Should We Read the Federalist Papers?

The Federalist Papers are the most overrated series of essays in American history.

That’s not a hot take. It’s a fact.

They hold more weight because of the stature of the authors: Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.

But that doesn’t make them any more important or useful than other commentaries on the Constitution written at the same time.

In fact, they persuaded very few people and were rarely published outside of New York.

Washington wanted a copy, and because they were quickly published in book form, they found a receptive audience, but that was after the Constitution was ratified.

As Aaron Coleman points out in this excellent essay, they are a useful and important historical set of documents, but their contemporary significance and lofty stature as a work of “political philosophy” are questionable.

They have contributed in no small part to Madison’s stature as the “Father of the Constitution,” a misnomer in itself. John Dickinson, Roger Sherman, or even Gouverneur Morris could be included in that list.

Madison didn’t get the Constitution he wanted.

Hamilton never liked the document no matter how hard he pleaded for its ratification. John Lansing knew it and called him out as a liar. They almost went to pistols.

I am partial to Tench Coxe’s essays in favor of ratification along with those penned by Dickinson. James Wilson’s “State House Yard” speech was considered to be the most important in 1787 and 1788.

In other words, there is more to ratification than Hamilton and Madison.

And if you are looking for original American political philosophy, skip Madison and read Calhoun.

But Coleman’s essay made for great Podcast fodder. I cover it on Episode 869 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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