“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.”
-A. Hamilton, 10.27.1787
Those words were written by Alexander Hamilton over 200 years ago as an introduction to as series of letters he and two other notable founders were to write to the people of The State of New York as an edification of the proposed constitution before them. They were under no illusions as to the magnanimity of the cause under which they labored, as the common state of mankind was not, and is not, one of peace, freedom and prosperity, but one of constant turmoil and subjugation by seen, or unseen forces, all around them.
Most of human history tells a tale of Man’s inhumanity to man as he forces his kinsman to bear the burdens of some form of slavery for the pleasure of the tyrannical mind and body of his oppressors. Our founders sought a different tact, they saw liberty on the horizon.
Their ancestors had come to this land seeking religious and political freedom. The founders, after leading one of the most unlikely of revolutions in human history, were now looking to secure the liberties they had won by force. These rights from God had been codified in The Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution.
They had feared for some time that the union would dissolve into waring factions under the rule of despotic monarchies if they were unsuccessful in the ratification of this new compact. But they also knew what they were up against in selling the idea of this new, hybrid, government, as passions being what they were (and are) many falsehoods were bound to catch the imagination of the States before any truth had time to supplant itself. Also working against them was the tyrannical nature of Man and his desire to hold and grow his power when possible.
“Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth. Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several
partial confederacies than from its union under one government.”
They knew full well that it was very easy for men of goodwill to become confused and unwittingly relinquish their liberty under the banner of safety. They also knew that it would take time and careful, wise consideration for the several states to become comfortable with the new ideas.
“And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists.”
They had their work cut out for them, but this was not foreign soil for them, for they had endured many a political and deliberative battle previous to this one. But, this one would be different, for now they had to convince the States to sign onto a document that, for all intents and purposes had it’s prize in the perpetual branding of liberty upon this new world called America.
“It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”
So, Hamilton devised a plan to write these series of letters called The Federalist. He recruited two others John Jay and James Madison to assist in the formation of what ended in 85 papers fully explaining the ins and outs of this new governmental structure and it’s ability to secure the liberties of the people and the States while giving requisite power to the Federal Government to effectively govern in an appropriate capacity. They had done their research into what had and had not worked in the past to secure liberty, now they had to sell it to the people.
This has been an attempt at an introduction to these papers and I will in the coming weeks and months take each at its message and glean from the lofty language of the 18th century a more understandable, relatible and modern flare, so that you might understand from where our Founders come. For, if you ever propose to alter the workings of an engine, you should first learn the engineer’s goals.