Cogent, accessible survey of the drafting of The Federalist, spotlighting the lessons these early essays still hold for today’s interpreters of the Constitution.
Meyerson (Law/Univ. of Baltimore; Political Numeracy: Mathematical Perspectives on Our Chaotic Constitution, 2002) focuses on the unlikely partnership of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who under the pseudonym “Publius” published The Federalist over a feverish period of seven months, from October 1787 to May 1788, in several New York newspapers. (Fellow Founding Father John Jay wrote a few early essays before illness halted him.) The 85 essays laid out the entire range of issues involved in the debate over ratification. They aimed to sway New Yorkers to back the fledging Constitution, which was designed to rectify the defects in the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton and Madison later fell out, and Meyerson devotes a chapter to the disintegration of their relationship after Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. Two years earlier, however, eager for a share in history’s making, the two brainy writers were pleased to collaborate on The Federalist. Hamilton wrote the sections devoted to “the power of the sword and of the purse,” while Madison propounded on the dangers of factions, delineated the relationship between the state and national government, elucidated the separation of powers and offered a minute dissection of each part of the federal government, including the notorious three-fifths compromise, without ever mentioning the word slavery. Meyerson portrays the era’s roiling debates over ratification, including the ultimately successful clamor for a Bill of Rights, and examines the essays’ modern-day relevance, particularly in terms of current Supreme Court arguments between “originalists” and “non-originalists.”
A useful study of the Founders’s noble minds and fallible ideas.