Essay Urging Ratification

Summary:

Alexander Hamilton begins this brilliant discourse on the Constitution of the United States of America by asking his readers to consider a new Constitution because they have experienced the inefficiencies of the present form of government. He pronounces that the people are in a unique position to answer the most important political question of all: ­ "whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice." If the people are up to the challenge, their actions will have great worldwide significance.

He proceeds to show that many people will oppose the Constitution for a variety of reasons, especially if they benefit from the current form of government. Hamilton, however, is not going to address the motives of those who oppose the Constitution; rather, his intent is to make arguments that are for the Constitution. He addresses people questioning his willingness to listen to other arguments because he has already made up his mind to support the Constitution. However, he admits that, while his motives for urging ratification of the Constitution are personal, his arguments are open.

Finally, he outlines the specific issues that he will address in the Federalist Papers, namely, political prosperity and the Constitution; the inadequacy of the present government to preserve the union; the necessity of a strong and energetic government; the Constitution and its relationship to republican principles of government; the similarity of the proposed Constitution to the New York state constitution; and the protection of liberty and property under the proposed government. In addition, he is also attempting to effectively answer serious arguments brought against ratification.

Hamilton concludes the first section of the Federalist Papers by telling the people that it might seem unnecessary to plead for a strong Union, but the country is too large to establish a national system of government. In the end, however, the last question is whether the people adopt the Constitution or whether they will see the end of a united government.

Analysis:

Before beginning a more general analysis of Alexander Hamilton's remarks, it is necessary to provide the background of the political theory of educated men in the United States. First, most educated men, especially those who were at the heart of governing the new country, were extremely familiar with the republics of Ancient Greece and Rome (for example, see John Adam's book Defense of the Constitution, published at the same time as The Federalist Papers). From this background, the primary fear was that while a republican government was desirable in order to defend liberty, it was not possible over a large geographic area, such as the United States, because it had never been accomplished before. Rather, this problem had always been the downfall of republics (for instance, the fall of the Roman Empire). The other major pitfall of republics had been class war, something that the Founding Fathers had seen in the recent Shay's Rebellion.

More specifically regarding the text, the introduction to the Federalist Papers contains the outline of Hamilton's "argument," the basic points that he wishes to discuss for ratifying the new Constitution. He also explains his motives and those of his cohorts, explaining that this will not be a debate between two sides of the argument, but rather a coherent examination of the strengths of and necessity for the new Constitution. In this article, therefore, the most important part is the outline Hamilton provides, enabling the reader to classify the remaining 84 papers with ease.

It is also interesting to note that the "world-wide" fame that Hamilton speaks of in this essay occurred, just as the Founding Father predicted. The United States Constitution that Hamilton defended has become one of the most copied and admired documents in the history of civilization. Indeed, the Federalist itself was published in Spanish in 1811 by the Venezualan Manuel Garcia de Sana, along with copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In addition, the Federalist influenced movements in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and in Europe. Not only did Hamilton's predictions come true, but his very words were influential far beyond the original thirteen colonies.

In summation, after reading Federalist 1, Hamilton, perhaps more than any of the founders, believed in the future greatness of America; he believed that this nation could be one of power and strength, that such power and strength, far from corrupting the nation's purpose or the rights of individuals, alone could bring to realization the former and protect the latter. The very use of the word "empire" in this paper is very telling. Characteristically, he looks ahead; he "dips into the future' and sees the Untied States as a world power. While this might not seem odd to the modern reader, in 1788 America was extremely vulnerable to European conquest and domination, not vice versa. His vision for America is even more remarkable under these circumstances.

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, the essays originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name "Publius." The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most important sources for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the Constitution.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

  • Elliot's Debates is a five-volume collection compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century. The volumes remain the best source for materials about the national government's transitional period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787 and the opening of the First Federal Congress in March 1789.
  • Farrand's Records gathered the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention into four volumes, three of which are included in this online collection, containing the materials necessary to study the workings of the Constitutional Convention. The notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, form the largest single block of material other than the official proceedings. The three volumes also include notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention.
  • The Making of the U.S. Constitution is a special presentation that provides a brief history of the making of the Constitution followed by the text of the Constitution itself.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.

