The Federalist Papers and FederalismThe Federalist Papers were mostly the product of two young men:Alexander Hamilton of New York, age 32, and James Madison of Virginia, age 36.Both men sometimes wrote four papers in a single week. An older scholar, JohnJay, later named as first chief justice of the Supreme Court, wrote five of thepapers.
Hamilton, who had been an aide to Washington during the Revolution,asked Madison and Jay to help him in this project. Their purpose was topersuade the New York convention to ratify the just-drafted Constitution. Theywould separately write a series of letters to New York newspapers, under thepseudonym, “Publius.” In the letters they would explain and defend theConstitution.Hamilton started the idea and outlined the sequence of topics to bediscussed, and addressed most of them in fifty-one of the letters. Madison’sTwenty-nine letters have proved to be the most memorable in their balance andideas of governmental power.
It is not clear whether The Federalist Papers,written between October 1787 and May 1788 had any effect on New York’s andVirginia’s ratification of the Constitution.Encyclopedia Britannica defines Federalism as, “A mode of politicalorganization that unites independent states within a larger political frameworkwhile still allowing each state to maintain it’s own political integrity” (712).Having just won a revolution against an oppressive monarchy, the Americancolonists were in willing to replace it with another monarchy style ofgovernment. On the other hand, their experience with the disorganization underthe Articles of Confederation, due to unfair competition between the individualstates, made them a little more receptive to an increase in national powers. Anumber of Federalist Papers argued that a new kind of balance, never achievedelsewhere was possible. The Papers were themselves a balance or compromisebetween the nationalist ideas of Hamilton, who wrote more for the commercialinterests of New York, and the uneasiness of Madison, who shared the skepticismof distant authority widely held by Virginia farmers.In American Government and Politics Today, Madison proposed that,instead of the absolute sovereignty of each state under the Articles ofConfederation. The states would retain a residual sovereignty in all areaswhich did not require national concern.
The very process of ratification of theConstitution, he argued, symbolized the concept of federalism (77). He said:This assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not asindividuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct andindividual States to which they respectively belong… The act, therefore,establishing the Constitution, will not be a national but a federal act (qtd inAmerican 85).The Federalist Papers also provide the first specific mention we have ofthe idea of checks and balances as a way of restricting governmental power andpreventing its abuse. Both Hamilton and Madison regarded this as the mostpowerful form of government.
As conceived, popularly elected House ofRepresentatives would be checked and balanced by a more conservative Senatepicked by state legislatures. (in 1913 the 17th Amendment changed this to thepopular election of senators). Hamilton observed in letter number 78 that, “Ademocratic assembly is to be checked by a democratic senate and both these by ademocratic chief magistrate” (318).In what many historians agree is his most brilliant essay, number 78.Hamilton defended the Supreme Court’s right to rule upon the constitutionalityof laws passed by national or state legislatures. This historically crucialpower of judicial review, he argued, was an appropriate check on thelegislature, “The pestilential breath of faction may poison the fountains ofjustice” (317). Hamilton rejected the British system of allowing the Parliamentto override by majority vote any court decision it finds to its dislike.
“Thecourts of justice are to be considered the bulwarks of a limited Constitutionagainst legislative encroachments” (318). Only the difficult process ofamending the Constitution or the gradual transformation of its members toanother viewpoint, could reverse the Supreme Court’s interpretation of thatdocument.In the most original of The Federalist Papers, Number 10.Madisonaddressed this double challenge. His main concern was the need, “To break andcontrol the violence of faction” (36).
Meaning political parties. He regardedpolitical party’s as the greatest danger to popular government. Madison wrote:I understand a number of citizens.
.. are united and actuated by somecommon impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of othercitizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. Thesepassions or interests that endanger the rights of others may be religious orpolitical or, most often, economic.
Factions may divide along lines of haves andhave-nots, creditors and debtors, or according to the kinds of propertypossessed. (37)The idea of separating powers among the various branches of governmentto avoid the corruption of concentrated power, falls under larger category ofchecks and balances. But The Federalist Papers see another virtue in theseparation of powers, namely, an increase in governmental efficiency andeffectiveness. By being limited to certain functions, the different branches ofgovernment become good at doing a few things rather than doing all of the things.The observations in The Federalist Papers about government, society andpolitics are not easy to locate.
Many of these papers sound old in there ideas.However, The Federalist Papers remain essential to anyone interested in theconstant questions of political theory and the ideas raised by Hamilton, Madisonand Jay. Joseph Sobran, a syndicated columnist, summed up federalism with oneprofound sentence.
“The federal government was supposed to be kept on a shortleash, lest it claim powers never given to it” (1).Works Cited”Federalism.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
1994: 712.Schmidt, Steffen, Mack C. Shelly II, Barbara A. Bardes.
American Government andPolitics Today. New York: west publishing, 1995-1996 ed.Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Paper 78.” Feder16.txt.Http://instructors.datatech.
com/buisness/xx733.html. 317-319.Madison, James. “Federalist Paper 10.
” Feder16.zip.Http://instructors.datatech.com/buisness/xx733.html. 36-39.
Sobran, Joseph. “Founding fathers thought the federal government should be kepton a short leash.” Http://emanon.net/vroberts/sobran.html.History