The Federalist papers : a selection from the original 85 papers published in 1787 and 1788 : Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

by Alexander Hamilton

Other authorsJames Madison (Author), John Jay (Author)
Hardcover, 1995




[New York] : Westvaco, [1995]


The Federalist represents one side of one of the most momentous political debates ever conducted: whether to ratify, or to reject, the newly-drafted American constitution. To understand the debate properly requires attention to opposing Antifederalist arguments against the Constitution, and this new and authoritative student-friendly edition presents in full all eighty-five Federalist papers written by the pseudonymous 'Publius' (Hamilton, Madison, and Jay), along with the sixteen letters of 'Brutus', the prominent but still unknown New York Antifederalist who was Publius's most formidable foe. Each is systematically cross-referenced to the other, and both to the appended Articles of Confederation and US Constitution, making the reader acutely aware of the cut-and-thrust of debate in progress. The distinguished political theorist Terence Ball provides all of the standard series editorial features, including brief biographies and notes for further reading, making this the most accessible rendition ever of a classic of political thought in action.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ThomasJefferson
"... with respect to the Federalist, the three authors had been named to me. I read it with care, pleasure & improvement, and was satisfied there was nothing in it by one of those hands, & not a great deal by a second. It does the highest honor to the third, as being, in my opinion, the best
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commentary on the principles of government which was ever written. In some parts it is discoverable that the author means only to say what may be best said in defence of opinions in which he did not concur. But in general it establishes firmly the plan of government. I confess it has rectified me in several points ..." — Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 18 November 1788

" ... descending from theory to practice: there is no better book than the Federalist ...” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, 30 May 1790

[One of the books that] “would furnish the principles of our constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, 29 November 1802
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LibraryThing member ThomasJefferson
"... with respect to the Federalist, the three authors had been named to me. I read it with care, pleasure & improvement, and was satisfied there was nothing in it by one of those hands, & not a great deal by a second. It does the highest honor to the third, as being, in my opinion, the best
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commentary on the principles of government which was ever written. In some parts it is discoverable that the author means only to say what may be best said in defence of opinions in which he did not concur. But in general it establishes firmly the plan of government. I confess it has rectified me in several points ..." — Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 18 November 1788

" ... descending from theory to practice: there is no better book than the Federalist ... ” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, 30 May 1790

[One of the books that] “would furnish the principles of our constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, 29 November 1802
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LibraryThing member antiquary
I rated it 5 not just because it is a classic, but because it really is that good-- and much less naive than some commentators make out. For example, it clearly does expect that the US will have fiercely partisan politics.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Shameful that I hadn't marked this as read yet. Attached are some thoughts copied from my notes, some of which are not entirely relevant, but still.

Post-Revolution, the colonies experimented with Articles of Confederation. Flawed, replaced by modern Constitution.

History of Republics as derived
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from ancient Greece, then Rome -> England. Rome became Tyranny, although Republic was lauded as mixed government between Aristocracy, Monarchy, and Democracy. Same with England after the Glorious Revolution.

US was not only republic - Venice as a mercantile aristocratic Republic. Dutch as ad hoc mercantile republic w/ Stadholder. Switzerland as federal canton system. US as special because it was a mixed government, but w/o monarchy, was large, expanding and heterogeneous. All others were small and isolated, as Montesquieu had stated would be necessary for a republic's survival. US definitely became a republic, although not quite a total democracy in modern sense, as women did not become franchised until 1900s, POCs in 1960s. Capitalist social strata - nation ruled by lawyers.

Hamilton, Madison and Jay use some of the former as historical examples. Federal union as preventing interstate anarchy, as these states and colonies would have dubious chances of surviving on their won. Done so through mutual restraint, separation of powers, executive command of military, first seen through Strategos of ancient Athens. No state had hegemony over others, even the bigger ones such as New York or Virginia, hence federal union of states made more appealing.

Federal government superseding and managing states would also be most efficient at economic governance, and managing the military against outside factors - Spanish, British, etc. Powers of taxation. Fear of despotism, individualist tendencies, self-rule.

Idea of popular sovereignty, derived from people, versus Westphalian sovereignty of authority and power alone. Engaged democracy, derived from Rousseau.

