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What Were the Federalist Papers?

The Federalist papers are a collection of 85 articles written by the trio John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, all published under the pen name "Publius" in 1788.

The first 77 essays of the Federalist papers were published serially in three different New York newspapers: independent journal, the New York Packet and the daily advertisers from October 1787 to April of the following year.

After the first 77 essays were released in 1787-1788, 8 more were later published. The entire collection came to be tagged “The Federalists”. The name “Federalist” was used to describe all 85 essays at the time they became really popular and was only changed to “the Federalist Papers” in the wake of the 20th century.


The federalist papers came into existence only as a means of explaining and defending the reasons why the newly proposed constitution should be rectified.

In 1787, The federal convention sent the proposed constitution to the confederation congress which in turn sent it to the states for ratification.

The newly developed constitution was met with much contempt from the public as well as top government officials with large numbers of anonymous articles appearing in the New York press criticizing the proposal.

In response, Alexander Hamilton took it upon himself to launch a campaign with the sole aim of explaining the features and benefits of the newly proposed constitution to the public.

He began his campaign with an article which was published across major newspapers in New York. The first article came to be known as “Federalist 1” (first essay of the federalist papers). In the Federalist 1, Hamilton promised the readers that he’ll provide answers to all objections the articles as well as the proposed constitution may generate.

In order to provide better information and quicker responses to his audiences, Hamilton searched for more collaboration for his project and recruited john jay, who wrote the next four Federalist articles (Federalist paper 2 to 5) before falling ill.

Hamilton’s search for more collaborations would continue due to the ill health of John Jay. He was turned down by Governer Morris and would later reject William Duer’s offer after going through three articles written by him.

James Madison was later recruited by Alexander Hamilton.

John Jay could not offer much due to his poor health condition and in most cases act as an assistant to Hamilton and Madison who became the major writers of the Federalist Papers. After the initial four articles written by John Jay. He added just one more to the series leaving Hamilton and Madison as the leading contributors. Alexander Hamilton chose the pseudonym “Publius” for the trio.


At the time the articles were being published across major newspapers in the city, the trio decided to hide their real identity by publishing all articles under the pen name “Publius” for fear of been prosecuted.

Their identities however would not be hidden for long as astute observers and readers soon deduced the real names of the writers behind the pen name. It was however impossible for the public to pin the name of any of the authors to a particular Federalist paper.

After the death of Hamilton in 1804, confusions arose pertaining to the ownership of the articles with a list claiming Hamilton wrote two third of the Federalist papers while others believed James Madison wrote more.

After a test analysis was carried out, the articles were correctly attributed to their authors: Alexander Hamilton wrote 51 articles, James Madison 29 articles while john jay contributed the remaining five.

It took all three men a period of 10 months to come up with the complete 85 articles making the collection called “The Federalist Papers”.


 The intention behind the publishing of the federalist papers was to promote the ratification of the proposed constitution through articles which are meant to enlighten the public about the issue. Taking up the job of promoting the proposed constitution does not in any way mean that “the publius” totally agreed with all that was contained in it.

Federalist Paper No. 84 which happens to be the the last but one article in the series strongly held opposition to the bill of rights inclusion to the proposed constitution. The constitution when originally written didn’t enlist the rights of citizens. The inclusion of the bill of rights many feared will pose a limit to the right citizens enjoy.

In Federalist Paper No. 51, James Madison highlighted the division of power between different arms of the government and the essence of checks and balances between various arms of government.

The Federalist No. 10 is the tenth essay in the series and also the most important.  James Madison begins by supporting the ratification of the proposed constitution, stating that it establishes a government ready at all times to protect its citizens against violence and damaged caused by factions and enemies of the state.  Accord to Madison, a faction is any group of people interested in promoting their selfish interest only without minding the implications that may arise from their actions.

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