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The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Study Questions

Federalist Essays No.47 - No. 51

Review Test

What impact did The Federalist have on the ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

Although The Federalist was originally published in New York newspapers with the specific intent of persuading New York's large Anti-federalist population to vote in favor of the Constitution, its ideas were widely used by federalists in other states as well. James Madison, in particular, was able to use the document to persuade the strong Anti-federalist coalition in Virginia to ratify the constitution. Both states eventually ratified, but neither did so as the first 9 states, so the Constitution would have gone into effect without them. However, the compilation and the publication of the individual essays into 2 volumes provided the United States with its own unique political philosophy. Given that the Constitution was officially ratified by 9 of the 13 states, without the input of either New York or Virginia, it is likely that it would have been ratified with or without The Federalist. However, the series of essays provided a thorough and rational justification for the importance of the new U.S. government and is respected as the most important statement of American political philosophy.

What were the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation that justified a stronger central government as described by the U.S. Constitution?

The Articles of Confederation did not provide effective means for the central government to carry out its assigned duties and was not officially sanctioned by the people. The central government, under the Articles, was endowed with many of the same responsibilities as the government under the Constitution, but because it lacked authority to collect taxes and to compel the states, it could not carry out its responsibilities. For example, in attempting to provide for the common defense, the central government did not have enough means to provide that defense through the power of taxation and the raising of an army. Both were accomplished through quotas and requisitions from the states, which were infrequently met. The central government could not provide uniform trade regulations, enforce foreign treaties, or protect the states from invasion or rebellion because it had no authority to compel the individual states to follow its rulings. Additionally, because the central government, under the Articles, was formed as a compact between individual states, the government did not take its authority directly from the people and therefore could not act directly upon the people. This allowed state governments to interfere with effective and uniform governance and led many to believe that the system of government under the Articles was not even a legitimate one.

In what way does an energetic government best protect the individual rights of citizens?

The political philosophers of the Enlightenment explain that when human beings form governments they sacrifice a degree of their own personal liberty in order to gain protection from the selfish needs of other individuals. A government provides a means to temper the competition between each individual's self- centered needs and creates an orderly system in which both the safety of the individual and the society are established. A more energetic government, up to a point, has the best chance of securing those individual rights. In the example of the U.S. Constitution, a stronger and more energetic centralized government has more control over a unified national defense, which will not only provide a stronger protection of individual's property rights but be more likely to provide an effective defense against foreign invasions and internal revolts. Shays' Rebellion demonstrated to many people that the government was not strong enough to prevent a rebellion which threatened to not only destroy public property, but to place the government of Massachusetts in the hands of a group of rebels that had gained their power through violence rather than from the authority of the people. The government created by the U.S. Constitution, which was committed to power in the hands of the people, channeled the strength of a unified 13 states behind the protection of each individual citizen.

What would the natural outcome be of maintaining a confederacy of United States?

What argument does Publius give in favor of the central government being able to maintain a standing army and impose direct taxes?

What are the benefits to the states of a strong central government?

Does the U.S. Constitution describe a federal form of government, a national form of government, or both? Explain.

How does The Federalist provide both a political philosophy for the United States and a practical description of the philosophes theories on government and human nature?

What was the difference between the ratification of the Articles and the Constitution? What does this imply about the different types of government?

What checks do the American people have on the central government to prevent it from combining the powers of executive, legislative and judicial into one body?

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