Constitutional crises led to one of main factors leading to civil war - sectionalism - the rights of states to continue slavery, South feeling threatened due to sudden expansion to the west of free states. #10 as major paper against worries of 'factionalism and insurrection'. History between founding of Philadelphian system to Civil War marred by controversy and three Great Compromises over slavery. Hence one of the great flaws of the system between state and federal rule, and over the great crime of slavery. Calhoun, Disquisition, pro-slavery, nullification. Webster, majority rule. But little exposition seen of Hamilton's old position by the 1850s.

Civil War ending the constitutional crisis. Federal union finally dominant. Most productive Congress in years now that the South is gone.

And so forth. These papers are old, but far from irrelevant.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
While borrowing heavily from the French physiocrats and philosophes, including Montesquieu ("Esprit de Lois") who first divided government functions into three branches and a Fourth Estate (Free Press) as a means of balancing power, the authors of the collected essays in The Federalist Papers
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transform the politics of meanness and faction into equilibrium and responsible action.

The main problem is how to avoid the paralysis of chaos and the injustice of tyranny. Without resorting to mere tirade, Hamilton, Jay and Madison gently essay the experience of history into a rationale for the draft Constitution which was being debated State by State. By cutting away the pretty pretentions which so many authors were forced to present in countries ruled by aristocrats, and by addressing the expressed concerns of people, the authors drew a compelling argument for checks and balances in government by c'est moi.

Comparing these essays to any collection of work by the Founders of any other Government -- from the Lycurgus Code, the empire of Marcus Aurelius, the pretentions of the Niceneans, the decrees of tyrants, the betrayals of Marx-Engels, the Soviet Supremes, the Little Red Book, to the chickens in every Pol Pot coming home to roost -- the Federalist Papers simply stand without equal to this day.

The only concern which seems slightly dated is the recurrent effort to be certain that "titles" and nobility in general were not given purchase or opportunity in the United States. The only concern which seems to be missing is the failure to recognize that Slavery was inconsistent with civic responsibility, by definition and as practiced.

The Papers are, by the way, unfamiliar to the "Tea Party". The whole point, the entire argument, is to place a STRONG CENTRAL GOVERNMENT into being. The authors are shouting out AGAINST the plutocrats and feudal lords who decried the slightest concession against their own absolute powers in their respective fiefdoms -- bleeding muddy ignorant and shackled. The Founders proof against the tyranny of "government" is that THIS entity is OURS. WE OWN this one.
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LibraryThing member RandyStafford
My reactions to reading this in 1992.

What can you say about a classic of political thought -- a dense work that took a long time to read? I’ll record a few surface impressions.

Madison has a more reasonable tone than the sometimes sarcastic Hamilton. Though he never names names, you can see why
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his personal invectives led to his death in the duel with Aaron Burr.

I found the methods of argument interesting. The authors, especially Hamilton, argue the initial assumptions of their opponents then go on to show how their arguments are without merit even if certain of their assumptions are accepted. Constantly, they emphasize that this is not a perfect government and that we should neither assume people are totally evil or totally trustworthy. Yet, in their proposal for a Republican government, they wisely choose to link a man’s ambition to his constituents’ welfare (and carefully arrange each type of government official to have their own power base) and have the Supreme Court and Senate reign in the wilder passions of the people.

I found it revealing that they expected the legislative branch to become dominant (and it has) and seemed, to my pretty ignorant eyes, to forsee the role the Supreme Court assumed after Maybury vs Madison (Justice Marshal was tutored in political philosophy by Madison). The new republic seemed to think excise taxes, duties, and property taxes would be the main supports.

Hamilton comes off as a vigorous supporter of a strong central government -- vigorous enough to motivate some fortunately not heeded arguments against the proposed Bill of Rights.

Hamilton seems particulary incensed that opponents of the Constitution would claim the right to trial by jury is eliminated. A great deal of space is taken by his rebuttal.

