation was not only about ratifying the draft constitution, but whether “men’s societies are really capable or not.” to establish good government on the basis of reflection and choice, or if they are forever destined to depend on their political constitution of accident and force. ”
After writing the following four essays on the failures of Confederation articles in the area of foreign affairs, Jay had to abandon the project due to an attack of rheumatism; he would only write one more essay in the series. Madison wrote a total of 29 essays, while Hamilton wrote a staggering 51.
What Federalist Newspapers Said
In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison argued that the decentralization of power that existed under articles of Confederation prevented the new nation from becoming strong enough to compete on the world stage or to quell internal insurgencies such as rebellion from Shays. In addition to presenting the many ways in which they believed the articles of Confederation were not working, Hamilton, Jay and Madison used the Federalist essays to explain the main provisions of the draft Constitution, as well as the nature of the republican form of government.
In Federalist ten, who became the most influential of all the essays, Madison argued against the assertion of French political philosopher Montesquieu that true democracy – including the concept of the separation of powers from Montesquieu – was only achievable for the little ones States. A larger republic, Madison suggested, could more easily balance the competing interests of the different groups (or “factions”) within it. “Expand the sphere, and you integrate a wider variety of parties and interests,” he writes. “[Y]it is less likely that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]”
After highlighting the weakness of the central government in applying laws under the articles of the Federalist 21-22, Hamilton plunged into a full defense of the draft constitution in the next 14 essays, devoting seven of them to the importance of the government’s fiscal power. Madison followed with 20 essays on the structure of the new government, including the need for checks and balances between the different powers.
“If men were angels, no government would be needed,” wrote Madison Federalist 51. “If the angels were to rule men, no external or internal control over the 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 judicial.
Impact of federalist articles
Despite their disproportionate influence in the years to come and their importance today as touchstones for understanding the Constitution and the founding principles of the American government, the essays published under the title The federalist in 1788, circulation was limited outside of New York at the time of writing. Nor did they convince many New York voters, who sent far more anti-federalists than federalists to the state ratification convention.
However, in July 1788, a slim majority of New York delegates voted in favor of the Constitution, provided that amendments were added guaranteeing certain additional rights. Although Hamilton objected (by writing Federalist 84 that such a bill was unnecessary and could even be prejudicial) Madison himself would write the Bill of Rights in 1789, while serving as a representative at the first national convention.
Ron Chernow, Hamilton (Penguin, 2004)
Pauline Maier, Ratification: the people debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (Simon and Schuster, 2010)
“If men were angels: teach the Constitution with federalist papers”. Constitutional Rights Foundation.
Dan T. Coenen, “Fifteen curious facts about federalist papers”. University of Georgia Faculty of Law, April 1, 2007.