Federalist, The

Author:David F. Epstein

Page 1013

In the eight months following the adjournment of the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, JAMES MADISON, and JOHN JAY wrote a series of eighty-five essays in support of the proposed Constitution. These essays were published in newspapers and as a two-volume book under the title The Federalist. This work was intended to influence voters electing delegates to the ratifying conventions and the delegates themselves; and the length, detail, and subtlety of its argument suggest an additional intention of enlightening later generations. While some contemporaries thought other, simpler and briefer, writings better calculated to influence the decision of 1787?1788, The Federalist was regarded as a work of enduring value by THOMAS JEFFERSON ("the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written"), GEORGE WASHINGTON, and others. It has remained the most comprehensive and profound defense ever written of the American form of government; and it has been, as Chief Justice JOHN MARSHALL wrote in MCCULLOCH V. MARYLAND (1819), "justly supposed to be entitled to great respect" by courts engaged in "expounding the constitution."

The first section of The Federalist (#2 through #14) explains the advantages of a union as compared to independent American states. A large country is better suited than small countries to avoid or win wars, to pursue profitable commercial arrangements, and to raise revenue. Moreover, a large country's relative freedom from fear of war makes it more likely to preserve a free government. (Small countries facing frequent wars eventually accept the risk of being less free in order to be more safe.) Most novel was The Federalist 's claim that a popular form of government would be more likely in a large country than in a small country to secure private rights and the public good. MONTESQUIEU and the Anti-Federalist writers who quoted him acknowledged that large countries ruled by monarchs enjoyed certain advantages in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, but insisted that only small republics could enjoy the internal advantages of a patriotic citizenry ruling itself for its own good. In the famous Federalist #10 Madison argued that even in the smallest republic the citizenry is not an "it" but a collection of diverse individuals. Those individuals' rights deserve protection, but their passions and interests can unite them in groups that oppose the rights of others or the public good. Madison offered a twofold defense of a large republic. First, the diversity of a large country makes it less likely that any single group will constitute a majority of the voters and therefore be able to oppress other groups by virtue of the republican principle of majority rule. Second, in a large republic elections will be more likely to choose "fit characters" who will pursue the public good. The conclusion that republican government was possible, indeed better, in a large country served to reconcile the unpleasant necessities that seem to...

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