Madison’s early papers shows his historical knowledge and the inspirations for different features of the Constitution. I found the argument that command of the armed forces should be vested nationally because people wouldn’t trust it interesting. One can see the whole matter of loyalty to state throughout the work, a loyalty the authors saw as a check on national despotism.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This subtitle to my edition is "The Famous Papers on the Principles of American Government." It's an apt description, but perhaps doesn't go far enough. Try foundational. They consist of 85 essays by Alexander Hamilton, who became our first Secretary of the Treasury, James Madison, who largely
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framed the United States Constitution, and John Jay, who became our first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The essays were written to urge people to ratify the constitution, and have been used every since to illuminate it by everyone from judges to--well, political science professors, and this was one of my texts in my college course introducing political science.

It may be this edition regularized grammar and spelling, but one thing that hit me is how readable it all is. It was meant to explain the constitution to ordinary voters, so perhaps that shouldn't be so surprising. If I could get Americans to read one book, this would be my choice. Whether they agree with the principles of the Founders who created this country or not, at least by the end of it they'd understand what--and what they were not--about, and not just who the pundits and politicians claim for them. But if I couldn't get them to read the whole thing, I'd at least urge on them "Federalist No. 10" by James Madison. Our professor taught us that particular essay was at the heart of the philosophy of American Government and the design of the constitution:

Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an aliment, without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourish faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

It is to control faction (think political parties) and the strife that tore previous democracies to pieces, without sacrificing liberty that the separation of powers and system of checks and balances was written into the constitution. As that particular essay elegantly explains. If the Constitution is our text book, the Federalist Papers is the Constitution 101 for Dummies, the owners' manual.
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LibraryThing member JaneAustenNut
Excellent; A must read and reference for any citizen of the United States! Should be required reading in all American High Schools! If one is a citizen and participates in the voting process, they must be familiar with The Federalist Papers and the Constitution.
LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
this is the written dialogue between and among our Founding Fathers as they debated -- in public -- how the U.S. of A. would work, legally speaking. news flash -- most of the "constitutional issues" in 2006 were discussed in the late 1700s by Jefferson, Adams, et al. if you agree (or disagree) with
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today's pundits, read this book and be able to articulate why your opinion makes sense.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The arguments of Hamilton, Madison and Jay are just as relevant today as they were more than two hundred years ago. The authors of The Federalist Papers wanted to influence the vote in favor of ratifying the Constitution. However, the authors of the Federalist papers also had a greater plan in
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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."
They present positive arguments for the ratification of the Constitution and, as Madison says in Paper No. 37, "They solicit the attention of those only who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country,". What a thought and temperament, that zeal for happiness. One thing that impressed me on reading the papers was the classical education demonstrated by the authors with their articles filled with references to Cicero, Rome and Greece. Enlightenment thinkers were also evident with Montesquieu being a notable example. Certainly this is a book worth rereading with the current importance of the constitution in our political life.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
One of the most classic documents of American history, this work is a series of essays by the writers of the Constitution, which were written to explain the new Constitution and to agitate on behalf of ratification. The prose soars in most places, and it reminds a person of what it would have been
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possible for America to become if we'd treated our new constitution as a living document, but recognized the importance of the clauses that safeguard us from imperial presidents and monarchs.
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LibraryThing member RonManners
"The authors and supporters of the Constitution of 1787 foresaw that a clear-cut vote against it in the State ratifying conventions would destroy at birth the young nation's most important experiment in popular government. A particular point of concern was the growing State of New York, whose
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governor, George Clinton, was a formidable opponent of the proposed charter.
Alexander Hamilton, in an energetic effort to win over his home State, began a series of essays explaining and defending the Constitution. These were published in New York City newspapers under the pseudonym Publius. Hamilton was aided by contributions from two other advocates of a new and energetic national government, James Madison and John Jay. The efforts of these three men resulted in The Federalist Papers—an authoritative analysis of the Constitution of the United States and an enduring classic of political philosophy that takes its place in history beside the Constitution itself."
Taken from inside the front cover, "Message to Mankind"
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LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a great addition to any library, and a must read/own for anyone who calls themselves an American historian/buff.
LibraryThing member ShawnCorps
An essential classic of American constitutional scholarship.
LibraryThing member jpsnow
All thoughtful citizens should read this classic. Does anything need to be said about its importance? A few new impressions of mine: difficult reading due to the elevated style of the authors of that time, bordering on embarrassing for our present day situation. About 1/3 through the 85 papers, I
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thought I could begin to determine which "Publius" was the writer, Hamilton being more foreceful in argument and direct in course. The authors predicted some of the problems we have today and the evolution of the Constitution, especially with regard to the variety and continual change of factions (and corresponding need for the country to be flexible. Our government was similar to many others being developed at that time (including the 13 state governments), all based on the recent writings of political philosophers such as Montesque. I think the 3 authors would be most surprised today at the gargantuan size of the federal government. While they admitted of the potential growth, they also believed it would be in relation to the growth of the population. A typical sentence "Our own experience has corroborated the lessons taught by the examples of other nations; that emergencies of this sort will sometimes exist in all societies, however, inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruption from the natural body; that the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law (which we have been told is the only admissible principle of republican government) has no place but in the reveries of those political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction." In #31, Hamilton illustrates his consistency by comparing axioms of good government to the axioms of geometry, the former being that: "there cannot be an effect without a cause, that the means ought to be proportioned to the end, that every power ought to be commensurate with its object, that there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation." In reading the Constitution itself, I note that the more recent amendments are significantly longer than the original ten and even longer than most of the original articles.
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LibraryThing member Audacity88
We Americans know how important our Founding Fathers were, but sometimes we forget how smart they were. The polemics in this book manifest authorship by towering intelligences, and provoke us to ask whether we have stayed true to their vision for this country.
LibraryThing member Kade
One thing about this version that is superior to others is the table of contents with summaries of the contents of each Federalist article. All the other Federalist Papers compilations I've read lacked an effective table of contents which told you which article covered which subject.
LibraryThing member ocianain
Americans throw off the shackles of an oppressive monarchy and urge Republicanism for its' citizens!
LibraryThing member Cajun_Huguenot
A MUST read for every American who wants to understand our Constitution.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
As a thorough explanation of how these three men understood the US Constitution to work, this work is indispensable. The reader also gets a good understanding of the basic principles of republican government - its ideals, its limits, its checks and balances. Some of the issues raised seem
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particularly timely (which just goes to show that the more things change the more they stay the same).
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LibraryThing member aleph123
interesting introductory historical essay, while obviously the Federalist Papers are available on

