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Kossack Something the Dog Said did an excellent series on the Constitution recently. This is something that I had also done on my blog. When I finished with the Constitution, I decided to continue the weekly feature by looking at the Federalist Papers - thought by most to be the definitive interpretation of the Constitution. StDS had mentioned attempting to tackle the Federalist Papers once he/she was done but now I see that isn't the case. So, I thought I'd cross-post my Federalist Papers entries here as well.

Federalist No. 1 below the fold.

Originally posted at my livejournal

You can find The Federalist Papers in their entirety at The Library of Congress website.

From 1781 until 1787 the United States was governed by The Articles of Confederation. This document held the states together loosely and the powers granted to the government we limited mainly to matters of defense. The Articles of Confederation gave the government no taxing authority resulting in a weak and ineffective government. The Federalists proposed a more powerful central government and were the driving force behind the drafting of the Constitution. Given that the United States had just freed itself from the King of England, many in the new nation were still wary of a strong central government authority. Shortly after proposal, articles and pamphlets appeared opposing the ratification of the Constitution. In response, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a series of papers published in New York newspapers advocating for the ratification of the Constitution. The papers were meant to explain the Constitution and rationalize the need for a more powerful centralized government. All of the papers were published under the pseudonym Publius.

Federalist No. 1 was published by Alexander Hamilton on October 27th, 1787 and is essentially an introduction to the series outlining 6 concepts to be discussed in the ensuing papers:

  1. The utility of the Union to your political prosperity.
  1. The insufficiency of the present Confederation to preserve the Union.
  1. The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed to the attainment of this object.
  1. The conformity of the proposed constitution to the true principles of republican government.
  1. It's analogy to your own state constitution.
  1. The additional security, which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty and to property.

Hamilton stated upfront that he was biased to the ratification of the Constitution:

Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion it is your interest to adopt it. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness. I affect not reserves which I do not feel. I will not amuse you with an appearance of deliberation when I have decided. I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded. The consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity. I shall not, however, multiply professions on this head. My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast. My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.

Hamilton intended to use the Federalist Papers as a means for rebutting the published arguments of the Anti-Federalists as well as to explain the rationale behind the Articles of the Constitution.

And as we approach the end of this election season, I thought that it was noteworthy that the same arguments that we have today about the balance between individual rights and the rights of the government were just as alive in 1787. And from the following passage, I think it is safe to say that Alexander Hamilton would not belong to the Conservative Party of today:

On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

Next week: Federalist No. 2 - if there's sufficient interest, that is.

Originally posted to docstymie on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 06:39 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    tips for the Constitution!

    I'm a Bobby Kennedy Democrat

    by docstymie on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 06:40:09 AM PDT

  •  Hamilton was conservative on representation. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoplite9, docstymie

    Hamilton was not a big supporter of broad representation and supported a British model of government, personally. I think you should avoid assigning Hamilton, Madison, or Jay to any modern political thinking. Actually that works for any of the Founders. We just don't know how they would factor in today.

    by Common Cents on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 06:52:07 AM PDT

    •  Hamilton was conservative on more than just that (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Danjuma, craigkg, docstymie

      His view of the presidency largely underlies the theory of the Unitary Executive.

      But I, for one, don't have an objection to trying to categorize the founding fathers with the labels of modernity. They were, after all, writing in the modern era which is usually marked as starting with the Enlightenment. I'd have more of a problem with the claim that this person or that person would belong to a particular contemporary political party. But the labels of `conservative' and `liberal' are fine with me.

    •  There's Only One Solid Test (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Pluck some isolated tribal wise wo/man from a society that has no electricity, no science, and no self-powered vehicles, and never heard of any of them.

      Consider how long they would remain uninjured if left unchaperoned. On the street, or even inside an ordinary middle class dwelling.

      Consult the framers for their logic on genetic engineering, nuclear science, or greenhouse gasses --all 3, issues capable of exterminating the human race.

      OK so forget the modern technological specifics, which they obviously couldn't know, just read them on the more general topic of exterminating the human race. See what they had to say about federal vs state vs peoples' powers in deciding and executing human extinction.

