What Was the Significance of “The Federalist Papers”?

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The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 letters written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay between 1787 and 1788. These letters were sent to newspapers, and their goal was to promote the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. They were essentially a PR campaign for the United States Constitution and championed American ideals that we still celebrate today.

Prior to the Federalist Papers and the Constitution, the original colonies used the Articles of Confederacy to establish the United States. Basic principles that are associated with the Constitution, however, like free speech and the right to a well-regulated militia are not present. Without the Federalist Papers, the United States would be a different country altogether. 

What Were the Federalist Papers?

The Federalist Papers, published in a book known as The Federalist in 1788, are significant mainly because they were effective in persuading states to ratify the Constitution. The authors used logical arguments to explain the importance of such a change, directly addressing the concerns of those opposed to ratification.

After newspapers published the papers, readers sent letters both praising and condemning the ideas presented within. This gave Hamilton, Madison and Jay an opportunity to address the concerns of their opposition and make the public aware of the ideas behind the Constitution. The way they exchanged ideas so publicly is so interesting. It’s like when a thread on Reddit goes viral or when two celebrities “go live” on social media.

The Federalist Papers argued for a stronger, centralized government. The Articles of Confederacy were a very loose outline that would allow states to do things their own way. Federalism, belief in stronger government, eventually won out. These ideals were fought over in the Civil War. During which, confederate ideals were defeated physically and legally.

The exchange of ideas eventually made it to book form. Originally published in 1787, The Federalist Papers are still in print and available to read today. Inspiring quotes like Alexander Hamilton’s “a nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral” line the pages of the book and give insight into the type of ideas shaping America during its formative years. 

What is a Federalist?

John Adams, Robbery Morris, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Photo Courtesy: [Stock Montage/Getty Images]

The Federalists were actually a political party. From 1789 to 1801, Federalists like Alexander Hamilton helped pave the way for the founding fathers. The only Federalist President we’ve ever had is John Adams. Other notable Federalists include John Jay, John Marshall and Rufus King.

Those that opposed Federalists and Federalism did so because they saw strong government oversight as too similar to living under a monarch. They were called Anti-Federalists. James Winthrop and Patrick Henry were two notable Anti-Federalists. The Federalist party would eventually be outflanked and overtaken by the Democratic-Republican Party, started by Thomas Jefferson.

The worry that Anti-Federalists were feeling towards their individual liberties led to the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. So, freedom of religion, the free press — some of our favorite parts of the Constitution — were included in the Constitution in order to get it ratified.

How the Federalist Papers Matter Today

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You may have recognized this article’s cover photo from the impeachment proceedings of former President Trump. Maryland Democrat, Jamie Raskin was seen reading the influential text during one of the proceedings and even brought them up during the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

The impeachment process is outlined in the United States Constitution. Since the Federalist Papers helped push states to ratify the Constitution, it makes sense to bring up the Federalist Papers at Impeachment hearings.

As citizens, scholars and justices continue to interpret and amend the Constitution of the United States of America, the Federalist Papers will remain a historic touchstone that we can continue to look back on. With ever-pressing issues like war, reproductive rights and voter suppression painting the landscape of the 2020s, the Federalist Papers don’t have the answers to our problems, but they embody the spirit of a newborn nation.