The Federalist Papers

The first in a series of eighty-five essays by “Publius,” the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the Independent Journal, a New York newspaper, on October 27, 1787. Publius urged New Yorkers to support ratification of the Constitution approved by the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.

“Federalist No. 1.” Alexander Hamilton. Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton. Photograph of a Contemporary Portrait by John Trumbull; in the collection of the Yale School of Fine Arts. [between 1900 and 1912]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Proponents of the new Constitution believed that centralized government was essential for successful commercial and geographic expansion. Only a strong national government, they argued, could effectively negotiate with foreign countries, ensure free trade between states, and create a stable currency.

Known as the Federalist Papers or The Federalist, these eighty-five essays addressed widespread concern that a national government, distanced from the people, would soon grow despotic. The essays eloquently and comprehensively argue that distributing power across the various branches of government provides checks and balances to the concentrated sovereignty of the federal government.

James Madison’s Federalist No.10 exemplifies the brilliance and startling originality of the Federalist Papers. Published on November 23, 1787, Madison challenges the assumption that individual rights can be secured only in small countries with homogeneous populations.

James Madison, fourth President of the United States. Lithograph after the painting by Gilbert Stuart; Pendleton’s Lithography, [1828?]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

The Constitution’s detractors maintained that large nations with disparate populations are inherently unstable. The emergence of factions, they believed, would constantly threaten to overwhelm the government and place personal liberty at risk. Madison topples this argument by insisting that plurality and liberty are complementary. In a famous passage he writes:

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Federalist No.10. James Madison. Federalist Papers

Although written for the New York press, newspapers around the country reprinted the essays. The Federalist, a bound edition of the essays first published in 1788, played an important role in the campaign to ratify the Constitution in New York and Virginia. Ratification of the Constitution was possible without these populous states, but their approval was considered crucial to the success of the new government.

In the following letter to Alexander Hamilton, George Washington thanks Hamilton for sending a copy of the pamphlet written by “Publius”.

George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, November 10, 1787. Series 2. Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 14. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division

Ultimately, the federalist vision of a national government prevailed. However, the Federalist represents one of many perspectives in a nationwide debate over the Constitution. Explore the following resources to learn more about the Constitutional Convention and the controversy surrounding ratification.

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New York City Subway Opens

Now I, as Mayor, in the name of the people, declare the subway open!

“Exercises in City Hall: Mayor Declares Subway Open — Ovations for Parsons and McDonald,” New York Times, October 28, 1904, 1.

With these words, New York Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. closed a morning of oratory at City Hall in honor of the opening of the New York City subway system. At just after 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 27, 1904, the inaugural subway train emerged from City Hall station with Mayor McClellan at the controls. Twenty-six minutes later, the train arrived at its destination at 145th Street. The system opened to the general public at 7:00 p.m. Before the evening was out, subway trains had transported over 110,000 passengers around the city.

In the Subway, New York, N.Y. c1904. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

An underground transportation system for New York City had been proposed as early as the 1860s, inspired, perhaps, by the opening of the first underground railway in London in 1863. New York City’s rapid growth and streets clogged with pedestrians, horses, wagons, and carriages, made travel within the city dangerous and frustrating. Between 1870 and 1900 several private companies attempted to initiate underground transit projects, but each time, legal, political, and financial obstacles proved insurmountable. While completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 and the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 eased traffic moving into Manhattan, and several companies had built elevated rapid transit structures, congestion within the city remained a problem.

Lower Broadway. Filmed May 15, 1902; Robert K. Bonine, camera; American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1903. The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

In 1894, New Yorkers approved a referendum supporting the use of public funds to build a subway system. Financier August Belmont, Jr. (1853-1924) organized the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company, a private company that was contracted by the city to build the system. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at City Hall in Manhattan in March 1900. Belmont later created the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) to manage the system’s operations. Full control of the IRT line reverted back to the City of New York in 1940, when the city consolidated all existing subway lines into a single, municipally-managed network.

Interior N.Y. Subway, 14th St. to 42nd St.. Filmed May 21, 1905; G.W. Bitzer, camera; American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1905. The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

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