A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Benjamin J. Montoya
From our historical perspective, it is difficult to imagine our country before it became the United States that it is today. Furthermore, the further removed we become historically and even ideologically, it can be trying for people to remember the ideas that fueled the Constitution as we now have it. The Federalist Papers contain these key ideas. These Papers are a series of 85 essays that were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. They published them anonymously under the pseudonym “Publius” in various papers in New York state.
The Federalist Papers provide us with an important reminder of the intent of the Constitution that we now have. Throughout its 85 essays, there are five key ideas that resurface regularly:
- Checks and balances
- Separated powers
Federalism is important for so many reasons. First, from an historical perspective, peoples that have not joined together their regions into some kind of larger organization/federation/union have tended only in a negative, adversarial direction. Second, this kind of union helps protect people from all states from attacks from other countries. Third, this union would also allow for the creation of a Navy that would help with international trade.
Checks and balances within the federal government remain important because of the constitution of man himself. We need government because we are aware that men are not angels. But this government must be constructed carefully so as to discourage and prevent the misuse of power into tyranny.
The separation of powers within the three branches we now have helps ensure checks and balances. Having a President, Congress, and the Supreme Court with their separation of powers in our current model allows for the system to avoid being usurped by any one faction to do everything they will.
Pluralism is key to the founding of the federal government and its constitution. History reveals that if factions can take over, they will. This new proposed system that we know have was intended to preserve pluralism and, thereby, disallowing for one faction to rule.
The final key theme from The Federalist Papers is that of representation. Representation in the House and the Senate provide for two important things from a government:
A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained. Some governments are deficient in both these qualities; most governments are deficient in the first. I scruple not to assert, that in American governments too little attention has been paid to the last. The federal Constitution avoids this error; and what merits particular notice, it provides for the last in a mode which increases the security for the first.
Ultimately, the kind of government that can allow for the happiness of its people is one in which there is representation of the people by the governed so that the means of the object of the government can indeed be best attained.
There are many excellent quotes from this document, but here are some of the key quotations that further highlight the key ideas of these letters themselves.
- “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
- “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”
- “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.”
- “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.”
- “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
- “The zeal for attempts to amend, prior to the establishment of the Constitution, must abate in every man who is ready to accede to the truth of the following observations of a writer equally solid and ingenious: ‘To balance a large state or society Usays hee, whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work; experience must guide their labor; time must bring it to perfection, and the feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they INEVITABLY fall into in their first trials and experiments.’ These judicious reflections contain a lesson of moderation to all the sincere lovers of the Union, and ought to put them upon their guard against hazarding anarchy, civil war, a perpetual alienation of the States from each other, and perhaps the military despotism of a victorious demagoguery, in the pursuit of what they are not likely to obtain, but from time and experience. It may be in me a defect of political fortitude, but I acknowledge that I cannot entertain an equal tranquillity with those who affect to treat the dangers of a longer continuance in our present situation as imaginary. A nation, without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle. The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety. I can reconcile it to no rules of prudence to let go the hold we now have, in so arduous an enterprise, upon seven out of the thirteen States, and after having passed over so considerable a part of the ground, to recommence the course. I dread the more the consequences of new attempts, because I know that powerful individuals, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape.”
Why bother with a summary of these Federalist Papers? I propose that to appreciate and understand our country the way it is and to prevent further kinds of antithetical changes to its Constitution and ways of operating, our citizens must be aware of the meaning and intent behind the current Constitution. Our churches must also consider the same. The Federalist Papers help us in that regard. May these Papers inspire us to live up to the ideals included therein so can continue to enjoy the freedoms and prosperity that America has known.
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THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay