Selected Federalist Papers

Selected Federalist Papers

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Brilliant essays comprising a masterful exposition and defense of the proposed federal system of government and of the Constitution's carefully architected system of checks and balances. This volume contains 35 of the most famous and important pieces, concerning impeachment, dangers from foreign arms and influence, the need for a power of taxation, freedom of the press and the inadvisability of a bill of rights, the three-fifths rule for counting slaves, and much else.

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ISBN-13: 9780486112374
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 04/13/2012
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 1 MB

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Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11237-4



Introduction: The Union and Its New Constitution (October 27, 1787)

"Happy Will It Be If Our Choice Should Be Directed by a Judicious Estimate of Our True Interests"

To the People of the State of New York:

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, 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. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovate upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favourable to the discovery of truth.

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandise themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

It is not, however, my design to dwell upon observations of this nature. I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candour will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable—the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterised political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. 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. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatised as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice, the_stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigour 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 forbidding 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.

In the course of the preceding observations, I have had an eye, my fellow-citizens, to putting you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision, in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth. You will, no doubt, at the same time, have collected from the general scope of them, that they proceed from a source not unfriendly to the new 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.

I propose, in a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting particulars:–The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity—The insufficiency of the present Confederation. to preserve that Union—The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the attainment of this object—The conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government—Its analogy to your own State constitution– and lastly, The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.

In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavour to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention.

It may perhaps be thought superfluous to offer arguments to prove the utility of the UNION, a point, no doubt, deeply engraved on the hearts of the great body of the people in every State, and one which, it may be imagined, has no adversaries. But the fact is, that we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new Constitution, that the thirteen States are of too great extent for any general system, and that we must of necessity resort to separate confederacies of distinct portions of the whole. This doctrine will, in all probability, be gradually propagated, till it has votaries enough to countenance an open avowal of it. For nothing can be more evident, to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject, than the alternative of an adoption of the new Constitution or a dismemberment of the Union. It will therefore be of use to begin by examining the advantages of that Union, the certain evils, and the probable dangers, to which every State will be exposed from its dissolution. This shall accordingly constitute the subject of my next address.




Dangers from Foreign Arms and Influence (November 3, 1787)

"The Union Tends Most to Preserve the People in a State of Peace with Other Nations"

To the People of the State of New York:

It is not a new observation that the people of any country (if, like the Americans, intelligent and well-informed) seldom adopt and steadily persevere for many years in an erroneous opinion respecting their interests. That consideration naturally tends to create great respect for the high opinion which the people of America have so long and uniformly entertained of the importance of their continuing firmly united under one federal government, vested with sufficient powers for all general and national purposes.

The more attentively I consider and investigate the reasons which appear to have given birth to this opinion, the more I become convinced that they are cogent and conclusive.

Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first. The safety of the people doubtless has relation to a great variety of circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively.

At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well as against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes. As the former of these comes first in order, it is proper it should be the first discussed. Let us therefore proceed to examine whether the people are not right in their opinion that a cordial Union, under an efficient national government, affords them the best security that can be devised against hostilities from abroad.

The number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether real or pretended, which provoke or invite them. If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire whether so many just causes of war are likely to be given by United America as by disunited America; for if it should turn out that United America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations.

The just causes of war, for the most part, arise either from violations of treaties or from direct violence. America has already formed treaties with no less than six foreign nations, and all of them, except Prussia, are maritime, and therefore able to annoy and injure us. She has also extensive commerce with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and, with respect to the two latter, has, in addition, the circumstance of neighbourhood to attend to.

It is of high importance to the peace of America that she observe the laws of nations towards all these powers, and to me it appears evident that this will be more perfectly and punctually done by one national government than it could be either by thirteen separate States or by three or four distinct confederacies.

Because when once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it; for, although town or country, or other contracted influence, may place men in State assemblies, or senates, or courts of justice, or executive departments, yet more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government—especially as it will have the widest field for choice, and never experience that want of proper persons which is not uncommon in some of the States. Hence, it will result that the administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national government will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more safe with respect to us.

