Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Featured Manuscript: The Federalist Papers, Volume II

MORR 11744, Volume Two, First Edition, First Imprint.

The eighty-five essays known as The Federalist occupy a unique place in American history. Their creation, immediately after the delegates who drafted the Constitution in Philadelphia had left the city, was perceived with as much skepticism by those who opposed the Constitution as if the essays were the Constitution itself. Of the fifty-five delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, only thirty-nine signed the document in September, when the Convention concluded its work. In fact, some delegates left early to show their disapproval of the way discussions were progressing. Robert Yates and John Lansing, Alexander Hamilton’s fellow Convention delegates from New York, left the Convention on July 10, never to return.

The Federalist started life as political tracts designed to influence passage of the proposed Constitution in the state of New York. The Federalist expressed the ardent wishes and desires of those, who, during the period immediately following the conclusion of the Revolution, sought to “create a more perfect union.” Indeed, there were many who saw the need for a stronger central government. Before the Revolution was even over, Alexander Hamilton wrote a series of essays under the pseudonym “Continentalist” arguing for a stronger Continental Congress. By 1787, the chorus of voices calling for a stronger central government was only slightly louder than those advocating the weaker system operating under the Articles of Confederation and the Continental Congress at the time. By 1787, the Continental Congress had been in session since 1774, at the beginning of the Revolution.

Part of the impetus for writing The Federalist were the writings of those who opposed the Constitution, generally known as the Anti-Federalist. Two examples were the writers who went by the pseudonyms “Brutus” (believed to have been Robert Yates, Hamilton’s colleague at the Philadelphia Convention) and “Cato” (believed to have been New York Governor George Clinton). Their essays appeared in New York at the same time as The Federalist, but with a much different opinion of the Constitution.

Today though, The Federalist are variously seen as providing astute commentary on the Constitution; as harboring antiquated ideas about government theory; or, they are seen as just being plain difficult to understand. The Federalist, even with their arcane and hopelessly outdated language, continue to generate heated debate much like they did when originally written in 1787-1788.

Written collectively by Alexander Hamilton (who conceived and managed the project), James Madison, and John Jay, the eighty-five essays which comprise The Federalist appeared anonymously, under the pseudonym “Publius,” in various New York City newspapers beginning on September 27, 1787.[i] The first appearance was in the “New York Independent Journal.” The Federalist was designed to persuade readers of the merits and significant attributes of the recently drafted Constitution.[ii]  The Federalist, overall, was primarily meant to sway those who would be electing the state’s ratification convention delegates; and, the delegates themselves.  The New York State ratification convention met in July of 1788 in Poughkeepsie; finally approving the Constitution on September 27, 1788.[iii]

Morristown NHPs Book

The Federalist were originally published in 1788, in two volumes. Volume one contained essays one through thirty-six; and volume two contained essays thirty-seven through eighty-five. Volume one appeared on March 22, 1788, with volume two appearing May 28, 1788. Both volumes were published in New York by J. McLean & Company. Morristown has volume two only. How this occurred is not known, since most collectors buy sets, it’s hard to imagine a set being broken up, especially a set of something as important as The Federalist. Yet, at some point the volume two in the Morristown collection got separated from volume one.

Advertisement appearing in the newspapers announcing the imminent publication of the essays known as The Federalist, and being offered for sale via subscription service. (From the website ConstitutionFacts.com; visited 6-27-13.)

[i] ‘Publius’ is for Publius Valerius Publicola. A late 6th century BCE Roman aristocrat who was instrumental in founding the Roman republic. Alexander Hamilton was eager to draw comparisons with Classical Antiquity to show the connection between the republican efforts in the United States as a way of burnishing its pedigree
[ii] Hamilton approached two other men as possible contributors to the project. William Durer and Gouverneur Morris (the man who actually wrote the Constitution from the assembled notes and drafts after the summer of debates) were both highly accomplished and educated New York statesmen who would have contributed significant analysis to the project. For a variety of reasons though, Hamilton decided not to include their essays.
[iii] New York voted to ratify the Constitution after the Constitution was already in effect. On June 21st, 1788, New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the document as the law of the land. Nine states were deemed necessary to put the document into effect after it was drafted in Philadelphia.

This blog entry written by Jude Pfister, Curator.

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