“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires,” James Madison eloquently wrote in The Federalist number 10. He continued, “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.”
Today we mark the 224th annniversary of the Federalist Papers. On October 27, 1787, the first of the papers was published in the Independent Journal, a New York newspaper. Through May 1788, 85 essays in total were published.
Printed under the pen name Publius, the identities of the essays’ authors—Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Madison—were not revealed for years. (Longtime readers of Constitution Daily may remember Publius 2.0 posts that offered a modern take on the Federalist Papers.) The purpose of the essays was to explain the Constitution and encourage ratification, particularly in New York State.
Though contemporaries did not know whose voice was behind the articles, readers today can appreciate how key players in the creation of the republic—the future first Secretary of the Treasury, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and fourth President of the United States—could offer uniquely passionate insights into the new Constitution. Madison, in particular, was “intellectually creative,” as Richard Brookhiser, a recent guest at the National Constitution Center, described him. You can see some of Madison’s genius at work in the Federalist Papers.
With election season underway, you might find this sampling of quotations useful to back up an argument for your stance on an issue, on everything from size of government to domestic unrest to the need for taxation for defense spending and national debts.
From the Federalist Papers:
- “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.” (Federalist No. 2)
- “The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power. This fully corresponds, in every rational import of the terms, with the idea of a federal government.” (No. 9)
- “But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” (No. 10)
- “…the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]” (No. 10)
- “WE HAVE seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the Old World, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming symptoms have been betrayed by our own.” (No. 14)
- “Whether there ought to be a federal government intrusted with the care of the common defense, is a question in the first instance, open for discussion; but the moment it is decided in the affirmative, it will follow, that that government ought to be clothed with all the powers requisite to complete execution of its trust.” (No. 23)
- “…there must be interwoven, in the frame of the government, a general power of taxation, in one shape or another.” (No. 30)
The last excerpt above could launch any number of talking points by presidential hopefuls. Without taxation, Hamilton argues, “one of two evils must ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual plunder, as a substitute for a more eligible mode of supplying the public wants, or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy, and, in a short course of time, perish.” These are startlingly bold words on a topic very much connected to today’s news.
Share with us whether these quotes have illuminated for you any of the issues currently at play in public debates.
Paige Scofield is Programs and Communications Coordinator at the National Constitution Center.