19. The list of essays known as the Federalist Papers came to a close in August, 1788
Alexander Hamilton wrote the last of the Federalist Papers, publishing the 85th essay on August 13 and 18, 1788. In it, he admitted the Constitution, as already ratified by several states, was imperfect. Yet he argued that imperfection was not sufficient reason to delay adopting it as the basis for government. “I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man”, he wrote. He argued that in order to bind the mutual interests of the states, “compromise of the dissimilar interests and inclinations” was necessary. To Hamilton, no compromise offered perfection, writing, “How can perfection spring from such materials”. Hamilton argued that opposition to a strong national government arose from “powerful individuals” seeking to maintain their own regional power and influence. Much of Hamilton’s essay attacked the leaders of the anti-federalist faction in New York, where the ratification debate had been particularly bitter.
Even before the Federalist Papers had been completed, copies of those already published had been gathered and bound in volumes. How widely they were disseminated during the ratification debates in several states is unknown. Surely Madison made certain they were available in Virginia, his home state, and they were published in New York. Yet those states were among the last to ratify, and both did so conditionally upon the enactment of a Bill of Rights, among other changes to the document. Rhode Island and North Carolina did not ratify the Constitution until after the first Washington administration was inaugurated. Both demanded changes to the document in their letters notifying Congress of their ratification. In 1791, Vermont formed a convention and ratified the Constitution, becoming the first state outside of the original 13 to join the Union.
20. The three men who wrote as Publius remained active in the new government
James Madison served four consecutive terms in the House, as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, and as the fourth President of the United States. He came to be widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton served as Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury. His efforts helped place the United States under a stable financial system. He also made numerous political enemies, became embroiled in scandals, and eventually died following a duel with the then sitting Vice-President, Aaron Burr. John Jay served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and later as Governor of New York. In 1795 he negotiated the Jay Treaty, which gave the United States “most favored nation” status in trade with Great Britain but failed to address American grievances. The treaty helped create party factionalism within the new government.
How much the Federalist Papers contributed to ratification remains controversial. But there is no question they contributed to the creation of political parties by publicizing the rift between the Federalists and anti-federalists. The latter morphed into the Democratic-Republican party, led by Jefferson and Madison. The former became the Federalist Party of Hamilton, Jay, and John Adams. Federalists influenced the form of the Supreme Court for the next thirty years, through John Jay and later John Marshall. George Washington despaired of the formation of partisan political parties in American government, and famously warned against them, to no avail. The Federalist Papers, though relatively obscure, continue to affect American government, used by judges and legislators to determine the intent of the Founders when interpreting the Constitution they were written to support. As of 2000, the Supreme Court has cited the essays by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, in 291 legal decisions.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: