Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Federalist Papers

St. Louis -- In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, the delegates were by no means sure that they would be able to get the necessary nine states to ratify the constitution that they had drawn up.
In New York, a large and influential state, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay collaborated their efforts to write a series of 85 essays on the constitution to be published in the various newspapers of the state. Written about the constitution by men who had a hand in making it, these papers give us deep insight into what the founding fathers really thought about what they did.
Some of what they believed may be surprising to you. For instance, they did not believe that there should be a bill of rights to the constitution:
I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous… Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?1
Hamilton, Jay, and Madison believed that the constitution was to tell the government what it could do, and that any power not given to it was for the states respectively, or to the people.2
They understood that they could not hope that men would be good, since power is a corrupting force.3 Rather, they sought to place checks, balances, and restraints upon power, to be certain that politicians would not abuse it.
They also understood that no government was perfect, but that they had done the best they could.
A NATION, without a NATIONAL GOVERNMENT, is, in my view, an awful spectacle.4
An imperfect government was better than none at all. There would, they understood, be problems along the way, the journey might at times be rough, the going wouldn’t always be easy, but that was the American way, that we would get through it with hard work, by working together, by building a new nation.

Andrew C. Abbott

1: Federalist 84: Hamilton.
2: The Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution.
3: Federalist 51: Madison.
4: Federalist 85: Hamilton.

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