Because, under the national government, treaties and articles of treaties, as well as the laws of nations, will always be expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner—whereas adjudications on the same points and questions, in thirteen States, or in three or four confederacies, will not always accord or be consistent; and that, as well from the variety of independent courts and judges appointed by different and independent governments, as from the different local laws and interests which may affect and influence them. The wisdom of the convention, in committing such questions to the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by and responsible only to one national government, cannot be too much commended.

Because the prospect of present loss or advantage may often tempt the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice; but those temptations, not reaching the other States, and consequently having little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved. The case of the treaty of peace with Britain adds great weight to this reasoning.

Because, even if the governing party in a State should be disposed to resist such temptations, yet, as such temptations may, and commonly do, result from circumstances peculiar to the State, and may affect a great number of the inhabitants, the governing party may not always be able, if willing, to prevent the injustice mediated, or to punish the aggressors. But the national government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be induced to commit the wrong themselves, nor want power or inclination to prevent or punish its commission by others.

So far, therefore, as either designed or accidental violations of treaties and the laws of nations afford just causes of war, they are less to be apprehended under one general government than under several lesser ones, and in that respect the former most favours the safety of the people.

As to those just causes of war which proceed from direct and unlawful violence, it appears equally clear to me that one good national government affords vastly more security against dangers of that sort than can be derived from any other quarter.

Because such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than of the whole; of one or two States than of the Union. Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of the present federal government, feeble as it is; but there are several instances of Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual States, who, either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offences, have given occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.

The neighbourhood of Spanish and British territories, bordering on some States and not on others, naturally confines the causes of quarrel more immediately to the borderers. The bordering States, if any, will be those who, under the impulse of sudden irritation, and a quick sense of apparent interest or injury, will be most likely, by direct violence, to excite war with these nations; and nothing can so effectually, obviate that danger as a national government, whose wisdom and prudence will not be diminished by the passions which actuate the parties immediately interested.


Excerpted from SELECTED FEDERALIST PAPERS by ALEXANDER HAMILTON, JAMES MADISON, JOHN JAY, Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents

