The Constitution (1781–1815)

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Summary

The Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights: 1788–1791

Summary The Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights: 1788–1791

The Federalist Papers

The most difficult battle was waged in New York. Although New York eventually became the eleventh state to ratify the new Constitution, it was heavily Anti-Federalist, and victory was by no means assured at the outset.

In support of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published a series of anonymous essays now known as the Federalist Papers. These propaganda essays extolled the benefits of a strong central government and allayed fears about civil liberties. Well written and persuasive, the essays are now regarded as some of the finest writings on American politics and republicanism.

Though many political philosophers in the 1700s had argued that republican government was impossible for large countries with diverse populations, the writers of the Federalist Papers argued the opposite. In their now-famous tenth essay (Federalist No. 10), Madison wrote that factionalism would not be a problem in a large republic precisely because everyone would have different interests. In other words, people would be so busy pursuing their own interests that emerging factions would cancel each other out, allowing freedom and republicanism to prevail.

The Federalist Papers and New York

It’s debatable whether the Federalist Papers had any significant impact on New York voters. Some historians point out that New Yorkers, like those in other states, based their votes on economic interests. Generally, those who stood to gain from a strong central government (such as merchants, shippers, and those who lived on the eastern seaboard) supported the Constitution, while those who would not gain (principally farmers) voted against it.

Perhaps more significant to New York State than the Federalist Papers was Alexander Hamilton’s warning that the New York City government might secede from the state and join the Union on its own unless the state ratified the Constitution too.

The Bill of Rights

Despite the Federalist Papers, most New Yorkers, North Carolinians, Virginians, and Rhode Islanders agreed to ratify the Constitution only if the document was amended to include a list of undeniable rights and liberties of the people. The new Congress kept its promise to do so and in 1791 established a committee to draft a Bill of Rights. Much of this work was done by James Madison, who sponsored the Bill of Rights in Congress. Congress added these rights to the Constitution as the first ten amendments later that year.

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