George Washington Papers

The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.

The Washington Papers include the following references to the Federalist Papers:

  • George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, November 10, 1787, "I thank you for the Pamphlet and for the Gazette contained in your letter of the 30th Ult. For the remaining numbers of Publius, I shall acknowledge myself obliged, as I am persuaded the subject will be well handled by the Author."
  • George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 28, 1788, "As the perusal of the political papers under the signature of Publius has afforded me great satisfaction, I shall certainly consider them as claiming a most distinguished place in my Library."

Search Washington's papers using the word "Publius" to locate additional documents related to the Federalist Papers.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

James Madison (1751-1836) is one of 23 presidents whose papers are held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items.

  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, August 10, 1788. Partly in Cipher, "I believe I never have yet mentioned to you that publication. It was undertaken last fall by Jay, Hamilton, and myself. The proposal came from the two former. The execution was thrown, by the sickness of Jay, mostly on the two others. Though carried on in concert, the writers are not mutually answerable for all the ideas of each other, there being seldom time for even a perusal of the pieces by any but the writer before they were wanted at the press, and sometimes hardly by the writer himself."
  • James Madison to Jacob Gideon, Jr., January 28, 1818, "I send you a Copy of the 1st. Edition of the “Federalist,” with the names of the writers prefixed to their respective numbers."

Search the Madison papers using terms such as "Publius" or "Federalist" to locate additional documents related to this topic.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, November 18, 1788, Sent with Two Plans for Funding Foreign Debt, "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 commentary on the principles of government which ever was written." [transcription]

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - The Federalist

James Madison's Federalist no. 10 is one of the most important and enduring statements of American political theory. Its reasoned statement explains what an expanding nation might do if it accepted the basic premise of majority rule, a balanced government of three separate branches, and a commitment to balance all the diverse interests through a system of checks and balances.

Creating the United States

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition includes a section on Creating the United States Constitution that contains images from Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Federalist Papers.

Madison's Treasures

Includes Thomas Jefferson's annotated copy of the Federalist Papers.

The federalist: a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution, as agreed upon by the Federal convention, September 17, 1787, in two volumes. New-York: Printed and sold by J. and A. M'Lean ..., 1788.

December 12, 1745

John Jay, one of the nation's founding fathers, was born on December 12, 1745, to a prominent and wealthy family in the Province of New York.

March 16, 1751

James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and fourth president of the United States, was born on March 16, 1751.

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

October 27, 1787

Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

December 15, 1791

The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.

July 11, 1804

On July 11, 1804, political antagonists and personal enemies Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey to settle their longstanding differences with a duel. The participants fired their pistols in close succession. Burr's shot met its target immediately, fatally wounding Hamilton and leading to his death the following day. Burr escaped unharmed.

The Federalist Papers, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund

Our Documents, Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51, National Archives and Records Administration

Adair, Douglass. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 2 (April 1944): 97-122.

-----. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers: Part II." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 3 (July 1944): 235-264.

Cooke, Jacob E., ed. The Federalist. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Dietze, Gottfried. The Federalist: A Classic on Federalism and Free Government. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. [Catalog Record]

Duvall, Edward D. The Federalist Companion: A Guide to Understanding the Federalist Papers. Gilbert, Ariz.: Fremont Valley Books, 2011. [Catalog Record]

Morris, Richard B. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and the Constitution. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. [Catalog Record]

Rossiter, Clinton L., ed. The Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. New York: Mentor, 1999. [Catalog Record]

Taylor, Quentin P., ed. The Essential Federalist: A New Reading of the Federalist Papers. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1998. [Catalog Record]

Ball, Lea. The Federalist--Anti-Federalist Debate over States' Rights: A Primary Source Investigation. New York: Rosen Central Primary Source, 2005. [Catalog Record]

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