The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 85


In this concluding Federalist Paper, Hamilton begins by telling his readers that he will not discuss the remaining two points in his outline, "the analogy of the proposed governments to the states," and "the additional security which this adoption will afford to republican government, to liberty, and to property," because he has already said all that he has to about these subjects.

He continues that the Constitution has much in similar to the New York state government, especially in consideration of its defects, including the ability of the president to be reelected, "the want of a council, the omission of a formal bill of rights, and the omission of a provision respecting the liberty of the press." It is ironic that the strongest opponents of the Constitution say that they are happy with the laws of their state, especially because its Constitution contains the same vulnerabilities.

Hamilton proceeds to ask the rhetorical question of whether or not the Constitution has been vindicated from the critic's attacks. Although each man must ask this for himself, Hamilton believes that this duty must be taken extremely seriously, because there will be no excuse for the wrong decision, a vote that has grave consequences for the future of the nation. He heeds the individual man to remember not only the magnitude of the decision, but also the fact that the majority of the nation has already approved the Constitution.

Continuing, Hamilton admits, "Concessions on the part of the friends of the plan, that it has not a claim to absolute perfection, have afforded matter of no small triumph." They ask why they should not make the Constitution perfect before it is adopted. Hamilton answers this critique by claiming that no one can be found who does not believe that the "system is good," and that delay is useless and will only prolong the precarious situation of the nation. In addition, Hamilton contends "I never hope to see a perfect work for imperfect men." It is improbable to have another convention, but Hamilton believes that the subject of amendments has yet to be considered in The Federalist Papers. Hamilton believes that future amendments will be much easier to obtain than changing the Constitution. Amendments, unlike the Constitution itself, will be easier to pass because no compromise or negotiation will be necessary because it will be a singular proposition and not a whole document, like the Constitution.

Hamilton concludes by quoting David Hume, "to balance a large state or society, whether monarchial or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must united in the work; experience must guide their labor; time must bring it to perfection, and the feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into their first trials and experiments." Hamilton concludes strongly, saying, "a country without a national government is, in my view, an awful spectacle." On the other hand, a Constitution, established by the people, "is a prodigy," something that he looks forward to with "trembling anxiety." He dreads the consequences of new attempts because men and states are enemies to national governments in every state.


The Constitution is, on the one hand, lauded by the authors for providing for amendments. On the other hand, it is praised for making the amending process a rather rigid one. In the last number of the Federalist, Hamilton notes that the Constitution, once it is adopted, can be amended. He stressed that, whereas the ratification of the Constitution requires the assent of all the states, subsequent amendments would require only the consent of three-fourths of the members of the Union, happily concluding that there can be "no comparison between the facility of affecting an amendment, and that of establishing in the first instance a complete Constitution." Answering the argument that the national government might prevent amendments, the New Yorker emphasizes that "the intrinsic difficulty of governing thirteen States . . .will. .. constantly impose on the national rulers the necessity of a spirit of accommodation to the reasonable expectations of their constituents." Whenever two-thirds of the states concur, Congress will be obliged to call a convention for proposing amendments, which shall be valid when ratified by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states or by conventions of 3/4 thereof. Although it may be difficult to muster the required majority for amendments that merely affect local interests, there can be no doubt that the situation would be different in the case of amendments concerning "the general liberty and security of the people." Hamilton concludes by saying that Americans may, as far as their rights are concerned, "safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national government."

While expressing satisfaction about the possibility of change, consider the provisions concerning amendment as a bulwark for the preservation of fundamental values that are deemed necessary for a free government, name, the rights of the states, and the freedom of the individual. It appears that in their discussions, states' rights stand in the foreground. Hamilton discusses them at great length, and Madison mentions nothing but states' rights. However, this should not blind us to the fact that to both authors the preservation of those rights also amounts to a preservation of individual freedom. We know that Madison, in his essays, conceives of the states as playing an important role in the protection of the individual. Therefore, when he praises the Constitution for perpetuating the 'residuary sovereignty' of the states, he need not, in so many words, stress the relevance of that sovereignty for the protection of the freedom of the individual, because that relevance is implicit. On the other hand, Hamilton, who in the Federalist pronounces a doctrine of happiness through national power, has to put greater emphasis on the importance of the states for the protection of individual's rights. Consequently, when remarking on the amending process, he expressly relates the states to "the general liberty and security of the people." We may thus say that the Federalist , in commenting on amendments, points to the usefulness of the amending process to the preservation of the freedom and the individual.

In conclusion, the Federalist does not give a precise answer as to the nature of the union. With respect to the establishment of the new system, Madison states in so many words that the constituents' act is a contract between the sovereign states. Still, when he refers to those who ratify the Constitution as "the American people," he creates doubts as to whether in substance, ratification might not be an expression of the will of the nation, in spite of the fact that in form it would definitely be an act of the people of the various states. Hamilton's statements seem to be even more ambiguous. Strangely enough, the prophet of the nationalists does not even use the term "the American people" in his comments on ratification. When he writes that the people will ratify the Constitution, he -­ unlike Madison ­- refrains from saying whether he means the people of the states or the nation, a peculiar omission from an advocate of the nationalist doctrine. If the author's comments on the substance of the Constitution are considered, a similar ambiguity as to the nature of the Union is apparent.

This ambiguity makes the Federalist a genuine equivalent of the Constitution it interprets. In Philadelphia, Madison stated that the Convention was not confronted with "two extremes," namely, " a perfect separation and a perfect incorporation of the thirteen States." The same can be said of the authors of the Federalist. In this work Hamilton, who appears definitely as the greater nationalist, declares himself to be as little in favor of a perfect incorporation of the thirteen states as Madison, the champion of states' rights, is of a perfect separation of the states. The Constitution being a "bundle of compromises," it seems only natural if its classic commentary, the Federalist, refrains from committing itself on the nature of that law's greatest compromise, the Union. In the last number of the Federalist there can be found a reaffirmation of the idea that the Constitution is a compromise and that there is no clear-cut answer to the nature of the Union it establishes. As if he wanted to assure both the nationalists and the advocates of states' rights alike that the Constitution and its Union offered some common ground for them to meet, Hamilton states that "the compacts which are to embrace thirteen distinct States in a common bond of amity and union, must as necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests and inclinations. How can perfection spring from such materials?" Thus the man who, throughout his essays, had given a highly nationalistic version of the Constitution, in the end not only admits that the more perfect Union would come into existence through a compact, but even goes so far as to say that it would be created through a whole number of compacts --­ a clear concession to the states' rights concept of a contract theory of the nature of the Union!