The Federalist Papers Study Guide

The Federalist Papers By Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

A treatise on the nature of free government in times of peace and security, The Federalist Papers are the outstanding American contribution to the philosophy of constitutional democracy and federalism. They are the defining text concerning the Constitution of the United States of America, and they provide a deep insight into the intent of the Founding Fathers. The Papers can be divided into two principle parts: the first discusses the defects of the government that existed at the time (the Articles of Confederation), and the second discusses the new Constitution's different components including the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the new government.

The Papers were written in order to ensure that the new Constitution would be ratified. To that end, the idea of 'a more perfect Union' occupies center stage in the Papers, so much so that a cursory study might lead one to believe that the idea was the entire purpose of the Papers, but the truth is much deeper. The goal was nothing less than the formation of free government in times of peace and security.

The federalists dealt not just with the practical, but also the theoretical aspects of this new government. The authors considered their work to be a mere treatise on governmental practice, but Thomas Jefferson described the Federalist Papers thusly: "Descending from theory to practice, there can be no better book than The Federalist [Papers]." In the Papers themselves, Madison writes "Theoretical reasoning must be qualified by the lessons of practice."

Five basic themes can be found in the Papers: federalism, checks and balances, separation of power, pluralism, and representation. They deal with different parts of the government, but they are nonetheless fairly consistent throughout the Papers. Because they were written my multiple authors over a very short period of time, however, the Papers have been critiqued as having a 'dual nature' - but for the most part, they are coherent in that they show all sides of the proposed Constitution.

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