The Federalist Papers Summary

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

The Federalist Papers

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The Federalist Papers Summary

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The Federalist Papers is a collection of essays written and compiled from 1787 to 1788 by three statesmen: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The collection contains eighty-five essays. Originally published under the pen name “Publius,” until the twentieth century, it was known as The Federalist. Although modern readers may be tempted to presume this name means “the public,” it refers to Publius Valeria Publicola, a Roman co-consul and founder of the Roman Republic who died in the year 503 BCE. Many influential figures have carried the name Publius. The goal of these essays was to defend the vote to ratify the United States Constitution to the public.

While all eighty-five essays contribute valuable insight into the ideologies of the founders of the United States, some stand out among the others. “Federalist No. 10,” or “The Same Subject Continued: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection,” penned by James Madison, is about factions and preventing them. Madison defines factions as groups of people who act in their own interests instead of the interests of the larger community, permitted because they have the majority. Despite his dislike of these groups, Madison sees them as inevitable so long as different people hold different opinions. Madison concludes that there are two solutions to the problem posed by factions–either get rid of the cause for factions, or mitigate the power factions can control. Madison asserts that a republic is the answer, since it keeps power in the hands of a few who represent the larger majority.

Alexander Hamilton’s “Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered” or “Federalist No. 84” is one of the most influential contributions to The Federalist Papers. The controversial idea that Hamilton backs in this essay is that the Constitution does not need to have a Bill of Rights. The reason for this, according to Hamilton, is that the Constitution stipulates what powers the government has, not the rights of the people–and for good reason. Hamilton believes that to write out the rights of the people would limit the people’s rights to what was documented. Hamilton writes, “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?” In other words, Hamilton is arguing that the Constitution doesn’t say that the government can restrict the rights of the press, so why is it necessary to say that it can’t? He believes that the government should–and would–only do those things allowable by the United States Constitution.

These essays were conceived in answer to the Anti-Federalist Papers, which sought to attack the Constitution to prevent its ratification. The supporters of the Anti-Federalist movement didn’t want a bigger central government; instead, they wanted the state governments to retain more control. From 1787 through the 1790s, those holding these beliefs published essays speaking out against the Constitution. Just as Hamilton spoke out against the necessity for the Bill of Rights in The Federalist Papers, these essays contributed to the creation of the original Bill of Rights. Also, like The Federalist Papers, these essays were published under a pen name, or pseudonym. Whereas the former is published under the name Publius, the Anti-Federalist Papers were frequently published under the pen names Cato and Brutus. In the history of the Roman Republic–and eventually Empire–Cato and Brutus were senators who both opposed Julius Caesar’s rule, particularly as emperor.

Of the eighty-five essays comprising The Federalist Papers, five were written by John Jay; James Madison is credited with twenty-nine; and the remaining fifty-one were written by Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was, at the time, a representative for New York at the Constitutional Convention. Shortly after The Federalist Papers were published, he became the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. Madison held many influential roles in the early days of the United States government, including serving in the House of Representatives for his home state of Virginia, Secretary of State, and eventually as President. Jay was best known for becoming the first Chief Justice of the United States, and a two-term New York state governor.

In addition to the topics mentioned in “Federalist No. 10” and “Federalist No. 84,” The Federalist Papers covered such topics as how the Confederacy would fail to preserve the states’ unity, how the government designed in the Constitution possessed the necessary energy to govern the country, the analogous relationship between the Constitution and the state constitution, and the security the document offers to both liberty and prosperity.