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The Federalist Papers


The Federalist Papers cover page

To become the law of the land the Constitution had to be ratified by the states. A key role in that ratification process was played by the authors of what is now called The Federalist Papers.

This month marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which was signed on September 17, 1787. But to become the law of the land the Constitution had to be ratified by the states. A key role in that ratification process was played by the authors of what is now called The Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers are an important American contribution to political thought. They were written between 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, following the Constitutional Convention of 1787. From 1776 when Americans issued the Declaration of Independence and broke the ties that connected them to Great Britain to 1789 when the new Constitution went into effect, for those 13 years, the United States were operating under the Articles of Confederation.

Objections were raised to these Articles of Confederation as ineffective and problematic. The government that resulted from them was called too weak and unable to address the concerns that the American people had. Therefore a Constitutional Convention was called for, which convened in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. The delegates from 13 states got together in the Constitutional Convention and after four months produced the document, the United states Constitution, that later was to be ratified by the people of at least nine states.

The Federalist Papers originally were published as newspaper essays in New York, under the penname Publius. These eighty-five essays defended the merits of the proposed Constitution as a necessary and good replacement for the Articles of Confederation, which during the Revolutionary war, had proven defective as a means of governance.

The Federalist Papers have much to teach about the American political system and values and about the structure of the U.S. government. Those who make the effort to read this work will also learn about the way Americans view the role of debate and consensus building in decision making, particularly about issues that impacts them on the national level.

French political philosopher and author of Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville, made a nine-month journey throughout America in the 1830s and commented extensively on American culture and institutions. He called the Federalist Papers "an excellent book, which ought to be familiar to the statesmen of all countries.”

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