The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 1

Summary:

Alexander Hamilton begins this brilliant discourse on the Constitution of the United States of America by asking his readers to consider a new Constitution because they have experienced the inefficiencies of the present form of government. He pronounces that the people are in a unique position to answer the most important political question of all: ­ "whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice." If the people are up to the challenge, their actions will have great worldwide significance.

He proceeds to show that many people will oppose the Constitution for a variety of reasons, especially if they benefit from the current form of government. Hamilton, however, is not going to address the motives of those who oppose the Constitution; rather, his intent is to make arguments that are for the Constitution. He addresses people questioning his willingness to listen to other arguments because he has already made up his mind to support the Constitution. However, he admits that, while his motives for urging ratification of the Constitution are personal, his arguments are open.

Finally, he outlines the specific issues that he will address in the Federalist Papers, namely, political prosperity and the Constitution; the inadequacy of the present government to preserve the union; the necessity of a strong and energetic government; the Constitution and its relationship to republican principles of government; the similarity of the proposed Constitution to the New York state constitution; and the protection of liberty and property under the proposed government. In addition, he is also attempting to effectively answer serious arguments brought against ratification.

Hamilton concludes the first section of the Federalist Papers by telling the people that it might seem unnecessary to plead for a strong Union, but the country is too large to establish a national system of government. In the end, however, the last question is whether the people adopt the Constitution or whether they will see the end of a united government.

Analysis:

Before beginning a more general analysis of Alexander Hamilton's remarks, it is necessary to provide the background of the political theory of educated men in the United States. First, most educated men, especially those who were at the heart of governing the new country, were extremely familiar with the republics of Ancient Greece and Rome (for example, see John Adam's book Defense of the Constitution, published at the same time as The Federalist Papers). From this background, the primary fear was that while a republican government was desirable in order to defend liberty, it was not possible over a large geographic area, such as the United States, because it had never been accomplished before. Rather, this problem had always been the downfall of republics (for instance, the fall of the Roman Empire). The other major pitfall of republics had been class war, something that the Founding Fathers had seen in the recent Shay's Rebellion.

More specifically regarding the text, the introduction to the Federalist Papers contains the outline of Hamilton's "argument," the basic points that he wishes to discuss for ratifying the new Constitution. He also explains his motives and those of his cohorts, explaining that this will not be a debate between two sides of the argument, but rather a coherent examination of the strengths of and necessity for the new Constitution. In this article, therefore, the most important part is the outline Hamilton provides, enabling the reader to classify the remaining 84 papers with ease.

It is also interesting to note that the "world-wide" fame that Hamilton speaks of in this essay occurred, just as the Founding Father predicted. The United States Constitution that Hamilton defended has become one of the most copied and admired documents in the history of civilization. Indeed, the Federalist itself was published in Spanish in 1811 by the Venezualan Manuel Garcia de Sana, along with copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In addition, the Federalist influenced movements in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and in Europe. Not only did Hamilton's predictions come true, but his very words were influential far beyond the original thirteen colonies.

In summation, after reading Federalist 1, Hamilton, perhaps more than any of the founders, believed in the future greatness of America; he believed that this nation could be one of power and strength, that such power and strength, far from corrupting the nation's purpose or the rights of individuals, alone could bring to realization the former and protect the latter. The very use of the word "empire" in this paper is very telling. Characteristically, he looks ahead; he "dips into the future' and sees the Untied States as a world power. While this might not seem odd to the modern reader, in 1788 America was extremely vulnerable to European conquest and domination, not vice versa. His vision for America is even more remarkable under these circumstances.