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Course: US history > Unit 3
- The Articles of Confederation
- What was the Articles of Confederation?
- Shays's Rebellion
- The Constitutional Convention
- The US Constitution
The Federalist Papers
- The Bill of Rights
- Social consequences of revolutionary ideals
- The presidency of George Washington
- Why was George Washington the first president?
- The presidency of John Adams
- Regional attitudes about slavery, 1754-1800
- Continuity and change in American society, 1754-1800
- Creating a nation
- The Federalist Papers was a collection of essays written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton in 1788.
- The essays urged the ratification of the United States Constitution, which had been debated and drafted at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
- The Federalist Papers is considered one of the most significant American contributions to the field of political philosophy and theory and is still widely considered to be the most authoritative source for determining the original intent of the framers of the US Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation and Constitutional Convention
- In Federalist No. 10 , Madison reflects on how to prevent rule by majority faction and advocates the expansion of the United States into a large, commercial republic.
- In Federalist No. 39 and Federalist 51 , Madison seeks to “lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty,” emphasizing the need for checks and balances through the separation of powers into three branches of the federal government and the division of powers between the federal government and the states. 4
- In Federalist No. 84 , Hamilton advances the case against the Bill of Rights, expressing the fear that explicitly enumerated rights could too easily be construed as comprising the only rights to which American citizens were entitled.
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By: History.com Editors
Updated: June 22, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009
The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays written in the 1780s in support of the proposed U.S. Constitution and the strong federal government it advocated. In October 1787, the first in a series of 85 essays arguing for ratification of the Constitution appeared in the Independent Journal , under the pseudonym “Publius.” Addressed to “The People of the State of New York,” the essays were actually written by the statesmen Alexander Hamilton , James Madison and John Jay . They would be published serially from 1787-88 in several New York newspapers. The first 77 essays, including Madison’s famous Federalist 10 and Federalist 51 , appeared in book form in 1788. Titled The Federalist , it has been hailed as one of the most important political documents in U.S. history.
Articles of Confederation
As the first written constitution of the newly independent United States, the Articles of Confederation nominally granted Congress the power to conduct foreign policy, maintain armed forces and coin money.
But in practice, this centralized government body had little authority over the individual states, including no power to levy taxes or regulate commerce, which hampered the new nation’s ability to pay its outstanding debts from the Revolutionary War .
In May 1787, 55 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to address the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation and the problems that had arisen from this weakened central government.
A New Constitution
The document that emerged from the Constitutional Convention went far beyond amending the Articles, however. Instead, it established an entirely new system, including a robust central government divided into legislative , executive and judicial branches.
As soon as 39 delegates signed the proposed Constitution in September 1787, the document went to the states for ratification, igniting a furious debate between “Federalists,” who favored ratification of the Constitution as written, and “Antifederalists,” who opposed the Constitution and resisted giving stronger powers to the national government.
The Rise of Publius
In New York, opposition to the Constitution was particularly strong, and ratification was seen as particularly important. Immediately after the document was adopted, Antifederalists began publishing articles in the press criticizing it.
They argued that the document gave Congress excessive powers and that it could lead to the American people losing the hard-won liberties they had fought for and won in the Revolution.
In response to such critiques, the New York lawyer and statesman Alexander Hamilton, who had served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, decided to write a comprehensive series of essays defending the Constitution, and promoting its ratification.
Who Wrote the Federalist Papers?
As a collaborator, Hamilton recruited his fellow New Yorker John Jay, who had helped negotiate the treaty ending the war with Britain and served as secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. The two later enlisted the help of James Madison, another delegate to the Constitutional Convention who was in New York at the time serving in the Confederation Congress.
To avoid opening himself and Madison to charges of betraying the Convention’s confidentiality, Hamilton chose the pen name “Publius,” after a general who had helped found the Roman Republic. He wrote the first essay, which appeared in the Independent Journal, on October 27, 1787.
In it, Hamilton argued that the debate facing the nation was not only over ratification of the proposed Constitution, but over the question of “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.”
After writing the next four essays on the failures of the Articles of Confederation in the realm of foreign affairs, Jay had to drop out of the project due to an attack of rheumatism; he would write only one more essay in the series. Madison wrote a total of 29 essays, while Hamilton wrote a staggering 51.
Federalist Papers Summary
In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison argued that the decentralization of power that existed under the Articles of Confederation prevented the new nation from becoming strong enough to compete on the world stage or to quell internal insurrections such as Shays’s Rebellion .
In addition to laying out the many ways in which they believed the Articles of Confederation didn’t work, Hamilton, Jay and Madison used the Federalist essays to explain key provisions of the proposed Constitution, as well as the nature of the republican form of government.
In Federalist 10 , which became the most influential of all the essays, Madison argued against the French political philosopher Montesquieu ’s assertion that true democracy—including Montesquieu’s concept of the separation of powers—was feasible only for small states.
