Where’s Publius?

“When the proposed Constitution issued from the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, Alexander Hamilton foresaw that opposition to it would be great, and though he thought the document would probably be adopted he couldn’t be sure. Three members of the Convention, all of them prominent, had refused to sign it, and others, including Hamilton’s two fellow delegates from New York, had left before the end of its deliberations. Indeed, the form in which the Constitution was approved gave it the appearance of unanimity: the delegates subscribed to it in the name of their states. This covered over defections and absences; for example, Hamilton alone signed for New York, and at least one delegate would have been unwilling to subscribe in his own name.”

So begins my edition of The Federalist, the collection of 85 essays written by Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the name Publius. (The authors went on to become the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, fourth President and first Chief Justice, respectively.) The essays were written at a speed that would put many bloggers to shame and distributed by the most advanced technology of the time. They address the toughest criticisms leveled at the proposed Constitution, from the charges that a unitary government would trample citizens’ rights and well-established prerogatives to the supremacy of federal law to the separation and blending of powers.

The title of the final essay sums up the argument: “Not perfect but good. Should adopt and seek to amend.”

Europe has had its Convention, and Europe’s governments are now having their Conference. Soon, there will be referenda, with high stakes and uncertain outcomes.

Where’s Publius?