Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

14.
A MORE PERFECT UNION

Upon the early state conventions, The Federalist made little impression. The leisurely beginning and the elaboration with which"Publius" developed his themes ensured that the more important essays--those dealing with the most controversial parts of the Constitution--did not appear until five or six conventions had met and passed upon the plan of the Philadelphia Convention. Certainly The Federalist was not essential to the success of the Constitution in these state conventions: here the Federalists carried the day without the aid of "Publius." Far more potent than anything written by Hamilton, Jay and Madison in securing the adoption of the Constitution was the fact that Washington and Franklin had approved it. Of these worthies it was said by an Antifederalist that "the honest and uninformed freemen of America entertain the same opinion . . . as do European slaves of their Princes-- that they can do no wrong."

While it was often said that The Federalist profoundly affected the "reflecting few," no one claimed that it had such effect upon the "unreflecting multitude." When Washington received the first of Publius' essays he was so struck by their lofty tone that he sent them to Richmond to be reprinted in the local newspaper. He recognized immediately that here was something more than an ephemeral tract thrown up by political controversy. "When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances which attended this Crisis shall have disappeared," he observed, "that Work will merit the Notice of Posterity, because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government--which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in Civil Society." But Washington did not pretend that The Federalist would do more than "produce conviction on an unbiased mind." 1

The Antifederalists were content to leave the unbiased minds to "Publius"; as long as they had the bias of the country on their side, they did not ask for more. No Antifederalist writer attempted to answer the essays of Publius in detail. Their own propaganda efforts were pitched in a very different key from his. When Elbridge Gerry's pamphlet, Observations on

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