Skip Content
U.S. Flag

The Federalist

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay  (1788) 

When the Constitutional Convention adjourned on September 17, 1787, the work of supporters of the new federal Constitution had only begun. The document had to be ratified by at least nine of the thirteen states, as stipulated in the agreed-upon ratification process. Within days of the convention’s end, anti-Federalist editorials began appearing in newspapers, opposing ratification of the Constitution. To gain the necessary support for ratification in New York, and to influence the debate nationally, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a series of eighty-five articles in favor of the proposed Constitution. Writing under the pen name, "Publius" the authors described the inherent weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and urged adoption of the recently drafted Constitution.

The series championed a federal government made unique by a system of "checks and balances" designed to prevent any one of the three branches from overpowering the others. The immediate goal of the authors was to sway public opinion in favor of ratification, but the essays have endured as an eloquent defense of constitutional government. They remain, as Thomas Jefferson noted, "the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written."

Written between October 1787 and May 1788, the essays were initially published in four New York newspapers over the spring and summer of 1788, with newspapers in other states quickly reprinting them. Immediately, the essays appeared in book form. The first thirty-six essays were published in March of 1788 by J. McLean & Company, with a second volume following in May. A French edition appeared in 1792, revealing for the first time the identity of the three authors. A definitive edition appeared in 1818, published by Jacob Gideon with the full cooperation of James Madison, who supplied his personal copies of the essays.

Since that time, The Federalist has been reprinted dozens of times. The edition featured here was edited by Henry Cabot Lodge. In his introduction to this 1888 edition, Lodge remarks on the integrity of this text by saying, "The Federalist was the first authoritative interpretation of the Constitution and was mainly written by the two principal authors of that instrument. . .it has acquired all the weight and sanction of a judicial decision." Lodge dedicates the majority of his introductory text to examining the controversy surrounding the authorship of certain essays in the collection. While the writers of most of the Federalist papers had been determined, scholars in Lodge’s day still debated whether to credit Hamilton or Madison with a small percentage of the essays. Lodge’s introduction also features an annotated bibliography of twenty-four pre-1888 editions of The Federalist.