It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
They were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay between 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonym Publius and published in newspapers throughout the states. In addition to explaining the meaning of the US Constitution and advocating for its ratification, The Federalist Papers reflect some of the most important political thought in US history.
The arguments of Publius are alive today. In 1821, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote of The Federalist Papers, “It is a complete commentary on our constitution; and is appealed to by all parties in the questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank, and the part two of its authors [i.e., Hamilton and Madison] performed in framing the constitution, put it very much in their power to explain the views with which it was framed.” This view has not waned. The Federalist Papers continue to be cited in US Supreme Court cases as the authoritative interpretation on the original intent of the US Constitution as well as in thousands of law review articles and cases of the lower courts. The voice of Publius will continue to be vitally important as long as the constitutional order for which it advocated remains and afterward as a testament to the brilliance of it.
Federalist 10 is an excellent essay to discuss during a class meeting. It’s recommended that students bring an outline of the argument with them to class before the discussion, as well as some reflections on one or more of the following questions written out in advance.
1) What is Madison’s definition of a faction and what are the examples he provides of factions? Why does faction pose such great problems in popular governments? According to him, every individual may be considered a member of one or more factions. To which faction do you belong and in what respect is your faction “adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interest of the community”?
2) Madison argues that it is inappropriate to be a judge over an issue in which you stand to gain or lose. Identify a political or social issue that is important to you. Who, other than yourself or people who share your perspective on this issue, would be the most fair judge in matters that concern it? For example, you may find the cancellation of student debt to be an important issue. Who, other than those who have student debt, would be the most fair judges of whether or not student debt should be cancelled?
3) What exactly is Madison’s solution to the problem of faction? What mechanism does he recommend that may adequately control the negative effects of faction while retaining individual liberty and popular government? Do you see this mechanism at work today, if so where and how well?
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman pairs well with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. How does Wollstonecraft’s text provide us with a lens to understand Edna and Leonce’s marriage? How does Wollstonecraft’s discussion of virtue, reason, and education help to explain Edna’s sense of dissatisfaction with her life as well as the failures she meets with in her relationships? Do any of Wollstonecraft’s warnings about an uneducated mother resonate in Chopin’s depiction of Edna?