      Not much to go on there, either.

      The framers personally are hardly the only thing from their era that gives us little to go on.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 08:04:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Woo Hoo! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Danjuma, craigkg, docstymie, budr

    Great stuff, Doc!

    I am so happy that someone is tackling the FP! I am going to be working the First Amendment and the Supreme Court decisions around it, but there was a hell of a lot of desire for someone to do this.

    I can't wait for the rest of your series!

    Getting Dems together and keeping them that way is like trying to herd cats, hopped up on crank, through LA, during an earthquake, in the rain. -6.25, -6.10

    by Something the Dog Said on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 06:58:05 AM PDT

  •  I think you're falling into a trap (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    docstymie, budr

    Admittedly, much is open to interpretation within the Federalist Papers. But I think you're falling into precisely the trap that Hamilton was warning people to avoid. He claimed that because suspect motives exist on both sides of the debate and that because well intentioned people exist on both sides of the debate, one should be wary of arguing against an idea based on the supposed personal motives of the other side. In light of this, `Publius' was going to adopt a conciliatory tone that did not impugn the motives of the Anti-Federalists but rather argued the case on its merits. A few weeks ago I tried to explore this on my personal blog in Federalist No. 1 and Political Discourse.

    By saying that Hamilton could in no way belong to today's Conservative movement, you're essentially arguing that no one on that side of the fence can have pure motives and that no on one on our side of the fence has impure motives. In fact, of all the Federalists, Hamilton was the most conservative in the modern sense. In some ways, he was the father of Neoconservatism. Much of the legal theory of the Unitary Executive, after all, is predicated on his writings, including some of the Federalist Papers he penned.

    If you're interested in my take so far, I've also treated Federalists 2 through 4 as a single unit in Federalists Nos. 2 through 4 and the Argument for a Strong, Centralized Government in America and No. 5 in Federalist No. 5 and the Natural Propensity to Civil War. The sixth one will come next week (probably) and I think it's the most interesting so far. Hamilton tackles the maxims that no two democracies have ever gone to war and that free trade inevitably leads to peace between nations.

    •  nice work (0+ / 0-)

      yes, perhaps I was just looking to take a cheap shot at the other side ;o)

      I like your blog. Feel free to fix my interpretation as warranted. I'm not a historian or political scientist. Just interested in this stuff because during the previous administration it felt like a good thing to be up on the foundation of our government so that we could recognize it under attack from within.

      I'm a Bobby Kennedy Democrat

      by docstymie on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 07:09:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have a difficulty with political labels such (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      as conservative, liberal, neocon, etc.  I think that they are not precise enough or perhaps too precise.  

      Another way of putting this problem is that types of government are classified by characteristics that don't make sense to me.  Communism, socialism, democracy, republic, etc. don't seem to communicate anything meaningful to me, but they seem to have great meaning to those who use them.

      I first noticed that I had this problem when I was going to college.  I was a student at Baylor University, a large Baptist college, at the time Catholic JFK was running for president and the Baptists all over the country, including on my campus, and even in my dorm room, were angrily crying out against him and against Catholics.  It was then that I suddenly realized that these people were saying that there were two kinds of Christianity, good Christianity and bad Christianity.  When I brought this up with some friends who were ministers-in-training and who had thought a great deal about this kind of thing, I was told that the correct terminology was false-Christianity and true-Christianity.  Well, you could have heard my jaw drop.

      So all my thinking life I have had trouble with political and other social institution labels.  There seems to me to be a need for a classification nomenclature that provides more specific content about the nature of each named entity.

      Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning.

      by hestal on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 08:29:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I certainly agree to a certain extent (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hestal, docstymie

        Liberals and leftists have largely wrecked a very nice term (neoconservative) by using it to essentially mean ``everything that's bad about the Bush administration.'' But I think, historically speaking, it's a fine term that illustrates the difference between classical conservatism (and it's tendency towards monarchy, authority of clerics, etc.) and modern conservatism (and it's tendency towards laissez-faire economics, all other civil rights being subservient to the right to survive) while pulling in the additional nuance of the idea of exporting democracy by force of arms if need be.