1 "HAMILTON, Introduction: The Union and It's New Constitution: "Happy Will It Be If Our Choice Should Be Directed by a Judicious Estimate of Our True Interests" (October 27, 1787)"
3 "JAY, Dangers from Foreign Arms and Influence: "The Union Tends Most to Preserve the People in a State of Peace with Other Nations" (November 3, 1787)"
5 "JAY, Dangers from Foreign Arms and Influence, Continued: "Let Us Not Forget How Much More Easy It Is to Receive Foreign Fleets into Our Ports, and Foreign Armies into Our Country, Than It Is to Persuade or Compel Them to Depart" (November 10, 1787)"
7 "HAMILTON, Dangers from War between the States: "What Inducements Could the States Have, If Disunited, to Make War upon Each Other?" (November 17,1787)"
8 "HAMILTON, The Consequences of Hostilities between the States: "The Populous States Would, with Little Difficulty, Overrun Their Less Populous Neighbors" (November 20,1787)"
10 "MADISON, The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection: "A Body of Men Are Unfit to Be Both Judges and Parties at the Same Time" (November 22, 1787)"
11 HAMILTON, The Utility of the Union in Respect to Commercial Relations and Navy: "Under a Vigorous National Government, the Natural Strength and Resources of the Country, Directed to a Common Interest, Would Baffle All the Combinations of European Jealousy to Restrain Our Growth: (November 24, 1787)
13 "HAMILTON, Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government: "Separation Would Be Not Less Injurious to the Economy Than to the Tranquillity, Commerce, Revenue, and Liberty of Every Part" (November 28, 1787)"
15 "HAMILTON, The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union: "The Passions of Men Will Not Conform to the Dictates of Reason and Justice without Constraint" (December 1, 1787)"
16 "HAMILTON, The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation Continued: "When the Sword Is Once Drawn, the Passions of Men Observe No Bounds of Moderation" (December 4, 1787)"
21 "HAMILTON, Defects of the Present Confederation: "The United States Afford the Extraordinary Spectacle of a Government Destitute Even of the Shadow of Constitutional Power to Enforce Execution of Its Own Laws" (December 12, 1787)"
22 "HAMILTON, Other Defects of the Confederation: "Laws Are a Dead Letter without Courts to Expound and Define Their True Meaning and Operation" (December 14, 1787)"
31 "HAMILTON, The General Power of Taxation: "The Federal Government Must of Necessity Be Invested with and Unqualified Power of Taxation" (January 11, 1788)"
37 "MADISON, The Difficutlies of the Constitutional Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government: "A Faultless Plan Was Not te Be Expected" (January 11, 1788)"
38 "MADISON, The Incoherence of the Objections to the Constitution Exposed: "Are Any Two of Them Agreed in Their Objections to the Remedy Proposed, Or in the Proper One to Be Substituted?" (January 15, 1788)"
39 "MADISON, The Proposed Constitution a Composition of Both National and Federal: "It Is Essential to Such a Government That It Be Derived from the Great Body of the Society" (January 16, 1788)"
40 "MADISON, The Powers of the Convention to Form a Mixed Government: "A Constitution Which Is to Be of No More Consequence Than the Paper on Which It Is Written, Unless It Be Stamped with the Approbation of Those to Whom It is Addressed" (January 18, 1788)"
41 "MADISON, General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution: "The Choice Must Always Be Made, If Not of the Lesser Evil, at Least of Greater, Not the Perfect Good" (January 19, 1788)"
42 "MADISON, General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution, Continued: "It Were Doubtless to Be Wished That the Power of Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves Had Not Been Postponed" (January 22, 1788)"
43 "MADISON, General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution, Continued: "Is It True That Force and Right Are Necessarily on the Same Side in Republican Government?" (January 22, 1788)"
51 "MADISON, The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances between the Different Departments: "If Men Were Angels, No Government Would Be Necessary" (February 6, 1788"
53 "MADISON, On the House of Representatives: "The Period within Which Human Virtue Can Bear the Temptations of Power" (February 9, 1788)"
54 "MADISON, The Rule of Three-Fifths: "Let the Case of the Slaves Be Considered" (February 12, 1788)"
57 "MADISON, The Alleged Tendency of the New Constitution to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many: "Who Are to Be the Electors of the Federal Representatives?" (February 19, 1788)"
62 "MADISON, On the Senate: "The Equal Vote Allowed to Each State Is a Constitutional Recognition of the Portion of Sovereignty Remaining in the Individual States" (February 27, 1788)"
65 "HAMILTON, On Impeachments: "The Awful Discretion to Doom to Honor or to Infamy the most Distinguished Characters of the Community Forbids the Commitment of Trust to a Small Number of Persons" (March 7, 1788)"
68 "HAMILTON, On the Electoral College: "The People of Each State Shall Choose a Number of Persons as Electors" (March 12, 1788)"
69 "HAMILTON, The President Compared to the King of England and the Governor of New York: "The Executive Authority Is to Be Vested in a Single Magistrate" (March 14, 1788)"
70 "HAMILTON, On the President: "A Feeble Executive Implies a Feeble Execution of the Government" (March 15, 1788)"
74 "HAMILTON, On the Pardoning Power of the President: One Man Appears to Be a More Eligible Dispenser of the Mercy of Government Than a Body of Men" (Marcy 25, 1788)"
78 "HAMILTON, On the Judiciary Department: "It Belongs to the Judges to Ascertain the Constitution's Meaning As Well As the Meaning of Any Particular Act Proceeding from the Legislative Body" (May 28, 1788)"
80 "HAMILTON, On the Powers of the Judiciary: "It Will Be Necessary to Consider What Are Its Proper Objects" (May 28, 1788)"
81 "HAMILTON, On the Powers of the Judiciary, Continued: "Wherever There Is an Evident Opposition, the Laws Ought to Give Place to the Constitution" (May 28, 1788)"
84 "HAMILTON, On a Bill of Rights and Freedom of the Press: "Bills of Rights Are Not Only Unnecessary in the Proposed Constitution, But Would Even Be Dangerous" (May 28, 1788)"
85 "HAMILTON, Concluding Remarks: "Whether the Constitution Has Not Been Shown to Be Worthy of the Public Approbation" (May 28, 1788)"

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