The Federalist is a collection of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison under the pseudonym of Publius. The essays were written over the course of several months from October 1787 through August 1788, as an argument in support of the newly proposed Constitution of the United States. It’s an interesting piece of American history that joined my 2017 Reading Challenge as #3, a nonfiction book.
I think this is an important document that more Americans should read and study. It speaks of a time when the fate of this country was not at all assured. So many things could have gone differently that would have dramatically changed the course of American history, probably even world history.
From a political science perspective, it’s fascinating. These men were building a government. They were preparing to subject themselves and the American people for generations to come, to a system of law and oversight that was new and untried. Their goals were simple, if their task was not – to preserve for the American people the freedoms that had brought them here in the first place.
Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence and the war with Great Britain, the fledgling nation of the United States was on the edge of a precipice. The thirteen separate colonies that had come together to fight for independence now struggled to work together. The government established under the Articles of Confederation wasn’t strong enough to hold the semi-sovereign states together.
Reading these papers now from a perspective of more than two hundred years removed from the events surrounding the proposed Constitution, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like creating a brand new system of government. Not only that, but to witness the failings of the original system and be faced with the necessity of starting over.
As I read through The Federalist Papers, I was struck by one thing in particular that I hadn’t considered before when studying the early history of my nation. The Articles of Confederation had only been in place for eight years when a convention was assembled to revamp the national government of the United States. The discussion that ensued in the earliest papers – mostly by Hamilton, though also by Jay – demonstrated just how precarious the situation had become. If something significant wasn’t done, and done quickly, the United States was about to crumble into smaller confederacies, possibly as many as thirteen separate sovereign entities.
What this dissolution would have meant for America is difficult to say so many years after the fact. I’m convinced, however, that the shape of North America would be far different today if things had continued as they were and the Constitution had not been adopted.
This wasn’t an easy read, and it certainly warrants further study. It isn’t something to pick up and breeze through just for fun. I read this book to learn something. And I think that I did. Now, I want to go back and read some of the arguments in opposition to the Constitution.