The Federalist No. 1 was published 229 years ago today, on October 27, 1787. The Federalist, or Federalist Papers as they have come to be known, are a collection of 85 essays on the origins, purpose, and design of the United States Constitution. The authors and collaborators behind these essays were Alexander Hamilton writing 51 papers, James Madison writing 29 papers, and John Jay writing five papers. At the time of their publication, Hamilton, Madison and Jay did not sign their names to the essays. Instead, they wrote all of the essays under the pseudonym Publius.
James Madison in an 1818 letter explained that “[t]he immediate object of [The Federalist Papers] was to vindicate & recommend the new Constitution to the State of [New York], whose ratification of the instrument was doubtful, as well as important.”
The essays were designed to help solidify support amongst existing proponents of the Constitution, and to persuade undecided and unsympathetic citizens to support ratification.
Overview of the Essays
In The Federalist No. 1, Alexander Hamilton outlined the topics addressed by each of the essays. He wrote,
“I propose in a series of papers to discuss the following interesting particulars: – The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity– The insufficiency of the present Confederation to preserve that Union– The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed to the attainment of this object– The conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government– Its analogy to your own state constitution– and lastly, The additional security, which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty and to property. In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavour 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.”
Essays 1 – 14 discuss the necessity of a strong union.
Essay 15 – 22 primarily address issues with the Articles of Confederation.
Essays 23 – 35 discuss how the powers enumerated in the Constitution provide for an “energetic” federal government.
Essays 36 – 50 focus on the structure of the proposed government and the principles of Republican government.
Essays 51 – 66 provide a detailed discussion of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Essays 67 – 77 discuss the design and powers of the executive branch.
Essays 78 – 83 cover the federal judiciary.
Essay 84 responds to the objections raised over the lack of a federal bill of rights.
Essay 85 concludes the essay series by stating: “A nation, without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle. The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety. I can reconcile it to no rules of prudence to let go the hold we now have, in so arduous an enterprise, upon seven out of the thirteen States, and after having passed over so considerable a part of the ground, to recommence the course. I dread the more the consequences of new attempts, because I know that powerful individuals, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape.”
Read The Federalist Papers
“The importance of The Federalist cannot be overstated. Throughout American history it has provided a pivot point of argument in great struggles over constitutional meaning. Hamilton and Madison themselves drew on The Federalist in debates over the constitutionality of the National Bank Act and other early assertions of federal authority. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Southern nullificationists and Northern unionists both invoked the essays, and modern-day proponents and opponents of sweeping executive powers have done so as well. In scores of cases, and with much-increased frequency in recent decades, the Supreme Court has drawn on The Federalist in resolving hard-fought battles over what the Constitution means for disputants in the context of federal litigation.”[i]