I began blogging the Federalist Papers on January 19, with a post on #47, one of the reading assignments that week for my undergraduate class, American Government and Society. At the time, I had assigned #’s 10, 47, 48, 51, 70, and 78. In the rush of the time, I was only able to blog on #47. Things have settled down now, so I’ll begin in earnest and start at the beginning. Whether you find what I write interesting, I can promise you that the Federalist Papers are just that. And these times that’s a bonus because the Papers are already so essential to understanding the Founding; that they are also a fun read is delightful icing.
By the way, you can find many free copies of the Federalist Papers online in pdf format. For this exercise, I’m using the one put out by Penn State. For those who may not know, the Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the nome de plume Publius.
Hamilton begins #1 with a call for seriousness in the public’s examination of the new Constitution recently drafted in Philadelphia, and he’s not shy in proclaiming the importance of what is at stake:
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.
. . . a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.
Possibly because he feels the moment is so important, he’s also not shy about calling to account those who oppose the ratification of the new document, especially those whose motives maybe be base and who want to make sure they can remain big fish in a small pond because they can’t be sure they’ll be allowed to swim in the big one contemplated by the Constitution. Thus he cautions the public to be aware of
a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.
He doesn’t stop there, of course. Hamilton is careful to recognize that not all who oppose the new form of government do so out of base motives, that some, even many, do so “actuated by upright intentions”; indeed, he admits,
Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.
But in admitting this, he concedes no ground. He goes on the criticize the opposition’s “loud . . . declamations and . . . bitter . . . invectives.” And then, in a flourish about the value of good government unjustly stigmatized by people he characterizes has having “an over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people,” he argues that we forget that
the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. . . . that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants. (emphasis supplied)
I think I know what he means and who those words would apply to today. What do you think?