A larger republic, Madison suggested, could more easily balance the competing interests of the different factions or groups (or political parties ) within it. “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests,” he wrote. “[Y]ou make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]”
After emphasizing the central government’s weakness in law enforcement under the Articles of Confederation in Federalist 21-22 , Hamilton dove into a comprehensive defense of the proposed Constitution in the next 14 essays, devoting seven of them to the importance of the government’s power of taxation.
Madison followed with 20 essays devoted to the structure of the new government, including the need for checks and balances between the different powers.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison wrote memorably in Federalist 51 . “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
After Jay contributed one more essay on the powers of the Senate , Hamilton concluded the Federalist essays with 21 installments exploring the powers held by the three branches of government—legislative, executive and judiciary.
Impact of the Federalist Papers
Despite their outsized influence in the years to come, and their importance today as touchstones for understanding the Constitution and the founding principles of the U.S. government, the essays published as The Federalist in 1788 saw limited circulation outside of New York at the time they were written. They also fell short of convincing many New York voters, who sent far more Antifederalists than Federalists to the state ratification convention.
Still, in July 1788, a slim majority of New York delegates voted in favor of the Constitution, on the condition that amendments would be added securing certain additional rights. Though Hamilton had opposed this (writing in Federalist 84 that such a bill was unnecessary and could even be harmful) Madison himself would draft the Bill of Rights in 1789, while serving as a representative in the nation’s first Congress.
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Ron Chernow, Hamilton (Penguin, 2004). Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (Simon & Schuster, 2010). “If Men Were Angels: Teaching the Constitution with the Federalist Papers.” Constitutional Rights Foundation . Dan T. Coenen, “Fifteen Curious Facts About the Federalist Papers.” University of Georgia School of Law , April 1, 2007.
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The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers originated as a series of articles in a New York newspaper in 1787–88. Published anonymously under the pen name of “Publius,” they were written primarily for instrumental political purposes: to promote ratification of the Constitution and defend it against its critics.
Initiated by Alexander Hamilton , the series came to eighty-five articles, the majority by Hamilton himself, twenty-six by James Madison , and five by John Jay. The Federalist was the title under which Hamilton collected the papers for publication as a book.
Despite their polemical origin, the papers are widely viewed as the best work of political philosophy produced in the United States, and as the best expositions of the Constitution to be found amidst all the ratification debates. They are frequently cited for discerning the meaning of the Constitution and the intentions of the founders, although Hamilton’s papers are not always reliable as an exposition of his views: in The Federalist , Hamilton took care to avoid coming out clearly with his views on either the inadequacies of the Constitution or the potentiality for using it dynamically. Instead, he expressed himself indirectly, arguing that the only real danger would arise from the potential weaknesses of the central government under the Constitution , not from its potentialities for greater strength as charged by its opponents. Despite this, The Federalist can be and frequently has been referred to for its exposition of Hamilton’s position on executive authority, judicial review, and other institutional aspects of the Constitution.
The Federalist Papers are also admired abroad—sometimes more than in the United States. Hamilton is held in high esteem abroad: while in America his realist style is received with suspicion of undemocratic intentions, abroad it is taken as a reassurance of solidity, and it is the Jeffersonian idealist style that is received with suspicion of hidden intentions. The Federalist Papers are studied by jurists and legal scholars and cited for writing other countries’ constitutions. In this capacity they have played a significant role in the spread of federal, democratic, and constitutional governments around the world.
- 1 MODERN FEDERATION AS EXPOUNDED BY THE FEDERALIST
- 2 AMBIGUITIES OF COORDINATE FEDERALISM IN THE FEDERALIST
- 3 USE AND ABUSE OF THE FEDERALIST
- 4.1 Ira Straus
MODERN FEDERATION AS EXPOUNDED BY THE FEDERALIST
The Federalist Papers defended a new form of federalism : what it called “federation” as differentiated from “confederation.” There were precursors for this usage; The Federalist Papers solidified it. All subsequent federalism has been influenced by the example of “federation” in the United States; indeed, the success of it in the United States has led to its being known as “modern federation” in contrast to “classical confederation.” In its basic structures and principles, it has served as the model for most subsequent federal unions, as well as for the reform of older confederacies such as Switzerland.
The main distinguishing characteristics of the model of modern federation, elucidated and defended by The Federalist Papers , are as follows:
1. The federal government’s most important figures, the legislative, are elected largely by the individual citizens, rather than being primarily selected by the governments of member states as in confederation.
2. Conversely, federal law applies directly to individuals, through federal courts and agencies, rather than to member states as in confederation.
3. State citizens become also federal citizens, and naturalization criteria are established federally.
4. The federal Constitution and federal laws and treaties are the supreme law of the land, over and above state constitutions and laws.
5. Federal powers are enumerated, along with what came to be called an “Elastic Clause” (the authority to take measures “necessary and proper” for implementing its enumerated powers); the states keep the vast range of “reserved” powers, that is, the unspecified generality of other potential governmental powers. States cannot act where the federal government is assigned exclusive competence, nor where preempted by lawful federal action; they are specifically excluded from independent foreign relations, from maintaining an army or navy, from interfering with money, and from disrupting contracts or imposing tariffs.
