(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The authors of The Federalist, who used the pseudonym Publius, based on Greek biographer Plutarch’s account of the Roman politician Publius Valerius Publicola, provided a critical exposition of the Constitution immediately after it was written in eighty-five essays originally published serially in a newspaper and later in book form. The Federalist played a crucial role in the struggle to ratify the Constitution, especially in the vital swing state of New York, and it provided a good argument that the governance problems that the United States experienced under the Articles of Confederation were too severe to be remedied by patchwork alterations by 1787. Although the more limited Annapolis Convention of 1786 had only recommended revisions to the articles after examining the political situation, propertied, informed individuals sought more drastic change. Therefore, in 1787, a Constitutional Convention was called in Philadelphia with the stated goal of salvaging the Articles of Confederation, and it produced an entirely new document, creating a strong central government and allowing it to act directly on individuals, which the Confederation government never had the authority to do.

Both Hamilton and Madison, convention delegates, defended a work they had participated in writing from charges of usurpation of power. For more than two centuries, The Federalist has commanded respect as an outstanding work of U.S. political theory and been cited by lawyers seeking to interpret the Constitution.