Alexander Hamilton is the “Father of the Federalist Papers”
For the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton:
- Conceived the idea
- Defined the outline of the essays
- Obtained the co-authors
- Got the essays printed and distributed
- ...all in support of the states’ ratification for the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution was signed by 39 delegates from 12 states on September 17, 1787 in the Constitutional Convention, but required ratification by nine states to be officially enacted. After the Constitutional Convention, there were numerous groups that were determined that the newly proposed constitution should not be successfully ratified by the states. Since the proceedings were in secret, some in opposition felt free to create a misrepresentation of what actually occurred. They were quite successful in turning large numbers of people against the proposed constitution.
Alexander Hamilton realized that the proposed U.S. Constitution would likely fail in a number of key states during the ratification process if there was not an effective defense of the document. Hamilton decided to lead an effort to produce a set of essays that would clearly explain the purpose and benefits of the newly defined constitution that would replace the Articles of Confederation, which had been in effect for six years (since early 1781).
In October 1787, Hamilton outlined the themes for these essays as he was traveling on a sloop down the Hudson River from Albany, NY toward Manhattan. When he disembarked near Denning's Point at Fishkill Landing (today's Beacon), NY, the outline was completed and the first essay was written.
The essays, traditionally referred to as The Federalist Papers, were first published in the New York newspapers. The actual title of the first complete edition in book form was: The Federalist: a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution.: as agreed upon by the Federal convention, September 17, 1787 (New York, J. and A. M'Lean, 1788).
The first of 85 essays was published on October 27, 1787, in the New York Independent Journal. The key message of this first essay was:
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.
Hamilton looked to William Duer and Gouverneur Morris as co-authors, but Duer’s initial essays were not sufficient for Hamilton, and Morris was too busy to participate. He obtained two other authors to assist in writing sections from the outline - James Madison of Virginia and John Jay of New York. The 85 Federalist essays were written anonymously written under the pseudonym of "Publius". Of the 85 Federalist essays, most scholars attribute 51 to Hamilton; 29 to Madison; and 5 to John Jay. However, there is credible analysis that three of those essays credited to Madison were actually a collaboration between Hamilton and Madison.
Almost every week a new essay would be published. Sometimes, as many as three or four were being printed each week. The essays were later grouped into two printed volumes and shipped throughout the states, but the focus was largely on two states- New York and Virginia, where top leaderswere strongly opposed to the ratification of the Constitution.
In the late 1700s, it was expected that payment for any printing work would be paid up front because there was no confidence of recouping costs from sales. Hamilton did not have the funds to pre-pay for the printing but was able to convince the printer that the demand would more that cover the costs of printing. The final essay was printed ten months later on August 16, 1788.
These essays were invaluable in educating the public of the true purpose and value of the new constitution. They also helped facilitate discussion during the ratification conventions. Virginia delegates went in to their state convention tied at 84-84. The results was ratification – 89 for and 79 against. Delegates in New York came into the convention with 46 against ratification and only 19 for. Hamilton led the state ratification convention in support of the constitution. After six weeks, and against all odds, New York ratified the U.S. Constitution on July 26, 1788 with a vote of 30 in favor of ratification and 27 against.
The Federalist Papers are now the leading voice of the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution in the U.S. Supreme Court case proceedings and in U.S. history textbooks. And the Federalist Papers continually become more relevant. Of the more than 300 Federalist Papers references in U.S. Supreme Court cases, over half have come in the past 40 years. So in addition to the essays' role in the ratification debates, The Federalist Papers continue to leave an strong imprint on US politics today.
The Federalist Papers, thanks to Alexander Hamilton
By Rand Scholet
Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society