Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Federalist Papers

I have undertaken a personal project to thoroughly read and understand the Federalist Papers.  All of them.  Toward that end, I have attempting to “translate” them into modern prose, and to look up the references I don’t recognize.

With the idea that this might just be useful someday to someone else, I’m chronicling my progress here.


Federalist No. 1
Federalist No. 1 is among the clearest of Hamilton’s essays. It is written as though he spent more time on it than many of his later papers (in particular, those on the judiciary). There are no legal terms, no confusing references to events or anti-Federalist objections addressed. In this first Federalist, Hamilton sets the stage for subsequent essays. He lays out his reasons for writing, describes the tactics opponents of ratification are likely to use (and engages in them himself!), and lists the topics to be addressed in subsequent papers.  (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 2
After trudging through Hamilton’s complicated prose, it was a pleasure and a relief to read Jay’s Federalist 2.  John Jay was the author of five of the Federalist Papers. Four are devoted to the need for a strong union and the danger of foreign influence. Illness prevented him from a greater contribution. That is unfortunate because his reasons are clear and so well stated that his essays require little if any elaboration.

Federalist No. 3
Federalist No. 3 is another one of John Jay’s contributions and is a continuation of his arguments for strong union.  His argument in this essay is that the stronger and more unified America is, the safer it will be.

Federalist No. 4
Federalist #4 emphasizes the advantages of a federal government, over separate colonial governments or regional confederations, to “provide for the common defense.” As is true of other Federalist Papers, Jay’s observations continue to be pertinent to the wise exercise of statecraft. ”If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit re-established, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment.”

Federalist No. 5
In Federalist No. 5, Jay continues to make the point that security could only be achieved and maintained through the Union.  He says that conflict would be the result of confederacies and that foreign nations would use that instability to their advantage.  Jay’s example of conflicting interests between the industrialized North and the agrarian South was a prescient warning of the conflict that would  rend the Union some 80 years after its founding.

Federalist No. 6
In Federalist No. 6, Hamilton picks up where Jay left off in 2 – 5. The difference in tone is immediately recognizable and the sentences grow ever longer as the essay progresses. Hamilton is also much more combative. He misses no opportunity to demonstrate his command of classical as well as European history, with some references that surely would have puzzled most of his readers.   (Associated WWTFT commentary)

Federalist No. 7
Hamilton again pursues the benefits of union and the dangers that would ensue from independent states or separate confederacies.   He repeats several of the arguments made in earlier Federalists, but augments them with examples. He seems especially attentive to altercations involving his own state of New York. Reading between the lines, appealing to parochial interests is good political strategy for winning approval of union. (Associated WWTFT commentary)

Federalist No. 8
National security is government’s most important duty, but for republics dedicated to the limitation of power it presents a special dilemma.  In Federalist 8 Hamilton depicts the likelihood of hostilities between separate states or confederacies and the consequent curtailment of liberty.   He contrasts the security requirements of the Union to those of independent bordering states or confederacies and the consequences sure to follow.

Federalist No. 9
The  Federalist No. 9 is a continuance of the argument for Union as the best means of combating factions and insurrections.  Hamilton once again shows his advanced education and uses the arguments of the opposition against them.  In particular, opponents of the proposed Constitution cited Montesquieu on the optimal size for a republic to function.  Hamilton takes apart their arguments by suggesting that they haven’t read far enough!  The reader is left to marvel at the extent of Hamilton’s knowledge and whether he read Montesquieu in the original French or as a translation – the quotations seem to indicate the latter, but Hamilton was fluent in French.

Federalist No. 10
Each of the Federalist Papers was an argument for ratification of the Constitution. Frequently the topic addressed was in rebuttal to something that those in opposition to ratification had already written about or in anticipation of an opposing argument yet to be heard. Federalist No. 10 addresses the issue of factions and whether a large republic is the best means of combating them.