6. Federal and state laws operate in parallel or as “coordinate” powers, each applying directly to individual citizens, rather than acting primarily through or with dependence on one another.
This “coordinate” method applies only to the “vertical” division of powers between federal and state governments, not to the “horizontal” or “functional” division of federal powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The latter “separation of powers” is made in such a form as to deliberately keep the three branches mutually dependent on one another, so that no one of them can step forth—excepting the executive in emergencies—as a full-fledged authority on its own. This mutual functional dependence within the federal level is considered an assurance of steadiness of the rule of law and lack of arbitrariness; by contrast, obstructionism was feared if there were to remain a relation of dependence upon a vertically separate level of government. Thus the turn to “coordinate” powers, with federal and state operations proceeding autonomously from one another, or what came to be called “coordinate federalism.” This terminology encapsulated the departure from the old confederalism, in which federal government operations had been heavily dependent on the states.
AMBIGUITIES OF COORDINATE FEDERALISM IN THE FEDERALIST
Despite The Federalist ’s strong preference for coordinate powers, there are important deviations from it. For example, there are “concurrent” or overlapping powers, such as taxation. This, Hamilton says in The Federalist No. 32, necessarily follows from “the division of sovereign power”: each level of government needs it in order to function with “full vigor” on its own (thus allowing the celebratory formulation for American federalism, “strong States and a strong Federal Government”). Coordinate federalism requires, it turns out, some concurrent powers, not just coordinate powers.
In practice, the deviations from the “coordinate” theory go farther still. For the militia, the state governments have the competence to appoint all the officers and to conduct the training most of the time, but the federal government is authorized to regulate the training and discipline, as well as to place the militia when needed under federal command (a provision defended by Hamilton in The Federalist No. 29). For commercial law, the states draw up the detailed codes, but the federal power to regulate interstate commerce opened the door to broad federal interference with state codes in the twentieth century. In these spheres there is state authority, but it is subordinated to federal authority—a situation close to the traditional hierarchical model, not to the matrix model sometimes used for the coordinate ideal.
While the states are reserved the wider range of powers, the federal government is assigned the prime cuts among the powers. Its competences go to what are usually viewed as core areas of sovereignty—foreign relations, military, and currency—as well as to regulation of some state powers when they get too close to high politics or to interstate concerns. It already formally held most of these competences during the Confederation, but now could carry them out independently of state action. The Federalist Papers advertise this as being the main point of the Constitution: not a fearsome matter of extending the powers of the federal government into newfangled realms, but the unobjectionable matter of rendering its already agreed-upon powers effective. This effectiveness is achieved by adding the key structural characteristic of the modern sovereign state, elaborated by Hobbes in terms not dissimilar to passages in The Federalist : that of penetrating all intermediate levels and reaching down to the individual citizen to derive its authorization and, conversely, to impose its obligations.
In the early years after the Constitution, many federal powers remained dependent de facto on cooperation from the states; The Federalist ’s authors worried that the states would use this dependence to whittle away federal powers, and defended the Constitution’s provisions for federal supremacy as a protection against such whittling away. Later it was the states that became more dependent on federal cooperation. There was an undefined potential for developing the powers of the two levels of government in a cooperative or mutually dependent form; in the twentieth century, the federal government developed this into what came to be called “cooperative federalism,” wielding its superior financial resources to influence state policy in the fields of cooperation.
USE AND ABUSE OF THE FEDERALIST
The Federalist Papers have been used with increasing frequency as a guide for interpreting the Constitution. Bernard Bailyn (2003) has counted the frequency and found an almost linear progression: from occasional use by the Supreme Court in the years just after 1789 to more frequent use with every passing stage in American history. Much of this use he regards as abuse of the Papers.
The notes of Madison on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 are in principle a better source for discovering intention, but are less often used than The Federalist . They are harder to read, are harder to systematize, and have a structure of shifting counterpoint rather than consistent exposition. Moreover, they were just notes of debates where people were thinking out loud, not formal polished documents, and got off to a yawning start: they were kept secret for half a century.
The Federalist Papers , while clearer, are often subjected to questionable interpretation. Taking the Papers as gospel shorn from context, the result can be to stand the purpose of the authors on its head.
The crux of the problem is the fact that The Federalist Papers were both polemically vigorous and politically prudent. They were intended to promote ratification of a stronger central government as something that could sustain itself, sink deeper roots, and grow higher capabilities over time. In doing so, they often found it expedient to emphasize how weak the Constitution was and portray it as incapable of being stretched in the ways that opponents feared and proponents sometimes quietly wished. They cannot always be taken at face value.
To locate the original intention of the Constitution itself, the place to start would not be The Federalist Papers , but—as Madison did in The Federalist No. 40—the authorizing resolutions for the Constitutional Convention. There one finds a clear and repeated expression of purpose, namely, to create a stronger federal government, and specifically to “render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union” (Madison 1788). Next one would have to look at the brief statement of purpose in the preamble of the Constitution. There, the lead purpose is “in Order to form a more perfect Union,” followed by a number of more specific functional purposes understood to be bound up with a more perfect union.