still worth reading (I read excerpts of the Federalist Papers first in the early 1980s, but in Italian)
LibraryThing member mcolvill
Interestingly enough I've had many Constitutional Law professors who teach this 'canon' along with its counterpart (Anti-Federalist Papers) admit that the best way to study these arguments is not through these two texts. They seem to agree that Madison's Notes is a more accurate depiction of the
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actual arguments that led to the drafting and signing of the Constitution.
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LibraryThing member ulfhjorr
The great letters of Publius are an essential collection for anyone wishing to understand the Constitutional views of elite federalists in the late eighteenth century. This edition adds an enlightening and interesting introductory essay by Benjamin Wright that only adds to the value of the text.
LibraryThing member lschiff
I just finished this book after a long hiatus. It took me awhile to figure out a strategy for reading it, which for me turned out to be reading one chapter a day. Once I approached it that way, I found it to be fascinating, inspiring and eye-opening. Reading it now in the midst of so many debates
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about the proper role of each of the branches of government as they address domestic and international issues has been very interesting. The thoroughness of the analysis is very impressive. Madison, Jay and Hamilton had such a wealth of historical knowledge that they brought into their discussions, not just about the forms of various governments (ancient and contemporary), but how those forms played out in particular circumstances. One curious aspect of it though is a strange sort of naivete about the honesty and integrity of individuals who would be filling positions in government. Each of the authors goes to great lengths to describe the checks on less than admirable behavior, but at the same time argues that anyone called to any of these positions would have a certain nobility of character that would ensure acting in the best interests of all the people. Time has shown us over and over again that this is not the case. Even with that small contradictory element, I can't recommend this work more highly--I wish I had read it long ago, and would be interested in a reread of it with other folks.
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LibraryThing member fredjryder1946
Okay. Here's what it is!
Step ONE: Read the book.
Step TWO: Just for kicks, turn on the boob tube and watch Hannity & Colmes, or any live session of the Senate or the House. And maybe a presidential debate or two.
Step THREE: Ask the Almighty: "What the hell happened to this country??????"



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