Federalist #1

Some of you may have thought I was kidding. Here's the background: In May, 1787, the Constitutional Convention produced the Constitution of the United States which needed to be ratified by at least 9 of the 13 colonies. By the end of the year only Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey had ratified it. Some very acrimonious debates began cropping up in several states which did not bode well for the progress of the constitution's adoption. In September of 1787, a series of articles began appearing in journals around the country. Written by an author signing himself "Publius" these articles became known as "The Federalist Papers". The anonymity of the authors was broken in 1804 when Alexander Hamilton, on the eve of the infamous duel that would cost him his life, penned a note revealing that he, along with James Madison and John Jay, had authored the papers. The collection of articles has never been out of print in over two centuries since and no government class or political science symposium can really do justice to an examination of the US Constitution without turning to The Federalist Papers for some degree of guidance.

Federalist #1, the first of the articles, was penned by Hamilton. It is really just an introduction to the idea of a national constitution and like most introductions, it focuses on telling the audience the purpose of the forthcoming articles. But in the first paper, Hamilton makes some very interesting statements about the nature of political discourse. He examines how political arguments, elections, and campaigns are conducted. At one point, he makes a very fascinating argument that just because someone stands on the same side of an argument as you does not mean that you understand his motives and can rely on him to be of similar mind to you. Likewise, just because someone disagrees with you, they may still be a wise and just man despite their difference on a key issue. I think many Americans went through that conflict in the most recent election. In referring to the rancor between opposing sides, Hamilton said, "A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives."

Sound familiar?

I know there are many who are despondent at this time thinking we have reached an all-time low in civility in US politics and in justice. But bear in mind, two centuries ago, the author of this article was shot down in a duel that grew out of an angry election that featured a negative campaign filled with personal attacks. Fifty years later, Americans began shooting each other over political differences in the laws governing slavery and that escalated into the Civil War. Yes, our current politics are divisive but to suggest that it is worse today than ever before is to ignore history.

Today is my birthday and I am very grateful to all my friends and family members who have sent greetings today. I deeply appreciate the mention. I hit 59 which means I'm starting my 60th year on earth which is just really terrifying. I think this personal project to re-examine The Federalist and re-think the meaning of our government is something that may do me some good, whether or not anyone besides me reads any posts I make.

One more thing: there are 85 Federalist Papers. You've been warned.