The intention of the wording of the Constitution would be found by looking at the Committee on Style at the Constitutional Convention, a group dominated by centralizing federalists. It took the hard substance of the constitutional plan that had been agreed upon in the months of debate, and proceeded to rewrite it in a soft cautious language, restoring important symbolic phrases of the old confederation in order to assuage the fears of the Convention’s opponents. It helped in ratification, but at the usual cost of PR: obfuscation. Theorists of nullification and secession, such as Calhoun , would later cite the confederal language as proof that each state still retained its sovereignty unchanged.
The original purpose of The Federalist Papers is the least in doubt of the entire series of documents: it was to encourage ratification and answer the critics who argued the Constitution was a blueprint for tyranny. As such, it was prone to carry further the diplomatic disguises already introduced by the Committee on Style. The authors, particularly Hamilton, argued repeatedly that, if anything, the government proposed by the Constitution would be too weak, not too strong. They said this with a purpose, not of restraining it further—as would be done by taking their descriptions of its weaknesses as indications of original intent—but of enabling its strengths to come into play and get reinforced by bonds of habit.
Hamilton in practice opposed “strict constructionism” regarding federal enumerated powers; he generally emphasized the Elastic (“necessary and proper”) Clause in the 1790's. But in The Federalist Papers , Hamilton in No. 33 justifies the Elastic and Supremacy Clauses in cautious, defensive, polemical fashion, denying any elastic intention but only the necessity of defending against what he portrays as the main danger: that of a whittling away of federal power by the states. Madison in No. 44 is slightly more expansive, arguing the necessity of recurrence in any federal constitution to “the doctrine of construction or implication” and warning against the ruinously constrictive construction that the states would end up applying to federal powers in the absence of the Elastic Clause. The logical implication was that either one side or the other—either the federal government or the states—must dominate the process of construing the extent of federal powers, and his preference in 1787–88 was for the federal government to predominate. In The Federalist , he warned against continuing dangers of interposition by the states against federal authority; at the Convention, he had advocated a congressional “negative” on state laws, that is, a federal power of interposition against state laws, as the only way of preventing individual states from flying out of the common orbit. While a legislative negative was rejected at the Convention, a judicial negative was later achieved in practice by the establishment of judicial review under a Federalist-led Supreme Court. Hamilton in The Federalist Nos. 78 and 80 provided support for judicial review, arguing—in defensive form as ever—that it was needed for preventing state encroachments from reducing the Constitution to naught.
The Elastic Clause was a residuum at the end of the Constitutional Convention flowing from the original pre-Convention resolutions. The resolutions called for powers “adequate to the exigencies of the Union”; the Convention met and enumerated the federal powers and structures that it could specifically agree on, then invested the remainder of its mandate into the Elastic and Supremacy Clauses, in which the Constitution makes itself supreme and grants its government all powers “necessary and proper” for carrying out the functions it specifies. There is a direct historical line in this, extending afterward to Hamilton’s broad construction of the Elastic Clause in the 1790's. From beginning to end, the underlying thought is dynamic, to do all that is necessary for union and government. The static, defensive exegesis of the Elastic Clause in The Federalist Papers , and in subsequent conceptions of strict construction, is implausible.
THE FEDERALIST AND THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF MODERN FEDERATION
The success of the modern federation in the United States after 1789 made it the main norm for subsequent federalism. The Federalist Papers provided the template for federation building; Hamilton was celebrated as its greatest evangelist. Switzerland reformed its confederation in 1848 and 1870 along the lines of modern federation. The new Latin American countries also often adopted federal constitutions in this period, although their implementation of federalism, like that of democracy itself, was sketchy.
After 1865, several British emigrant colonies adopted the overall model of modern federation: first the Canadian colonies (despite using the name “confederation”), then the Australian ones (using “commonwealth”), then South Africa (using “union”; there the ideological role of Hamilton and The Federalist was enormous, and the result was almost a unitary state). After 1945, several countries emerging out of the British dependent empire, such as India and Nigeria, adopted variants of modern federation. Defeated Germany and Austria also adopted federal constitutions. Later, other European and Third World countries also federalized their formerly unitary states. The process is by no means finished. Enumerating all the countries that had developed federal elements in their governance, Daniel Elazar concluded in the 1980's that a “federal revolution” was in process.
Once modern federation was known as a solution to the limitations of confederation, there has been less tolerance for the inconsistencies of confederation. Confederalism was a compromise between the extremes of separation and a unitary centralized state, splitting the difference; modern federation is more like a synthesis that upgrades both sides. What in previous millennia could be seen in confederalism as a lesser evil and a reasonable price to pay for avoiding the extremes, after 1787 came to seem like a collection of unnecessary contradictions: and if unnecessary, then also intolerable, once compared to what was available through modern federation.
