The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary

>The Federalist Papers is a treatise on free government in peace and security. It is an outstanding American contribution to the literature on constitutional democracy and federalism, and it is widely considered to be a classic of Western political thought. It is, by far, the most authoritative text concerning the interpretation of the American Constitution and an insight into the framers' intent.

Although Hamilton carefully outlined the contents of The Federalist Papers at the end of the first essay, in reality, he strayed a bit from his original proposition. In the end, the work of (primarily) Madison and Hamilton can be divided into two main parts. The first discusses the defects of the present government, the Articles of Confederation. The second discusses the new Constitution's components: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

The Federalist Papers was written in order to secure the ratification of a constitution providing for a more perfect union. Throughout the papers, the idea of that more perfect union occupies center stage. At first glance, this might appear to be the primary purpose of the papers, but The Federalist Papers are concerned with much more than that. "Union" and the "safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed" are depicted as inseparable, and the Union appears as a means to achieve the safety and welfare of its parts. In general, then, The Federalist Papers discusses federalism as a means to achieve free government in peace and security.

The Federalist Papers deals with not only the practical but also the theoretical, something that distinguishes this from other works. In a letter to his nephew, Thomas Mann Randolph, Thomas Jefferson distinguished The Federalist Papers from the theoretical writings of Locke when he wrote, after discussing Locke's philosophy: "Descending from theory to practice, there can be no better book than The Federalist." The authors, however, never considered their work to be a mere treatise on governmental practice. In their essays, they often draw a distinction between theory and practice: "Theoretical reasoning must be qualified by the lessons of practice," Madison writes, and he also states that the Philadelphia Convention "must have been compelled to sacrifice theoretical prosperity to the force of extraneous consideration."

Five basic themes can be discerned from the words of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay: federalism, checks and balances, separated powers, pluralism, and representation. Although the papers deal with different parts of the government, as noted above, these themes are fairly consistent throughout the collection. Much has been written concerning the sometimes dissonant nature of The Federalist Papers because they were written by multiple authors in a short amount of time. It is true that Madison later became the great states' rights defender while Hamilton was his principal opponent, but for the most part, these essays are collectively coherent, showing all sides of the proposed Constitution.