Federalist No. 11
Hamilton returns to his favorite theme in Federalist No. 11, the importance of maintaining a strong Union. His arguments in this essay center around the benefits to commerce, protection against foreign manipulation, and the ability of a United States government to form and maintain a navy.

Federalist No. 12
Federalist No. 12 is another Hamilton argument for the importance of maintaining Union.  In this essay, he shows how a consolidated federal government would be more able to raise revenue than separate States or confederacies.  He approaches this first from a commerce perspective and then from a logistical standpoint.  Hamilton argues that consumption taxes on imports are the most effective form of taxation.  He then points out that the most effective implementation can only be achieved through union.

Federalist No. 13
Federalist No. 13 lays out the consequences of breaking up the Union in economic terms. Hamilton continues the arguments he made in Federalist No. 12, but this time, not from the basis of security, but from the waste that would be entailed by having separate governments for each of the the likely confederacies. Hamilton shows a deep understanding of the the status quo in the colonies when he lays out the the likely direction of disunion — into two confederacies, those of North and South.  Some of the talk had been of 3 or 4 distinct confederacies, but Hamilton implicitly called this out for what it was – a straw man argument.

Federalist No. 14
Federalist No. 14 was written by James Madison who does a masterful job of picking up where Hamilton left off in his defense of the Union.  The prose is a little clearer and, although it is subtle, the language a bit more flowery.  In this essay Madison addresses those who claim that such a large country cannot be governed by a republic.  Unlike Hamilton, Madison doesn’t even mention Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, which is the basis of their case.  Instead he methodically dismembers opponents’ arguments much as they would dismember the Union.

Federalist No. 15
In Federalist No. 15, Hamilton expresses concern that he may be perceived as belaboring a point about which no one seriously disagrees. However, he persists and contends that he still has more to say about why the Union needs to be retained. It’s almost as though someone complained to him about writing so many essays on the same topic. He appears defensive when he explains that there is nothing more important that can be discussed. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 16
Federalist No. 16 is the 2nd in a series of 6 essays on the inherent incapacity of the Confederation to hold the Union together.  In this paper, Hamilton argues for the power of the federal government to legislate directly rather than through the state legislatures. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 17
In this essay, Hamilton looks at the experience of other confederacies and addresses concerns that the proposed system would result in an overly powerful central government. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 18
Hamilton and Madison team up on this Federalist essay to provide a historical example of why confederacies are incapable of longevity and of providing security.  This essay demonstrates that the framers of the Constitution did not make it up out of whole cloth, but that the Constitution was the product of considerable study of previous attempts in history at self-governance.

Federalist No. 19
In Federalist No. 19, Madison and Hamilton provide another history lesson to their readers. While No. 18 focused on ancient Grecian republics, this essay deals with more contemporary examples, namely that of the Germanic states and the Swiss cantons.

Federalist No. 20
Federalist No. 20 is the last in a series of 6 essays on the “Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union.”  In this essay, Hamilton and Madison collaborate (you can tell by the writing) to show the struggles of a contemporary confederacy, that of the Netherlands.  According to Hamilton and Madison, despite its singularity, the United Netherlands were prone to the same problems which plagued the other confederacies covered in the preceding 5 essays.

Federalist No. 21
In Federalist 21, Hamilton covers three topics.  The government under the Articles of Confederation was incapable of enforcing its own laws, neither could it offer any protection to States against usurpation of local power by malignant factions.  Finally, advocates of a VAT tax might have a look at this Federalist essay.  Hamilton argues that the only way for the Federal government to function is to give it the right to collect taxes directly from the people, largely (but not exclusively) in the form of consumption taxes.  It is interesting to note that he does not preclude the collection of property taxes.

Federalist No. 22
In Federalist No. 22, Hamilton continues his arguments about the inadequacies of the government under the Articles of Confederation, explaining its many deficiencies in everything from commerce to a consistent system of laws.