The Federalist Papers have themselves been the strongest propagators of the view that confederalism is an inherently failed system. They made their case forcefully, not as scholars but as debaters for ratifying the Constitution. Their case was one-sided but had substance. They showed that confederation, even when successful, was working on an emergency basis, or else on a basis of special fortunate circumstances or external pressures. They offered in its place a structure that could work well on an ordinary systematic basis, without incessant crises or fears of collapse or dependence on special circumstances.
In recent years, it has been argued that Swiss confederalism was an impressive success, and so in a sense it was, holding together for half a millennium. Yet half a century after modern federation was invented in the United States, the Swiss found their old confederal system a failure and replaced it with one modeled along the lines of the modern federal one. The description of the old Swiss confederation as a failure became a commonplace; it entered into the realm of patriotic Swiss conviction. The judgment looks too harsh when the length of the two historical experiences are viewed side by side, yet has carried conviction in an evolutionary sense, as the cumulative outcome of historical experience. After the Constitution and The Federalist Papers , confederalism could not remain as successful in terms of longevity as it had been previously; the historical space for it shrank, while new and larger spaces opened up for modern federation. The advance of technology worked in the same direction, increasing interdependence within national territories and making localities more intertwined.
Despite the shrinkage of space for confederation within national bounds, confederation took on new force on another level. The American Union’s survival of the Civil War and consolidation afterwards gave a further impetus to discussion of modern federation, understood not only as a static technique for more sophisticated government within a given space, but also as a dynamic method of uniting people across wider spaces, in order to meet the needs of modern technological progress and the growth of interdependence. International federalist movements emerged after 1865, taking The Federalist Papers as their bible. They gained influence in the face of the world wars of the 1900's, feeding into the development of international organizations ranging from very loose and weak ones to integrative alliances and confederations such as NATO and the EU. The missionary ideology of The Federalist , used by its proponents for pummeling confederation, led on the international level to new confederations. When some (such as the League of Nations) were viewed as failures, further missionary use of The Federalist fed into the formation of still more confederations, often stronger and better conceived but confederations nonetheless, even if (as in the case of the EU) with a genetic plan of evolving into a federation. Federation seemed no less necessary but more difficult than federalist propagandists had suggested. Reflection on this situation led to an academic school of integration theory in the 1950's and 1960's, which treated functionalism and confederation as necessary historical phases in integration; in the neofunctionalist version of the theory it would lead eventually to federation, and in the version of Karl Deutsch it need not move beyond a “pluralistic security-community.” The work of Deutsch tied in with the view that confederation had been a greater success historically than was usually credited; to prove the success of the American confederation, Deutsch and his colleagues cited Merrill Jensen, an historian highly critical of The Federalist and friendly to the Anti-Federalists or Confederalists. Jensen argued that the Articles of Confederation had been a success, contrary to the American patriotic story that paralleled the Swiss one in condemning the confederalist experience. The relevance of The Federalist Papers was seen in this new literature as minimal, except at the final stages of a process that was only beginning and that the Papers themselves mystified as a matter of tactical necessity for getting a difficult decision made. Their exaggerations of the defects of confederalism were highlighted; their argument that only federation would “work” was seen as both a mistake and a diversion from the direction that progress would actually need to take in this era. It was only their normative orientation that was seen as helpful. The very success of The Federalist Papers had led to their partial eclipse. Nevertheless, their eclipse on the supranational level may not be permanent, and their influence on the level of national constitutionalism has remained enormous throughout.
Last updated: 2006
SEE ALSO: Anti-Federalists ; Federalists ; Hamilton, Alexander ; Madison, James
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2.4: Debates between Federalists and Antifederalists
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Standard 2.4: Debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists
Compare and contrast key ideas debated between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over ratification of the Constitution (e.g., federalism, factions, checks and balances, independent judiciary, republicanism, limited government). (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Science) [8.T2.4]
FOCUS QUESTION: What were the key points of debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists?
To replace the government that was operating under The Articles of Confederation , the Constitution was proposed, created, and sent to the states for ratification on September 17, 1787. To become law, the new Constitution had to be ratified (approved) by 9 of 13 states (as required by Article VII).
State legislatures were directed to call ratification conventions to debate and then approve or reject the new framework for the national government. Despite unhappiness over the Articles of Confederation, there was significant opposition to the new Constitution and its approval was very much in doubt in many states.
The debate over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution is known for the sharp divide it created among people in the newly independent states.
Two groups, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists , emerged with the Federalists arguing for ratification and the Anti-Federalists arguing against the ratification. Federalist supporters of the Constitution included James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, the authors of the Federalist Papers. Anti-Federalist opponents included George Clinton, Patrick Henry, and James Monroe (the future fifth President).
The new Constitution was finally approved on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it (The Day the Constitution Was Ratified).
What were the main disagreements between Federalists and Anti-Federalists? The modules for this topic outline the two sides, the role of women in the debates, and how those disagreements are still impacting our lives and our politics today.
