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A Discussion of The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers came about when contrary to popular opinion the Philadelphia Convention produced a new document that would supersede the Articles Of Confederation. The convention had been convened for the purposes of improving the articles of confederation and the various colonies, for they were still independent colonial states severally divorced from the Country of England (it had not changed it name to the British Commonwealth). The delegates from Maine never arrived at the convention until it was over and many of the delegates left early, refusing to take further actions at creating a new constitution for a republican government. But the story of our present form of government really starts before 1776, for it is the classical educations that guided most of those whose affairs in business and government that helped to determine the “fate” of a new nation. Now if we were to ask most Americans about what they know about the Federalist Papers there would be revealed wide spread ignorance. And only a few history majors would have read that body of work that has come to be know as the Anti-Federalist Papers.

So where to begin? I would suggest that for those who want a well grounded introduction to the founding of our American tradition, The Great Courses have a number of very excellent DVDs (actually, one can buy these courses as downloads and watch them many times) on this subject. My preference is “American Ideals: Founding A 'Republic of Virtue'”. The twelve half hour lectures are delivered by Professor Daniel N. Robinson. It may come as a surprise to many of you that we were not a hothouse of rebellion back then. I plead ignorance to that period of history since most of my readings of that time between the French And Indian Wars and our Revolution has been the usual bland college survey type of text. So much of this information with which I am presented is new and in greater depth. On the other hand I have read some of the classical Greeks and am familiar with Plato and Aristotle along with at least a surface level reading of the major philosophical writers up through Kant. Indeed, indulging one's taste for the likes of Locke and Hume as well as the moral philosophy of Adam Smith is definitely a plus. Add to that a good helping of religious commentary (a part of moral philosophy), but this is about that period of history we call the Enlightenment. Roughly put, the Enlightenment sought to by pass “religion” by developing “Natural Philosophy”, or looking to nature and the natural world (since it was created by god) for the answers to natural science and political science. Yes, this is a bit of a simplistic statement of the times but never-the-less true. One of the best books written on the history of philosophy is one with that title written by Juliam Marias. I have read three or four others but this volume, in my opinion, has the better treatment. Of the subject.

Of course it was Louis Pasteur who once said: “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” Back to our discussion. Montesquieu had argued that different forms of government call for different dispositions and perspectives on the part of those governed. Those living under tyrany must develop the character of fearfulness; those living under a monarch, the character of honor; but those living within a republic, the character of virtue itself. Moral philosophy provides us with the four virtues this republic was founded: temperance, courage, justice, and piety. In addition, we also adopted those religious virtues: faith, hope, and charity. Again, our founding fathers were guided by virtues, not values, there is a difference. Edmond Burke would remark that the colonists were avid readers and consumed half of the output of Fleet Street and among the most favorite were books on law. We were not, in the eyes of so many in Parliament colonial bumpkins but well if not better read that the average Member of Parliament and quite capable of deciding for ourselves what the virtue of liberty meant and what were its principles. Our revolution was long in the making before 1775.

The second course we should examine is that of “The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution.” The lectures are given by Professor Thomas L. Prangle. The Federalist papers were written by three men of considerable influence, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. There was a great deal of opposition the the proposed constitution and a limited amount of time for its adoption. The drafting of the propose constitution was anything but smooth and was surrounded by quite a bit of controversy to say the least. Without the three men writing under the pen name of Publius it is doubtful we would have the constitution we now so revere. The main problem with the Articles of Confederation is that the central government, so to speak was extremely week and totality dependent on the individuals states to agree on any particular action. Taxes that would have been levied were dismissed out of hand and so the debts incurred during the war of independence went unpaid and the country had no credit among any foreign country. British troops were still on American soil because those non patriots who had been forced to leave and abandon their farms and business were not reimbursed. Several of the states attempted to make treaties with other foreign nations to the detriment of the other states. In short, we were becoming a prime target for any European country who wished to invade and annex our country. The different states had democrat governments where majority rule determined the laws and expenditures of such states. Some states has explicitly defined rights of citizens, others were far more lax. So something had to be done and done quickly.

The anti-federalist saw themselves as the true conservatives and the federalist as the rebellious upstarts with their talk about republicanism. What was being proposed had never been done before and their was a fear that centralized power would put the states back into the same problems as being colonists of England had. Eventually the constitution would be adopted but not by a wide majority and not without revision to the original document.
Marta-Amance 7 Apr 12
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Great post, felt like I was in class with a favorite and knowledgeable teacher.

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