Posted by: George | December 22, 2016

Lessons from The Federalist Papers

Last Saturday, December 17, I was sitting with some of my colleagues in the robing room before commencement. We were having coffee and catching up before we had to slide into academic regalia, march in the basketball arena, and zone out for over two hours.

 One of my colleagues asked, “What are you going to do over the break?”

 “I’m going to reread The Federalist Papers,” I replied.


 “So I can argue against Trump supporters.”

 At this point, another colleague, a historian, said, “Trump supporters are not Federalists!”

 My reply was, “I don’t know what they are, but I want to understand the constitution better.”

 My first comment about arguing with Trump supporters was a smartass thing to say. The last comment about wanting to understand our constitution better was more accurate and measured, more what I hope to accomplish.

 I do not assume that I understand “Trump supporters,” but I am pretty sure they are a mixed group, far more diverse than I tend to acknowledge. There might be a zeitgeist that drove the election of Trump, but a zeitgeist, as it captures the spirit of an age, must necessarily pull in a diverse group. If we broaden the group to include people who voted for Trump, or maybe voted against Clinton, but were not too happy about having to make that choice, the group becomes even more diverse.

 But, here we are, awaiting a new president. This is usually a time of optimism, but it can also be a time, even when we have elected a more traditional president, of fear and anxiety. As we await inauguration day, most citizens typically feel this entire complex of emotions. This year, I suspect the emotions are split into diverse camps. We are now a nation as divided as when The Federalist Papers argued for a particular path—the formation of a stronger union.

 If I could find “Trump supporters,” or a sample of them, sitting around in a coffee shop someplace, I don’t think I would want to argue with them. What I would like to do is contribute to creating a dialog. So, I want to reread The Federalist Papers to educate myself. In future posts, I will share what I learn.

 I should begin with some context and caveats. I am a rhetorician and a teacher of rhetoric. I am not a historian or a political scientist. I am also, primarily on this blog, a writer of personal essays. I am not going to pretend to offer an expert interpretation of The Federalist Papers. Rather, I am going to read to see what I can learn about the origins of our government and our national values. At this point, I don’t know what I will write about, but I suspect this will be a personal series of essays about what surprised me or caught my interest. What I write will likely be more personal reflection than scholarship.

 If you are unfamiliar with The Federalist Papers, here are a few facts to get us started. To argue for the adoption of our constitution, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote a series of essays, seventy-seven of them, under the pseudonym Publius, which were published in The Independent Journal from October 1787 to August 1788. In 1788, a collection with eight additional essays was published as The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. The collection was not known as The Federalist Papers until the twentieth-century. The essays are generally valued for the insight they provide into the intentions of our Founding Fathers. Some of the essays form an important part of the curriculum for courses in constitutional law.

Let’s see what we can learn.




  1. Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to I’ll be sure to givve you complete credit as the author. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. If “OK” please let me know via email.



    • Sure. Thanks for reading.



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