        Language itself tends to be vague. Sometimes this allows us to say very much with very little. But sometimes it just allows us to make things so ambiguous that any real meaning has been lost. If one cannot tell from context which type of conservatism (or of Christianity) one is speaking of then the person who used the word has not done a good job of communicating.

        •  I think you have put your finger on my (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          problem.  The political labels encompass everything but the way people are ultimately treated.  In other words how would a neoconservative government affect people's daily lives?  For example, in my college government class, nearly fifty years ago, a big discussion was about Nazism and Communism.  The professor and several fellow students could go on and on about the differences, but to me there were no differences.  Both forms of government murdered their citizens and so there was, at bottom, no meaningful difference.  The differences in the true-Christianity and the false-Christianity that my classmates told me about seemed to be about civil rights.  We were talking about the 1960 election and whether we should permit a Catholic to hold office.  One form of Christianity said, yes, there is no religious test for office, but the other said, no, the constitution is invalid because it was not ordained by God, but by the People.  At bottom, people's daily lives were affected by these differing attitudes toward civil rights for all or civil rights for some.

          So I think I have got it.  Political entities affect people's lives, that is their purpose, and some are similar in these effects and some differ.  So, in that context, communism, as practiced by Stalin is the same as Nazism practiced by Hitler.

          Using this as a base, I think I can come up with a nomeclature that works for me.  I think I can devise political labels that reflect the way each political system treats its ordinary citizens.

          In fact, I just realized this.  I read a book not too long ago, I don't remember the name right now, about cultures.  This author had divided cultures based on whether they were "progress-prone" or "progress-resistant."  So political systems could be classified the same way.  So could religions.  I need to find that book, don't I?

          Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning.

          by hestal on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 10:13:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I wonder what their concerns were about size... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    you wrote:

    Given that the United States had just freed itself from the King of England, many in the new nation were still wary of a strong central government authority.

    If you look at each state as a strong central government, few were opposed to that.  But that is localized, much closer to the people.  The distance and "foreignness" of the government in England was a factor in the Revolution.  So I wonder if it was aversion to a strong central government, like we are taught, or if there was a concern about the scale or the diversity that a federal government would represent.  

    I've never read the Papers, and I don't know much about them, but this popped into my head when I saw #5: It's analogy to your own state constitution.

    Every once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    by gooners on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 07:03:41 AM PDT

  •  The union has no utility (0+ / 0-)

    to my political prosperity...I'm an anarchist.

    My economic prosperity as a federal employee is a different matter.

    "Seeing every side of the argument causes paralysis." - (paraphrased - Abbie Hoffman).

    by angry liberaltarian on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 07:30:02 AM PDT

  •  I read Mr. Hamilton's essay, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Federalist 1, and he told us what he intended to do in the series and what to expect in the national debate about the proposed Constitution.  He said that some people would oppose the new Constitution because it would in some way decrease their power, wealth, or importance, and others would be opposed because it did not increase their power, wealth, or importance.  

    He said that it would be difficult to find people who would act in the interests of the common good, but rather most people would follow their passions and prejudices.  And he said that the biggest barrier to reasoned, calm debate would be,

    ...that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties.

     He went on to say more about parties,

    To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.  

    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    He next said,

    ... the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty....

    I agree with him generally, but I am not sure precisely how he defines "vigor" and we may disagree on how to create and maintain "vigor" in our government.  To me a vigorous government—a vigorous democracy that is—gets its energy from the active participation of the People; it is a government that is responsive to the Will of the People, while protecting the rights of the individual and the interests of the community.  Without the participation of the People the government becomes the property of an elitist few, and the People languish.  

    I say we "might" disagree on this point, because I think the Framers designed a government that placed too much power in the hands of too few men, and they arranged things so that those who gained power could easily hold it.  In effect, I think the Framers shut out the People and robbed the government of its "vigor."  I do not think it was intentional, but no matter the motive, the result is a great diminution in the responsiveness of our government.  

