The American Revolution was a product and a symbol of the Age of Reason, a period in which Western philosophical and political thought focused on the so-called rights of man. For the Americans, however, winning their freedom on the battlefield brought the even more complex task of using that freedom to unite thirteen former colonies under a legitimate form of government that would open the road for a new nation with new political goals. While the war brought about a necessary unity among the new states, it also hid a number of disagreements that flared up once the hostilities ended.
The Continental Congress that convened in November of 1777 adopted the Articles of Confederation, codifying a government for the thirteen states. This first attempt at a government proved insufficient, however. It embodied a mode of separatism that prevented the states from taking advantage of their geography, their natural resources, or their growth in population—or from satisfying their need for security. The states needed to be molded into a cohesive and loyal nation. Realizing that the Articles of Confederation created a national government that lacked the authority the new nation needed, the Congress appointed a Constitutional Convention to create a new document that would be the basis of a new government. When the Congress received the completed Constitution on September 20, 1787, another kind of battle was engaged, this one between the Federalists, who favored the Constitution as it was written, and the Anti-Federalists, who thought the document provided for an overly strong central government. This battle virtually consumed the states during the following year, as each side struggled to get the votes of nine states needed for victory.
Heavily involved in this struggle were three of the younger Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton, thirty years old; James Madison, thirty-six years old; and John Jay, forty-two years old. Because the Federalists in his home state of New York were facing an uphill battle, Hamilton convinced Madison and Jay to join him in carrying out a propagandistic strategy to support the new Constitution. Central to this strategy was a series of papers signed by the pseudonym Publius. Eventually numbering eighty-five in all, these papers first appeared in New York newspapers. In 1788, they were published in book form, titled The Federalist. In later years, the collection became known as The Federalist Papers. Although there is some question regarding the specific writer of a few of the papers, it is generally believed that Hamilton wrote fifty-two, Madison wrote twenty-eight, and Jay wrote five.
The first paper, written by Hamilton and appearing on October 27, 1787, sets the tone for the papers to come. Strongly supporting the new Constitution, it clearly lays out the basic problems of the new nation. Noting that politicians in their self-aggrandizement often make difficult situations even more difficult, Hamilton pleads for moderation to guard against narrow-minded bigotry and distrust. He warns, too, against letting zeal for the rights of the common people work against a firm and efficient central government.
In the ensuing days, Jay followed Hamilton, writing four of the five papers he was to contribute to The Federalist. In these contributions, Jay celebrates the necessity of a unified government and notes that the thirteen states’ economic and political strengths lie in their abilities to bring together abundant natural resources and geographic blessings under a unified government. He also underscores the necessity for the new nation to achieve security, a...
(The entire section is 1487 words.)