What were the Federalist Papers?

Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father
Alexander Hamilton. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-48272

Question: What were the Federalist Papers?

Answer: The proponents for the US Constitution were known as Federalists. Chief among them were James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. In order to try and win ratification for the new Constitution from the state of New York, they wrote a series of essays all signed Publius that argued their position. These were published over time in the newspaper.

The 85 articles are now known as the Federalist Papers.

One of the most significant papers is Federalist No. 10. It is often cited as a supreme example of American political writing. Madison was the author of this particular paper. In this paper, Madison was arguing against the idea that a large central government would be prone to trample on the rights of minorities. Instead, he argued that the smaller sizes of the states would mean less numbers of minorities and therefore it would be easier for the 'tyranny of the majority' to take place. Instead, a larger Republic where the natural rights are protected as he stated they were in the Constitution, would mean more protection for minorities. 

Another famous paper, also written by Madison, was Federalist No. 51. This Paper discusses the importance of the separation of powers and the checks and balances that are in place. In the Constitution, each branch has the ability to check the power of every other branch.

For example, the President can veto legislation. Congress and override the veto with 2/3 majority. The Supreme Court can rule legislation unconstitutional. By setting up these checks and balances, the Constitution is ensuring that controls are in place over the government. As he said in this Paper, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

In the end, the Federalist Papers helped lead New York towards ratification of the Constitution. In order for the Constitution to be accepted, nine out of the thirteen states needed to ratify the Constitution. Delaware was the first state to ratify. The ninth state was New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790. The US had already been operating under the Constitution for a year at that point.


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