    At the present moment there is no way to reliably convert a public wish into a public policy—there is no way for the People to command their government to: "Stop that, and stop it now!" or to require it to: "Do this, and do it this way!"  These deficiencies are in large measure, I believe, responsible for the low esteem the People have for their public institutions.  

    In my view this transformation of the Voice of the People into the Lament of the People is a theft of their liberty by those elected officials who promised to serve the People, but instead substituted their own wishes for the wishes of the People – just as Mr. Hamilton said they would:

    ...of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

    In my view Mr. Hamilton was describing just one common political career path of most of our elected representatives.

    I have been especially interested in the remarks that the authors of the Federalist essays made about political parties.  There seems to be a widespread opinion that the Framers were wrong about the importance of political parties.  In my opinion, the authors of the Federalist essays and George Washington in his Farewell Address had a low opinion of political parties and yet today we seem to cling to them as an essential element of our Constitutional System.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning.

    by hestal on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 08:07:33 AM PDT

  •  Couple of suggestions (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't think you can wade through the Federalist papers without simultaneously presenting the "Anti-Federalist" writings, particularly if you are going to try and relate the Founders' arguments to modern times.  Morton Borden compiled an index of the anti-federalist writings that are analogous to the Federalist papers.  It's as good a place to start as any.  For example, Hamilton's words should be balanced against this:

    . . .
    They brand with infamy every man who is not as determined and zealous in its favor as themselves. They cry aloud the whole must be swallowed or none at all, thinking thereby to preclude any amendment; they are afraid of having it abated of its present RIGID aspect. They have strived to overawe or seduce printers to stifle and obstruct a free discussion, and have endeavored to hasten it to a decision before the people can duty reflect upon its properties. In order to deceive them, they incessantly declare that none can discover any defect in the system but bankrupts who wish no government, and officers of the present government who fear to lose a part of their power. These zealous partisans may injure their own cause, and endanger the public tranquility by impeding a proper inquiry; the people may suspect the WHOLE to be a dangerous plan, from such COVERED and DESIGNING schemes to enforce it upon them. Compulsive or treacherous measures to establish any government whatever, will always excite jealousy among a free people: better remain single and alone, than blindly adopt whatever a few individuals shall demand, be they ever so wise. I had rather be a free citizen of the small republic of Massachusetts, than an oppressed subject of the great American empire. Let all act understandingly or not at all. If we can confederate upon terms that wilt secure to us our liberties, it is an object highly desirable, because of its additional security to the whole. If the proposed plan proves such an one, I hope it will be adopted, but if it will endanger our liberties as it stands, let it be amended; in order to which it must and ought to be open to inspection and free inquiry. The inundation of abuse that has been thrown out upon the heads of those who have had any doubts of its universal good qualities, have been so redundant, that it may not be improper to scan the characters of its most strenuous advocates. It will first be allowed that many undesigning citizens may wish its adoption from the best motives, but these are modest and silent, when compared to the greater number, who endeavor to suppress all attempts for investigation. These violent partisans are for having the people gulp down the gilded pill blindfolded, whole, and without any qualification whatever. These consist generally, of the NOBLE order of C[incinnatu]s, holders of public securities, men of great wealth and expectations of public office, B[an]k[er]s and L[aw]y[er]s: these with their train of dependents form the Aristocratick combination.
    . . .

    I would also suggest that you back up just a bit and give some context to the writings.  Obviously, these were published in an attempt to sway public opinion regarding ratification of the Constitution.  But, the proposed Constitution stood not only in opposition to the Crown, but as a response to the failures of the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation.  Those failures have much to do with the shape and form of the Constitution we have today.

    Steny Hoyer = a slam dunk argument for term limits

    by jlynne on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 10:58:05 AM PDT

    •  yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and the issues of failure of the Articles of Confederation in this context are discussed in some of the Federalist Papers, so that will be part of the discussion.

      I'm a Bobby Kennedy Democrat

      by docstymie on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 11:28:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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