Federalist No. 10: Summary & Significance

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  • 0:00 What Were the…
  • 1:20 Political Context
  • 2:22 What Was Federalist No. 10?
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll learn about 'Federalist No. 10.' We'll learn who wrote it, why it was written, and what its core themes are. We'll also explore the political context behind this document and see why it's important.

What Were the Federalist Papers?

Imagine you have just founded a brand new country, but you are concerned for its long-term well-being. You believe the new country you helped found is off to a good start, but you are concerned about a few things here and there. What do you do? Why, you do like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and publish some essays, of course!

The Federalist Papers is the name we give to a collection of political essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay during the 1780s. These men were considered Federalists, meaning they favored a strong central government, as opposed to the Anti-Federalists, who supported a weak central government and emphasized the role of state authority. The Federalists strongly favored the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, while the Anti-Federalists did not. Many of the essays in the Federalist Papers present an argument for why the states should ratify the U.S. Constitution.

The Federalist Papers are a tremendously important collection of documents with much relevance today. They allow us to see how some of America's Founders understood politics. Next to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, they are some of our most important national documents.

Political Context

In the 1780s the Founders saw the potential for factions to disrupt the newly created American republic. The two main political factions were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. But even within these two broad political groups, there was much room for disagreement over specifics and the potential for splintering. The Founders recognized the importance of unity, and the desire to preserve unity is what drove James Madison to write Federalist No. 10.

The U.S. Constitution did not come into effect until 1789, so throughout the 1780s, the government of the United States was outlined in a document called the Articles of Confederation. The government under the Articles of Confederation was weak and lacked the power to effectively govern. This prompted James Madison and other Federalists to advocate for a new government--the one created under the U.S. Constitution. In many respects the Federalists Papers can be understood as an argument for the U.S. Constitution.

What Was Federalist No. 10?

There are 85 total essays in the Federalist Papers, but in this lesson we will focus on Federalist No. 10, which is often considered to be among the most significant. Federalist No. 10 was written by James Madison and published in November 1789. Remember, this was before he became the fourth President of the United States. As with the other essays in the collection, Federalist No. 10 was written under the pseudonym ''Publius''.

Federalist No. 10 addresses the issue of political 'factions.' Madison defines a faction as ''a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.''

In terms of politics, factions are splinter groups who hold differing ideas and views. Think about politics today. There are two main political parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. However, there are also other parties, such as the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, and the Socialist Party of the United States of America. Within these parties, there is even room for disagreement. For example, the Tea Party Movement within the Republican Party holds to different ideals than many mainstream Republicans.

Madison understood that factionalism was naturally occurring within democratic political structures. After all, people of different economic, social, religious, and ethnic backgrounds are bound to disagree over issues, and consequently, ally themselves with those who are similar. Madison believed factionalism presented a danger to the American people as a whole, and he wrote Federalist No. 10 to promote national unity.

Federalist No. 10 continues to expound upon the themes contained in Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 9, which is officially titled The Same Subject Continued: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection. In Federalist No. 10, Madison identifies direct democracy as a threat to the United States, because under a direct democracy there the potential for 'mob rule,' whereby the largest faction controls the whole. He writes: ''…a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.''

To safeguard against factionalism, Madison argues for a representative democracy, or a republican form of government, in which the people elect a leader to represent them. This form of government, as opposed to a direct democracy, provides stability because it keeps important government decisions from being made by the changing tide of public opinion. Madison saw the government under the U.S. Constitution as holding in balance a direct democracy and representative republic. Under the Articles of Confederation,the states were not united and the potential for sectionalism and factionalism was huge; however, under the U.S. Constitution, the nation could be more united, and although diverse, the potential for factionalism was greatly reduced.

Federalist No. 10 is regarded as a seminal work and is frequently cited in important constitutional court cases. Historians continue to debate the nuances of the essay, and it has been interpreted in various ways over the years. However, it remains, a foundational work highlighting the value of national unity through republicanism.

Lesson Summary

So, in order to wrap things up nicely, let's review our key terms and ideas.

  • The Federalist Papers is the name we give to a collection of political essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay during the 1780s. Many of the essays in the Federalist Papers present an argument for why the states should ratify the U.S. Constitution.
  • Federalists favored a strong central government, as opposed to the Anti-Federalists, who supported a weak central government and emphasized the role of state authority.
  • The Articles of Confederation provided the first government for the newly independent United States. The government, under the Articles of Confederation, was weak and lacked the power to effectively govern.
  • Federalist No. 10 was written by James Madison under the pseudonym Publius and addresses the divisive problems caused by political factions. It is regarded as a seminal work and is frequently cited in important constitutional court cases.
  • James Madison wrote Federalist No. 10. It was published in November 1789. In the essay he warned of the dangers of factionalism and prompted the nation to remain unified through representational democracy.!!!What Were the Federalist Papers?

Imagine you have just founded a brand new country, but you are concerned for its long-term well-being. You believe the new country you helped found is off to a good start, but you are concerned about a few things here and there. What do you do? Why, you do like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and publish some essays, of course!

The Federalist Papers is the name we give to a collection of political essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay during the 1780s. These men were considered Federalists, meaning they favored a strong central government, as opposed to the Anti-Federalists, who supported a weak central government and emphasized the role of state authority. The Federalists strongly favored the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, while the Anti-Federalists did not. Many of the essays in the Federalist Papers present an argument for why the states should ratify the U.S. Constitution.

The Federalist Papers are a tremendously important collection of documents with much relevance today. They allow us to see how some of America's Founders understood politics. Next to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, they are some of our most important national documents.

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