Any study of politics and government in the United States is incomplete without a thorough reading of The Federalist Papers. Or, more properly, The Federalist, since the authors of the 85 essays maintained the conceit that the papers were the work of one man, Publius, an ancient Roman statesman instrumental in the overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the introduction of the Republic.
Published anonymously during the year leading tothe ratfication of the Constitution, The Federalist was the work of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Essentially a defense of the necessity of the Constitution and a strong Union or Federation to govern the new nation, The Federalist is one of the greatest documents ever penned by American citizens.
The usefulness of The Federalist Papers lies far beyond its value as a political science text. Undoubtedly one of the finest examples of political philosophy, this collection of essays is an essential text for students of writing, rhetoric, human nature, and United States history. There was plenty of bad writing circulating near the end of the 18th century, but the articles in The Federalist are as far from bad writing as John Adams is from John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
That's not to say these aren't frequently difficult dissertations to navigate. Often, the argumentation employed, though sound, is circuitous and requires the reader's full powers of concentration. Sentences are long. Thoughts are deep. Logic is rigorous. Your local newspaper wouldn't print these, deriding them as unreadable and nonsensical....failing to realize they wouldn't even be in business if it wasn't for these demanding op eds.
But like many things that can be difficult, a careful perusing of The Federalist Papers is rewarding. It may come as a surprise to some that the Founding Fathers had a sense of humor (sometimes hard to detect, but it's there). Or that there was a actually a question whether the Bill or Rights should be appended to the Constitution. Or that the idea of a single executive head of the central government originated in The Federalist. Etc. etc. etc.
For balancing arguments protesting the need to specifically protect the rights of individuals within the federal Constitution, The Anti-Federalist Papers make interesting supplemental reading. These formed a far less static document or articulated position, however, and in the end, while the anti-federalist ideal has had significant impact on American government, the collected works of "Publius" remain the best presentation of the ideals of a free society written in this (or possibly any other) country.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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