The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VIII. American Political Writing, 1760–1789

§ 17. The Federalist

Incomparably superior, whether in content, or in form, or in permanent influence, to all the other political writing of the period are the eighty-five essays known collectively as The Federalist. The essays, the joint work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal during the seven months begining October, 1787. They had been preceded, and to a considerable extent called out, by a attacks upon the new Constitution contributed by Governor George Clinton and Robert Yates to the New York Journal, over the pen-names of “Cato” and “Brutus” respectively. The authorship of a few of the essays has been an interesting problem of historical criticism, but four were the work of Jay, fourteen were certainly written by Madison, three are probably to be ascribed to Madison, nine are probably Hamilton’s, three are the work of Hamilton and Madison jointly, and the remaining fifty-one are the work of Hamilton. The plan was Hamilton’s, moreover, and his influence undoubtedly dominated all the numbers of the series, whoever the particular author.

The papers of The Federalist are in part an account of the merits and defects of confederacies, and a discussion of the difficulties and advantages of union, and a discussion of the difficulties and advantages of union, and in part an examination of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and a defence of the provisions of the proposed Constitution. Their actual influence upon the ratification of the Constitution in New York, which was the chief reason for writing them, has probably been overrated, nor are they free from partisan bias and the kind of popular argument likely to be effective in political debate. As the earliest contemporary exposition, in extended form, of the Constitution, however, they occupy a unique position. Written in the heat of controversy, and before the great structure of American constitutional law had even been begun, they forecast with extraordinary acuteness some of the most fundamental principles of constitutional interpretation which the federal courts were later to adopt, as well as some of the grave political issues on which party lines were to form. Judicial reference and quotation have given to The Federalist a weight of authority second only to that of the constitution itself, and upon the authorship of the larger part of its pages the reputation of Hamilton as a publicist mainly rests.