On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper 1 was published in the Independent Journal of New York.
Today Americans take the Constitutional form of government for granted. But in 1787, shortly after the young, ragtag nation had thrown off the British monarchy and won its independence, a constitution was not a given. The questions at that time were — would there be a central federal government at all, and if there were, what would be its powers? The original basis for the united thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation, but this gave the federal government little power: no power to levy taxes, to regulate trade, or to enforce laws. The Constitution, which offered a plan for a federal government based on checks and balances, was drafted in September of 1787, but it still needed to be ratified by at least nine states.
In October 1787, therefore, the federalists began their debate with the anti-federalists. One of the chief proponents of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, the chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and an elected representative from New York state to the Congress of the Confederation. Hamilton knew that New York would be a key swing state in the debate, so he hatched a plan to write essays that would be published in New York newspapers to promote and explain the new Constitution. To help him, Hamilton enlisted James Madison, who had served in the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a lawyer and diplomat.
Between October 1787 and May 1788, the trio wrote a total of 85 essays, totaling more than 175,000 words. Each essay was published anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” an allusion to Publius Valerius Publicola, a supporter of the Roman Republic.
The Federalist Papers served as a kind of user’s guide to the Constitution, explaining how the people, not a king, would govern and how a federal government was needed to increase efficiency and to prevent the risk of another monarchy. The papers also explained the separation of powers between the branches of government, and how government should operate to maintain individual liberty without anarchy.
In the end, the federalists won. All thirteen states ratified the U.S. Constitution.
Today we have all 85 Federalist Papers intact as testimony to the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. Reading them, however, is not easy. They are written in dense 18th century prose. With careful focus and attention, however, they can be understood.
It is this kind of careful close reading that the College Board had in mind when it redesigned its Scholastic Aptitude Test, which took effect in 2016. One specific area of emphasis in the redesign of the SAT reading test is U.S. founding documents, which includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers (2).
Today’s Challenge: Federalist Paper in a Nutshell
What are the keys to writing a good summary? Read Federalist Paper 1, or one of the other papers, and write a one-paragraph summary. Read and re-read the passage until you understand its main ideas. Before you write your summary, consider the following “Six Summary Secrets”:
- Open with a topic sentence that identifies the author and title of the work being summarized.
- Make sure your summary is clear to someone who has not read the original.
- Focus on the main points rather than the details.
- Paraphrase by using your own words without quoting words directly from the original passage.
- Be objective, by reporting the ideas in the passage without stating your own opinions or ideas regarding the passage or its author.
- Use concise, clear language.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
1- Beck, Glenn with Joshua Charles. The Original Argument: The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century. New York: Threshold Editions, 2011: xxi-xxxi.
2- The College Board. The Redesigned SAT “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation.”