James Madison & the Federalist Papers

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 will learn about James Madison's role in writing some of the essays contained in the Federalist Papers. We will examine some of the specific essays he wrote, and analyze his role as a leading Federalist.

James Madison: Brilliant Thinker and Contributor to the Federalist Papers

James Madison was America's shortest president, standing only 5 feet 4 inches tall, but what he lacked in physical presence, he made up for in mental fortitude. The man was brilliant. After all, he wrote the U.S. Constitution.

One of the authors of the Federalist Papers, James Madison.
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He also wrote something else. He was the author of many of the essays in the Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 political essays arguing for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. They also promoted the ''Federalist'' political philosophy, which emphasized a strong central government. Along with James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay authored the essays comprising the Federalist Papers. In this lesson we will be learning about the role Madison played in authoring the Federalists Papers. Let's dig in!

Federalism vs. Anti-Federalism and the Federalist Papers

Before we get into James Madison's actual essays, we first need just a little bit of context. It's important that we understand exactly what was going in regard to the Federalism vs. Anti-Federalism controversy. Established under a document called the Articles of Confederation, America's first government proved to be pretty ineffective. The government did not have the power it needed to raise revenue and adequately administer affairs. Because of this, a new ''federal'' style government was proposed under the U.S. Constitution. Those who supported the implementation of a new federal government became known as ''Federalists''. They favored a strong, central government, complete with a national bank. Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, feared that under the U.S. Constitution, the government would have too much power.

The Articles of Confederation.
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The numbered essays that make up the Federalists Papers were all written under the pseudonym ''Publius''. However, historians are in generally agreement over which essays were written by which authors. It is believed James Madison wrote 28 essays, compared with Alexander Hamilton's 52, and John Jay's five. Most of the essays were written between October 1787 and August 1788. Some essays are typically regarded as more influential than others. When these essays were first published in 1788, they were titled The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. It was not until the 20th century that the term Federalist Papers began to see widespread use.

A collection of 85 political essays called the Federalist Papers.
federalist papers

James Madison's Federalist Essays

James Madison was the author of Federalist No. 10, which is often regarded as the most influential of the entire collection. This essay was formally titled The Same Subject Continued: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection. In this essay, Madison expands upon Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 9, which discusses political factions and the need for unity. Madison believed that political factions were inevitable, and he was especially concerned about political splintering along class lines, or in other words, between the ''haves'' and the ''have-nots''.

Madison warned than in a decentralized pure democracy, the have-nots might band together, initiating a sort of ''mob rule'' that had the potential to become unstable. (One only needs to consider the French Revolution to see this in action.) The solution then, Madison argues, is not pure democracy, but a representative republican government like the one outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Madison argues that representative government tends to be more stable than direct democracy.

Federalist No. 18-20, The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union address the failures of the government under the Articles of Confederation. In these essays, Madison makes a case for why a national, federal government under the U.S. Constitution is needed to replace the confederation.

In Federalist No. 39, The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles, Madison addresses the nature or republican government. He calls into question whether America should have a national quality, or whether power should be held within the individual states. The issue of state's rights vs. the federal government is a major theme in this important essay. Madison argues for strong national government and argues for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

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