Constitutional Law

History of the Constitution

What were the Federalist Papers and what was their importance?

The Federalist Papers were a series of essays that galvanized much popular support for the Constitution during the ratification struggle. In the most populous states of New York and Virginia the Anti-Federalists fought hard. After the Philadelphia Convention, James Madison co-wrote a series of articles with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay that became known as The Federalist Papers. These 85 essays written under the pen name Publius are still considered the definitive work on the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson once called them “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”

These articles discussed the framework of the Constitution, including the principles of checks and balances and separation of powers among three branches of government. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison sought to persuade the readers that the newly designed government was the best course of action for the young country. Hamilton wrote that the nation faced a “crisis.” He wrote that if the country voted against the new Constitution, that decision would “deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

In Federalist 45 Madison argued that the state governments did not have much to fear from the federal government. Madison wrote: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”


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