The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Quotes


After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 1

Hamilton's opening sentence in the first essay of the series establishes his program without delay. He directly addresses his readers. Shortly after he stresses the stakes are high: the very existence of the Union, whose priceless advantages Hamilton and his colleagues will emphasize repeatedly in The Federalist Papers.

Note his use of sweeping language in the words unequivocal and inefficacy.


What reason can we have [for] ... those reveries which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy?

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 6

After summarizing similar experiences in countries like the United States, Hamilton's dry tone here verges on sarcasm, as he asks rhetorically what kind of daydream could "seduce" his readers to abandon reality. For Hamilton, separation would mean disaster. The preservation of the Union is paramount, and it can only be accomplished through the adoption of the new Constitution.


Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control [factions].

James Madison, Essay 10

Madison's argument in Essay 10 is among the most famous parts of The Federalist Papers. For Madison, a faction is a group united or motivated by a shared impulse that is at odds with the rights of other citizens or with the common good. Madison argues the large size of the American republic will help to disempower such interest groups.


A pure democracy ... a society consisting of a small number of citizens ... can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.

James Madison, Essay 10

This statement acts as more or less the converse of Madison's main argument in Essay 10. By a "pure democracy" he means a government such as that of ancient Athens in the fifth century BCE, where all citizens took part directly in governmental powers and activities. In a republic such as the United States the citizenry acts through a medium or filter: a chosen body of representatives.


Hearken not to the ... voice [saying that] the people of America ... can no longer live together ... can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness.

James Madison, Essay 14

This passage offers a good illustration of Madison's eloquent prose style. He uses anaphora ("Hearken not," which he repeats in the following sentence) as well as repetition ("can no longer ... can no longer") to give his phrasing a balanced, almost incantatory rhythm. The main idea of the essay is that the great size of the United States will not act as an obstacle to the continuation and maintenance of the Union. In fact, Madison believes quite the reverse. Toward the end of this essay he singles out the American Revolution as one "which has no parallel in the annals of human society."


Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 15

Hamilton concisely sums up much Enlightenment thought here. The Founding Fathers all exhibited a guarded attitude on the subject of human nature, pointing out that men are imperfect, at best. In Essay 6 Hamilton calls men "ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious."


When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 16

Hamilton is here discussing the civil wars that brought confederacies to a violent end throughout history. Once again, as in the previous quote, he displays a realistic attitude toward human nature.


A complete power, therefore, to procure a regular and adequate supply of [money] ... may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 30

Hamilton lays great stress on allowing the federal government wide scope for direct taxation of citizens. In Essay 31, for example, he calls revenue the "essential engine" of government. He was, of course, soon to be recognized as the leading expert on the subject as the first secretary of the treasury in Washington's cabinet. The vigor with which Hamilton presses his claim must be seen in the context of the failure of the Articles of Confederation to include a working system of finance.


The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both.

James Madison, Essay 39

Here Madison makes a bold attempt to clarify his contention that the new Constitution is most accurately described as a blend, mingling some features of a purely national approach to government and some features of a federal approach. The national government is prominent in some of the Constitution's provisions, but the role of the confederated states is prominent in others. This "blended" nature of the Constitution is parallel to the concept of "concurrent jurisdictions," discussed in Essay 33 (as it applies to taxation) and Essay 82 (as it applies to the judiciary).


The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.

James Madison, Essay 46

Here Madison combines two of the fundamental principles of the new Constitution, and also of The Federalist Papers: the "concurrent jurisdiction" of Federalism, and the principle of popular sovereignty.


Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.

James Madison, Essay 51

Like Madison's Essay 10, Essay 51 is one of the most widely quoted papers in The Federalist Papers. It is perhaps the fullest and most persuasive discussion in the series of the fundamental notion of checks and balances. These restraints work in tandem with the separation of powers. A good example is the president's veto power over a law passed by Congress—a check or balance which is, in turn, restrained by the ability of Congress to override a veto with a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.


Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles.

James Madison, Essay 55

The context here is discussion of the ideal number for the membership of a representative legislature. Madison concludes that a middle course has to be sought between an unduly small number at one extreme and the "confusion and intemperance of a multitude" at the other. The first House of Representatives, in fact, had 65 members. Today, membership is fixed at 435.


This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the [people's] immediate representatives.

James Madison, Essay 58

According to Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution, "All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." In this passage Madison stresses the formidable power that such a provision gives the people's directly elected representatives, since revenue and taxation are vital to the functioning of government.


The ingredients which constitute energy in the Executive are ... unity ... duration ... an adequate provision for its support; ... [and] competent powers.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 70

For Hamilton, "energy" symbolizes functionality and efficacious operation. In his discussion of unity, for example, he notes the paralyzing effects of dissension between the two highest magistrates of the ancient Roman Republic, the consuls.


In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will.

Alexander Hamilton, Essay 79

Hamilton is here discussing the salaries of judges. He remarks that, in order to avoid bias, corruption, and improper encroachment on the judiciary, Congress should be able to increase a judge's salary during his tenure in office but not to decrease it. Once again, Hamilton's astute, realistic evaluation of human nature is apparent.

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