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The Federalist Papers

Significance: The best and brightest should be intellectually engaged to determine the optimal mechanisms for government power, with most powers moved down to the State or individual level.

Advertisement for the essays that constituted what would later become known as The Federalist Papers
A newspaper advertisement for the essays that would later become known as The Federalist Papers.

“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.”

– Federalist #1

After the draft of the U.S. Constitution was approved by America’s Founders in 1787, the next step was to seek ratification from two-thirds of the states, to make it the official law of the land.  A number of controversies and conflicts arose early on, that threatened to subvert the document, among the most important of which was whether a Bill of Rights should be added to the Constitution, or if it already contained a sufficient limitation on the powers of government to make such an effort unnecessary.

From left: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

Between late 1787 and mid-1788, three of America’s Founders, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, all writing under pseudonym “Publius,” submitted a series of 85 essays to several newspapers, arguing in favor of the ratification of the Constitution.  They explain, in plain English, the essentials of the republican form of government that was being proposed, why it was different from, and better than all previous forms of government, and how it would work. They examined the faults of previous belief systems and political practices, and which common themes and practices ultimately led to tyranny an destruction.

These essays, collectively, became known as The Federalist Papers.

Read the text of the entire Federalist Papers at the Library of Congress, here.

Listen to/download the audio recordings of the Federalist Papers here.


“Introduction to The Federalist Papers”

(by historian Richard Brookheiser; 7:00)

“The Federalist Papers”

(Professor John Kaminsky, University of Wisconsin, Center for the Study of the Constitution, discussed the role of the Federalist Papers in the ratification debate over the Constitution, on C-SPAN; 26 minutes)

Man-on-the-street survey: “What were the Federalist Papers?”

The Americans Speak 2010 series is based on a video survey conducted by Publius MMX over July 4th weekend, 2010. In the video survey, a wide variety of people were asked a number of questions, ranging from patriotic trivia, to political policy, and opinions about a wide range of related topics, including the current condition of and challenges facing the United States of America today. The series is based on their answers to each of those questions. Following the primer each subsequent installment in the series focuses on answers to just one of those questions. The focus of this installment is the Federalist Papers.