Federalist No. 23
In Federalist 23, Hamilton turns his focus to the extent of the power to be delegated to the federal government by the new Constitution. He points out that the federal government is the obvious place for “NATIONAL INTERESTS” to be looked after. He argues that the authority wielded by the federal government has to match the responsibility it undertakes and that the Articles of Confederation provide an excellent example of what happens when they don’t.

Federalist No. 24
In this Federalist, Hamilton pillories those who criticize the Constitution because it does not possess sufficient safeguards against maintaining a standing army. Hamilton first attempts to show that this argument is specious, because this is not something that had been enough of a problem to even warrant a mention, in any of the state constitutions or the Articles of Confederation.  This done, he points out the necessity of maintaining frontier garrisons against the insults and encroachments of the British and Spanish, as well as for protection from the Indians; and coastal installations to protect dockyards, while the country is getting its new navy launched.

Federalist No. 25
In this Federalist Hamilton makes several arguments for the consolidation of the nation’s defense under the control of the federal government, rather than under the States.  The crux of this essay is an effort to show that the argument against a standing army is not only a straw man, but that being ill-prepared is irrational and dangerous. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 26
(Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 27
In this essay, Hamilton continues his arguments for an empowered federal government, positing that a highly engaged and active government (within the bounds of its enumerated powers), would be more likely to keep the peace and not have to resort to exercising its power in order to enforce order. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 28
In this essay, Hamilton continues his arguments for an empowered federal government. This time his argument revolves around the proposition that the dangers of federal forces are the same faced by governments of any size.  Furthermore, the people are better off if they can play the federal government off against the state governments, siding with one or the other to prevent usurpation by either. (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 29
Federalist 29 addresses arguments about the supremacy of the federal government in directing the State militias.  Hamilton attempts to refute the notion that the militia is the only avenue for enforcing law. He also rebuts the notion that a despot would choose a militia as a practical vehicle for achieving his aims.

Federalist No. 30
In Federalist 30, Hamilton argues for the power of direct taxation by the federal government, rather than the system of requisition from the States as under the Articles of Confederation.  (Associated WWTFT Commentary)

Federalist No. 31
This essay is the second in a series on the controversial issue of taxation. Hamilton continues his arguments for unlimited federal power to tax and tries to address the objections of those who fear usurpation and displacement of the State governments.

Federalist No. 32
In this federalist Hamilton continues to bolster his argument that vesting taxation power in the federal government is not just essential (as in previous essays), but poses no danger to the states. He takes the reader through some fairly complex arguments sprinkling in legal terms like repugnancy (inconsistency) and concepts like a negative pregnant. Whew!

Federalist No. 33
Hamilton defends two of the most talked about clauses in the Constitution.  His arguments revolve around logic and jurisdiction.  He isn’t sparing with his aspersions as he explains the intent of the framers.

Federalist No. 34
This is the fifth of seven federalist essays by Hamilton on the issue of taxation.  His arguments in this article pertain to how the power of taxation should be apportioned between the States and the federal government, why the convention chose to make this a shared power, and why the needs of the federal government dictate that it should, by rights, receive the lion’s share of revenue sources.

Federalist No. 35
In Federalist No 35, the sixth of seven essays on the topic of taxation, Hamilton argues that the federal government should not be limited to taxes on imports.  He also goes off on a bit of a tangent about who should be elected to the House of Representatives (the Constitution as proposed and first implemented, specified that the State legislatures were to appoint senators.)

Federalist No. 36
This is the last of seven essays on the issue of taxation.  Hamilton answers the objections of those opposed to the Constitution on the grounds that there will be double taxation, that the States and the federal government will be at odds with one another, and that because the government has the right to impose a poll tax it ought to be rejected.  Hamilton admits that he doesn’t like poll taxes, but nevertheless defends the right of the federal government to levy them.

Federalist No. 37
In Federalist No 37, Madison attempts to explain some of the difficulties faced by the convention.