Modules for this Standard Include:
- MEDIA LITERACY CONNECTIONS: Investigating Political Debates Through Songs from the Musical Hamilton
- UNCOVER: Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, and the Political Roles of Women
- ENGAGE: Who Should Have Primary Responsibility for Environmental Policies?
2.4.1 INVESTIGATE: The Federalist-Antifederalist Debates
The Federalists believed that the Constitution would create a needed change in the structure of government. In their view, the Articles had created disarray through a system where state governments competed with one another for power and control. Federalists hoped the Constitution would establish a strong central government that could enforce laws of states, get things done, and maintain the union. It would create stability and the promise of growth as a unified nation . Key examples of the views of Federalists can be found in Federalist Paper Number 10 and Federalist Papers Numbers 1, 9, 39, 51, and 78 .
The Anti-Federalists feared the Constitution would create a central government that would act like a monarchy with little protection for civil liberties . Anti-Federalists favored power for state governments where public debate and citizen awareness had opportunities to influence and direct state and national policies. Important primary sources for Anti-Federalists include The Federal Farmer I , Brutus I , and the Speech of Patrick Henry (June 5, 1788).
The divide was intense and in most states, ratification of the new Constitution just barely happened. The Massachusetts vote, held on February 6, 1788, was 187 for ratification, 168 against.
You can learn more at the resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki page Federalists and Anti-Federalists .
Media Literacy Connections: Investigating Political Debates Through Songs from the Musical Hamilton
Hamilton: An American Musical , written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the United States using hip hop, R&B, pop, and soul music as well as Broadway-style show tunes. It opened in February 2015 and won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as numerous Tony Awards that same year.
Lin-Manuel Miranda described the musical as about "America then, as told by America now" ( The Atlantic , September 29, 2015, para. 2).
Explore how Hamilton portrays history and then write your own Hamilton- style lyrics in the following activities:
- Activity 1: Analyze the Lyrics from Hamilton
- Activity 2: Write Your Own Hamilton -Style Lyrics
Suggested Learning Activities
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Online Resources on Federalists and Anti-Federalists
- Multimedia video and lesson plan on the Constitutional Convention from Khan Academy
- The Question of States' Rights: The Constitution and American Federalism , from Exploring Constitutional Conflicts
2.4.2 UNCOVER: Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, and the Political Roles of Women
While men did the writing of the Constitution, the voices of women were heard in the debates over ratification and the rights of citizens.
Abigail Adams was an advocate for women's rights, supporter of education for women, and active opponent of slavery. She was also the wife of future President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams. Her "Remember the Ladies" letter to husband John Adams is a famous document from the time.
You can read more of her writing at About the Correspondence Between John & Abigail Adams , from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Mercy Otis Warren , from Barnstable and Plymouth, Massachusetts, was a poet, playwright, and essayist whose writing was strongly political - a dramatic departure from how women were supposed to behave at the time.
Mercy Otis Warren has been described as "the leading female intellectual of the Revolution and early republic" (Michals, 2015, para. 1; National Women's History Museum ). Warren was both an outspoken supporter of the American Revolution and a strong Anti-Federalist opponent of the Constitution. Like other anti-federalists, her opposition to the new government ranged from the "lack of a bill of rights guaranteeing freedom of the press and the rights of individuals, to the indirect, antidemocratic method for electing the president" (Brown & Tager, 2000, p. 108).
Mercy Otis Warren wrote many political pieces under the pseudonym "A Columbian Patriot" in support of the Anti-Federalist ideals. Explore her writing at: " Observations on the new Constitution, and on the federal and state conventions. By a Columbian patriot. ; Sic transit gloria Americana ."
- Watch the video The Founding Mothers of the United States: An Overview , in which journalist Cokie Roberts and author Walter Isaacson discuss the life and times of Martha Washington, Deborah Franklin, and Mercy Otis Warren.
- What roles did these women play in the beginning of the United States?
- Using Milestones for Women in Politics website as a starting point, build a timeline of women's political roles in the United States (using Timeline JS , Tiki Toki , or another interactive timeline builder).
Online Resources for the Political Role of Women in the Early United States
- Mercy Otis Warren , New World Encyclopedia
- Mercy Otis Marries James Warren, November 14, 1754
- Persuading male voters
- Crusades against slavery and alcohol
- Compelling narratives
- Political organizing
- Transforming everyday objects into political vehicles
- Did the American Revolution Change the Role of Women in Society? History in Dispute (Vol. 12)
- Founding Mothers: Women's Roles in American Independence
2.4.3 ENGAGE: Who Should Have Primary Responsibility for Environmental Policies?
In fulfilling a 2016 campaign pledge to create more business- and industry-friendly policies (especially for fossil fuel and nuclear power companies), the Presidential Administration of Donald Trump has dramatically altered the environmental policies of the federal government.
