Part 2 – The Federalist Papers


Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, but when they were published as articles in the New York newspapers to stir public debate they were done so anonymously.(47) The authors used a pseudonym “Publius”, in honor of the Roman consul Publius Valerius Publicola.(48) They were published after the Constitution had been sent to the states to be ratified and in response to anonymous articles, generally known as the Anti-Federalist Papers, published in the New York press under the names “Brutus” and “Cato”.(49) The reason Publius was used as a pseudonym was due in part that Publius was a founder of the Roman Republic, while Brutus and Cato were simply late defenders of it.(50)

In Federalist No. 1, John Hamilton outlined the topics to be covered in subsequent essays.(51) Those topics are:(52)

  • The utility of the Union to your political prosperity
  • The insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve that Union
  • The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed to the attainment of this object
  • The Conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government
  • Its analogy to your own state constitution
  • The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty and prosperity

The primary goal of the publication of the Federalist Papers was to serve as a portable advocate for the ratification of the Constitution.(53) However, the authors of the Federalist Papers were well aware of the implications of any doctrine that was considered to be dogmatic; the ambiguity of ‘interpretation’.(54) The polarity between ‘written’ and ‘oral’ translation was of great concern to Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.(55) The advent of technology, progress, and future enlightenment left little room for any permanence and the authors viewed the absolute power of archaic doctrines to be akin to the absolute power of a totalitarian ruler.(56) Yet, two authors of the Federalist Papers were opposed to the creation of a Bill of Rights (James Madison was in favor), a document that could potentially serve as a vehicle to ensure the relevancy and timelessness of the Constitution.(57) The creation of a Bill of Rights would allow the principles and focal points of the constitution to evolve in tandem with the evolution of the society that it serves.(58) However, two of the authors of the Federalist Papers were adamant about not only regulating the power granted to individuals, but the transfer and distribution of that power as well.(59)

For example, Hamilton regaled in the ambiguity of the Constitution’s text because it never concluded a finite amount of rights to which each citizen of that nation would be entitled.(60) He feared that if a Bill of Rights were to be constructed, then that would create a limit to the rights of the citizens.(61) He feared that the creation of limitation would remove the equilibrium that existed between the government body and the citizens it served.(62)

Many political thinkers of the time disagreed with the logic of the two authors of the Federalist Papers, claiming that the lack of definition paired with the abundance of ambiguity would propel the citizens of the nation into slavery.(63) Critics of the Federalist Papers claimed that by disallowing amendments to a dogmatic doctrine under which a nation were to be ruled, such limitations would jeopardize the relevancy of the document and future citizens might be subject to archaic laws.(64)

In addition, many suggested that the modification of a dogmatic doctrine allowed the current governing body, whose prime concerns would be that of the citizens, would allow for more citizens’ rights because it would cater to the needs of modernity rather than the stale needs of antiquity.(65) Hamilton was concerned with preventing the oral translation of the dogmatic doctrine.(66) By doing so, the Constitution would be impervious to both human error, as well as the any self-serving gains of a single individual.(67)

However, many argued that the establishment of a governing body as a ‘servant’ of its citizens ensures that not only will power be dispersed fairly among multiple governing factions, thus preventing tyranny, but also solidifies that the role of a democratic government will always include the service of its citizens.(68)

The dispute between oral and written translation was a target of debate during the deciding moments of the ratification of the Constitution.(69) Though the two opposing authors of the Federalist Papers were opposed to the fate of a dogmatic doctrine being resigned to the translation or interpretation of a human being, the Bill of Rights was passed in 1791.(70)

In addition to the Federalist Papers, there were additional contributions to the creation of the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment specifically found its genesis in the arguments of James Otis in his legal battle against “Writs of Assistance.(71) The Fourth Amendment states:

Amendment IV(72)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Lets now explore the tenets and arguments of James Otis’s work to determine its relevance to modern times.

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