Federalist No. 38
In this essay, Madison lays waste the arguments of the anti-Federalists. He uses powerful analogies to point out the inconsistent and incongruent logic used by those opposed to ratification. He explains that it might be one thing if the opponents of the proposed plan had a plan of their own and were in accord with one another. But they were not in agreement amongst themselves and some even denied the necessity of addressing the problems that nearly everyone saw as obvious.

Federalist No. 39
Federalist 39, like all the rest, is an argument for the plan of government put together by the Constitutional Convention. A majority of the states had to ratify the Constitution before it would go into effect, and there were a number of conservative patriots who thought the members of the Convention had exceeded their authority in scrapping the Articles of Confederation in favor of an entirely new system. The Federalist Papers were written to both combat those writing against its adoption, and also to explain the proposed system to the American people.

Federalist No. 40

Federalist No. 41

Federalist No. 42

Federalist No. 43

Federalist No. 45

Federalist No. 46

Federalist No. 47

Federalist No. 48

Federalist No. 49

Federalist No. 50

Federalist No. 51

Federalist No. 52

Federalist No. 53

Federalist No. 54

Federalist No. 55

Federalist No. 56

Federalist No. 57

Federalist No. 58

Federalist No. 59

Federalist No. 60

Federalist No. 61

Federalist No. 62

Federalist No. 63

Federalist No. 64

Federalist No. 65

Federalist No. 66

Federalist No. 67

Federalist No. 68

Federalist No. 69

Federalist No. 70

Federalist No. 71

Federalist No. 72

Federalist No. 73

Federalist No. 74

Federalist No. 75

Federalist No. 76

Federalist No. 77

Federalist No. 78
No. 78 was written by Alexander Hamilton to explain and justify the structure and role of the federal judiciary.  In it he argues for lifetime tenure for federal judges based on good behavior.  He also establishes importance of an independent judiciary and the precedence of the Constitution over statutory law.

Federalist No. 79
Federalist No. 79, by Alexander Hamilton, is the second of five essays about the structure and role of the judicial branch.  In this one, Hamilton outlines how judges should be paid under the new government.  He asserts, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will, a profound and realistic observation with application beyond the judiciary.  He also discusses the provision for judges removal from office which includes the somewhat confusing concept of “good behavior.”  Wikipedia provides a good discussion of this idea, which is derived from English judicial tradition.

Federalist No. 80
Federalist 80 seems an especially tedious example of Hamiltonian prose. It is not as difficult to understand as some but, at least to this reader, appears unduly repetitive. Whatever the merits (or demerits of Hamilton’s organization) one power of the federal judiciary, the establishment of equity courts, may require more elaboration.

Federalist No. 81
Federalist No. 81 is the fourth in a series of six essays written by Alexander Hamilton discussing the powers and limitations of the judicial branch (see also 787980).   In this paper Hamilton addresses concerns about the separate nature of the Supreme Court and suggestions that trial by jury might be abolished in cases referred to it.   He also explains which types of cases may be taken up by the Supreme Court in original jurisdiction and that, for the most part, the high court is an appellate court.  It is written almost entirely as a rebuttal to Brutus’ anti-Federalist paper on the power of the judiciary.  (Unlike Hamilton’s writing, Brutus’ paper is much easier to read!)

Federalist No. 82
Reading Federalist 82 and the other Papers (78798081, 83) devoted to the organization and workings of the judiciary system, we are reminded that the system did not just arrive fully formed like Botticelli’s Venus on the half shell.  It was the object of  debates just as contentious as those that take place today. We are privileged to view the debates in the light of over 200 years of judicial history and apply the wisdom of hind sight to the premises and conclusions set forth by the antagonists. We can also consider whether their reasoning was flawed or whether their expectations exceeded the capabilities of the generations who followed.

Federalist No. 83
Federalist 83 singles out opposition to the new Constitution due to the lack of a clause requiring jury trials in civil cases.  It is the final paper on the judiciary and the longest of the Federalist essays.  In fact, Hamilton seems to go on interminably, well after having refuted anti-federalists’ objections.

Federalist No. 84

Federalist No. 85