The Department of the Interior and other federal branch agencies have loosened or eliminated rules and regulations put in place by previous Presidents, rolling back offshore drilling safety regulations, greenlighting oil and gas pipeline projects, granting energy companies access to wildlife habitats, permitting increased logging of federal forests, and easing restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants, among other changes ( A Running List of How President Trump is Changing Environmental Policy , National Geographic, 2017; updated 2019; Trump v. Earth , National Resources Defense Council, 2020).
Deregulation policies included replacing the Clean Power Plan, revising and weakening the Endangered Species Act, Coal Ash Rule, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, and reversing bans on the use of pesticides in farming ( The Trump Administration's Major Environmental Deregulations , Brookings, December 15, 2020). You can follow changes in environmental rules and policies with a Climate Deregulation Tracker from the Sabin Center for Climate Change at Columbia University School of Law.
The Trump Administration's environmental policies have placed the federal government in direct and contentious opposition to numerous state governments , notably those controlled by Democrats. That state governments have a central role in environmental policy has been established in court, namely Massachusetts v. EPA (2006), a landmark climate change case where the Supreme Court ruled that a state government had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate auto emissions. That decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens , who wrote a number of significant environmental decisions during his time on the Court; Stevens died in 2019 at the age of 99.
Trump policies led to direct conflicts with states, notably California, which has enacted stricter environmental protection laws than most of the rest of the states in the country ( California sues Trump again for revoking state's authority to limit auto emissions ). It is one of the latest examples of the historic tension in American politics between states' rights and federal power—a tension that goes all the way back to the Articles of Confederation and what policies are to be controlled states or by the national government.
The Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 , signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30 of that year, was the first time the federal government set aside land specifically for preservation and recreational use. This area became Yosemite National Park in 1890.
The federal government established the world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. However, it did so on lands that native tribes consider sacred, adding another source of dispute between American Indians and the U.S. government (Yellowstone National Park Created on Sacred Land).
The National Park Service was created in 1916. Following the publication of Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring (1962), Congress passed the Clean Air Acts of 1963, 1970 and 1990 along with the Clean Water Act in 1972. There is more historical background and information at a resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki page, The Clean Air Act .
Following the first Earth Day (1970), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970. As President, Barack Obama took numerous steps to extend environmental protections (Mother Nature Network, 2016).
Following the election of Joe Biden in 2020, Republican led states (asserting their powers as state governments under federalism) began passing legislation making it harder to reduce dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The state of Florida, for example, passed a bill to prevent the city of Miami from banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.
The Biden Administration has responded by pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands and water and reversing other Trump-era environmental and energy policies. You can track Joe Biden's environmental actions as President at this site from The Washington Post .
- Propose this role for yourself, another student, or a group of students as a school, classroom, or family sustainability ambassador.
- What steps could that person(s) take to improve air and water quality, food safety, waste reduction, and other environmental and climate justice concerns?
- Design a poster or short video explaining the role and its goals.
- What are the limits of states' rights and federal power in matters related to the environment?
- Can states block federal directives?
- Can the federal government ignore state laws?
- Should state governments or the federal government have primary responsibility for modern-day environmental policy?
- How successful were you in preventing a disaster?
- What did you learn about environmental policy choices from playing one of these games?
Online Resources for States' Rights vs. Federal Power in Modern-Day Environmental Politics
- Toxic 100 Names Top Climate, Air and Water Polluters , Political Economy Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst, July 29, 2019
- How the U.S. Protects the Environment, from Nixon to Trump , The Atlantic (March 29, 2017)
- In Trump Era, Democrats and Republicans Switch Sides on States' Rights, Reuters (January 26, 2017)
- The States Resist Trump's Environmental Agenda , Earth Institute, Columbia University (May 7, 2018)
- Environmental Laws Timeline Activity, American Bar Association
- Take a Poll, Debate the Issue: Environmental Policy , PBS Newshour (May 31, 2016)
- Is the "Right to Clean Water" Fake News? An Inquiry in Media Literacy and Human Rights , Social Studies and the Young Learner (2020)
Standard 2.4 Conclusion
During the writing of the Constitution, Federalists and Anti-Federalists offered sharply diverging visions for the roles of state and federal government, differences which have continued in American politics to the present day. INVESTIGATE outlined the main points of the Federalist-Anti-Federalist debates. UNCOVER examined the political roles of women through the actions of Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren. ENGAGE placed the debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists in a modern-day context by asking which level of government should have primary responsibility for environmental policies.
We will keep fighting for all libraries - stand with us!
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A Quick Guide to Reading The Federalist Papers
Peter recently said to his Big Think readers “It really is true that you don’t know much about how the Constitution works even today if you haven’t read them.”
By them he meant The Federalist Papers . But of course, not all of them.
Some Great Books must be read in their entirety. The Republic , for example. But The Federalist isnt one of those. Almost no-one reads all of its papers. I did recently, to prep for a seminar on the book, and to allow me to know which ones to exclude. I have seen some syllabi, and even some edited collections, such as the Dover Thrift edition, which do a pretty poor job of selecting. So here are four possible options that make good sense, helped along by a Ralph Ketcham note in his introduction to The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates . There are eighty-five papers total.
