The Federalist is a treatise on free government in peace and security. It is the outstanding American contribution to the literature on constitutional democracy and federalism, a classic of Western political thought. It is, by far, the most authoritative text concerning the interpretation of the American Constitution and an insight into the framer’s intent in the constitution.
Although Hamilton carefully outlined the contents of The Federalist at the end of the first essay, in reality, he strayed a bit from his original proposition. In the end, the work of primarily Madison and Hamilton can be divided into two principle parts; the first discussing the defects of the present government, the Articles of Confederation, and the second discussing the new constitutions different components, the legislature, executive, and judicial branches.
The Federalist was written in order to secure the ratification of a constitution providing for a more perfect union. Throughout the papers, the idea of the more perfect Union occupies a front stage. On first glance, this might be the primary purpose of the papers but indeed, The Federalist papers are concerned with much more. “Union” and the “safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed” are depicted as inseparable, and the Union appears as a means to achieve the safety and welfare of its parts. In general, then, the Federalists discuses federalism as a means to achieve free government in peace and security as well as the nonexistence of federalism under the Articles of Confederation and its achievement under the Constitution.
The Federalist deals with not only the practical, but also the theoretical, something that distinguishes this from other works. In a letter to his nephew Thomas Mann Randolph, Thomas Jefferson distinguished The Federalist from the theoretical writings of Locke when he writes, after discussing Locke’s philosophy: “Descending from theory to practice, there can be no better book than The Federalist.” The authors, however, never considered their work a mere treatise on governmental practice. In their essays, a distinction between theory and practice is often drawn. “Theoretical reasoning must be qualified by the lessons of practice,” Madison writes, and he also states that the Philadelphia Convention “must have been compelled to sacrifice theoretical prosperity to the force of extraneous consideration.”
Five basic themes can be discerned from the words of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, including federalism, checks and balances, separated powers, pluralism, and representation. Although they deal with different parts of the government, as noted above, these themes are fairly consistent throughout the papers. Much has been written concerning the dual nature of the federalist, because they were written by multiple authors in a short amount of time. It is true, Madison later became the great state rights’ defenders while Hamilton his principle opponent, but for the most part these essays are coherent, showing all sides of the proposed constitution.
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