This series is a bit of an experiment. I'll be reading each of the Federalist Papers, and providing a reaction to each one. I haven't read them before, and I'm not doing any research, so I'm armed with nothing more than some knowledge about the Constitutional Convention, a legal education that's gathering dust, and the benefit of hindsight. I aim to do 1-2 of these a week, and there are 85 total, so here goes what will likely be a year-long venture into a series of nation-shaping essays that have been reduced to a common knowledge that factions are mentioned somewhere, and are bad.
Hey, who knew there was a preface?
So apparently after the individual essays were written, they were then published as a collection. The length of the set was so long (it's 500 mass market paperback pages) that it had to be split into two editions.
The preface also contains an apology. The circumstances of the writing of the essays (multiple authors working at the same time) means that many ideas are repeated, "which cannot but displease a critical reader."
Great, I get to read some of the same arguments over and over, and try to figure out something new and interesting to say about them. This journey of 85 miles has begun by sticking my foot right in the mud.
No. 1: General Introduction, by Hamilton
Hamilton gets the ball rolling with what is either a sneaky criticism of the anti-federalists, or a very keen sense of fairness. Opponents of the new Constitution may be acting out of nothing but their greed for power. But, Hamilton tells us, maybe they are acting in good faith, he cannot say.
Patrick Henry may be a pederast.
But we do not know.
Hamilton then acknowledges that some on his side of the argument may also be acting out of ambition and greed, but it feels to be just a half-hearted nod to fairness.
Hamilton also warns us that those who profess a zeal for liberty (presumably anti-federalists fearing a more powerful, liberty-crushing central government) tend to end up going down the road to despotism, "commencing demagogues and ending tyrants."
The evidence for this is nothing more than the conclusory claim of "History will teach us." No footnote? One great thing about living in the age of Wikipedia, Politifact, and Snopes, is that it's harder to get away with an unfounded claim. Surely still easy, just turn on Fox News, or MSNBC, or read your Facebook wall, but there are at least now competing skeptical voices, and the tools for sorting out reality from rhetoric.
Perhaps Hamilton was constrained by his medium, but given the length of the total work, I think he could have squeezed in just one example of a champion of liberty overturning a republic. We have them now, of course. Both the Republicans and Democrats talk a good game about liberty, but routinely march us closer to a totalitarian regime. But Hamilton's argument is not that it can happen. Hamilton argues that the freedom-talkers are more likely to bring about tyranny than those discussing the need for a firm and efficient government. Sorry Allie boy, citation needed.