My minimal list , sixteen:
1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 23, 39, 49, 51, 55, 62, 70, 78, 84.
Clinton Rossiters cream list , twenty-one:
1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 23, 37, 39, 47, 48, 49, 51, 62, 63, 70, 78, 84, 85.
Ralph Ketchams long list of the best, thirty-two:
1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 23, 27, 30, 37, 39, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 53, 57, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73, 76, 78, 84
My maximal list (what Im doing with the seminar), sixty-four:
1-12, 13-21, 23-24, 27-28, 31, 33, 37-41, 43-45, 47-57, 62-66, 68-78, 81, 84-85.
(Thus, it excludes 13, 22, 25-26, 29-30, 32, 34-36, 42, 46, 58-61, 67, 79-80, 82-83. You really don’t need to read those.)
So what do yall think? And lets also hear your ideas for the a) most underrated paper, and if like me youve read them all, for the b) most boring paper. Or maybe the most boring and/or aggravating sentence of the work. There are some real doozies in there on that score.
P.S. The best secondary work I know which you should read alongside the papers remains the William Schambra collection How Democratic Is the Constitution? The essays by Parenti, Wood, Bessette, and McWilliams in it illustrate key different approaches towards the work. And the Martin Diamond essay in Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy . Charles Keslers intro to the Signet Classic edition of the papers, which you really must get for the index and other editorial apparatus, is also quite helpful.
Articles by Carl Scott
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Give Republicans the Russian white, blue and red for Presidents Day
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Frederic B. Hill, a part-time resident of Maine, was a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, foreign affairs director to U.S. Sen. Charles Mathias Jr. of Maryland, and a senior State Department official.
A perfect gift on Presidents Day for most Republican senators and representatives is the good old white, blue and red.
Not the red, white and blue flag of the United States of America, but the tricolor of the Russian Federation. Given their meek reaction to the former president’s insulting and un-American invitation to Vladimir Putin to essentially invade NATO countries , his congressional acolytes, mainly in the U.S. House, should hang the Russian flag in their offices in Washington.
That would be the most fitting salute to Donald Trump, who offered an outrageous invitation to Russia to “ do whatever the hell they want ” to our NATO allies if they do not pay more for their own defense.
The NATO alliance has proved to be the linchpin of the defense and democracies of the West since its founding in 1949, deterring Soviet and Russian aggression. Article 5 — which Trump would ignore — commits all members to come to the defense of its allies in the event of an attack. In 2006, NATO members agreed to commit 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. For the record, 11 of NATO’s 31 members meet the 2 percent mark , and seven more are expected to meet that goal this year.
Trump’s comment at a rally last weekend should not surprise any sensible American since he has long shown his love for Russia and appreciation for Putin’s support for his presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 .
For months now, Trump has sought to undermine U.S. assistance to Ukraine in its struggle to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion , which began two years ago next week — the largest major military aggression in Europe since World War II . He has repeatedly praised Putin ; he has moved to encourage Republicans to block further assistance to Ukraine.
Trump’s invitation to Putin to invade NATO countries is little different than the disastrous decision of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to appease Adolf Hitler in 1938, granting the German dictator most of his demands to take over Czechoslovakia, precipitating World War II.
Long before his first campaign for the presidency and ever since, Trump has shown great admiration for Russia — and it is not just an avowed liking for “strongmen” or Russian culture.
Trump has benefited immensely from Russian financial investments. His once struggling hotel empire gained financially from purchases by Russian oligarchs. His son, Eric Trump, when asked a few years ago how the hotel business was faring without major support from U.S. banks, reportedly bragged : “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
Against his own advisers’ wishes, Trump sought to invite Russia back into the G-7, from which Russia had been expelled after Putin’s seizure of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.
After the 2018 Helsinki summit, he dismissed the conclusions of American intelligence agencies and embraced the word of Putin that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Mueller investigation , which found that “sweeping and systemic” interference by Russia in the 2016 election and found links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, did not exonerate Trump. Further, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, including all Republican members, concluded that Russia did undertake a massive effort to intervene in the election.
A Senate report documented a wholesale attack by Russia’s Internet Research Agency , ranging from full-throated support for Trump to distorted information on Democrats.
Russia’s strategy, basically to weaken the United States by exploiting internal tensions, reverses the old Soviet-era strategy to seek support within America through the left wing, partly through unions that tended to support socialist policies. For the last decade, the Russian government has focused all its efforts on the right wing — once the most virulently anti-Russian of Americans.
Trump and his GOP tribesmen have turned the tables on historic Republican leaders such as former President Ronald Reagan — who predicted accurately that the Soviet Union would end up “on the ash heap of history,” a fate Putin bitterly resents — and the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who called the Russian leader a thug and a murderer.
Republicans afraid to criticize Trump’s love affair with Russia need to read Alexander Hamilton’s essay in the 1787 Federalist Papers 22 : “One of the weak sides of republics … is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” He added: It is “much easier for a foreign power … to perplex our councils and embarrass our exertions.”