The first in a series of 85 essays by “Publius,” the combined pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, appeared in the Independent Journal, a New York newspaper, on this day in 1787. Publius’ essays urged New Yorkers to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which had been approved by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on Sept. 17.
Hamilton, who led off the series, wrote: “After an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the Union, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.”
The advocates of the newly drafted Constitution held that a central government was essential to ensure the commercial and geographic expansion of the fledgling nation. Only a strong, adequately funded national government, they argued, could effectively negotiate with foreign countries, ensure free and open trade among the states while provide for a stable currency.
The essays addressed widespread concerns that a national government would soon fuel an era of despotism. In responding to such fears, the essays argue that the Constitution, by distributing power broadly across three branches of government, underwrites the needed checks and balances to skirt such dangers.
The essays, although written primarily to muster support within a skeptical New York constituency, were picked up and reprinted by newspapers around the country. A bound edition of the essays, first published in 1788, played a key role in the campaign to win over New York and Virginia. In theory, the Constitution could have been ratified without the approval of those two populous states. In practice, however, the Founding Fathers knew that their approval would be crucial to the success of the new government.