Vol. 10 No. 11 (November 2000) pp. 610-615.

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS: A COMMENTARY by W. B. Allen with Kevin A. Cloonan. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000. 418pp. $34.95. ISBN: 0-8204-3756-5.

Reviewed by Peter J. Galie, Department of Political Science, Canisius College.

The "Federalist Papers," as they are popularly known, were essays written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, under the nom de plume PUBLIUS, in support of the ratification of the proposed constitution. Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson, John Marshall, Charles Beard, and a host of other statesmen and scholars have praised them lavishly. Though called the most authoritative exposition of our constitution and cited with some regularity by the Supreme Court, by the mid-twentieth century, no full-length monograph on the essays had appeared. What could explain this startling fact? Moreover, no definitive edition of the essays existed until Jacob E. Cooke edited THE FEDERALIST (1961). Charles Beard had edited and analyzed an abridgment of the Federalist, THE ENDURING FEDERALIST (1948). Beard's edition, avowedly not scholarly, was designed to introduce Americans to "this great work" which has "entered deeply into the interpretation and spirit of the constitution" (p. 17-18). In the same year Max Beloff wrote what was, at the time, the most comprehensive introduction to the Federalist for Oxford University Press. Roy Fairfield, THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, 3rd ed. (1981), compiled a comprehensive list of editions of the Federalist to 1981. Simultaneously, Benjamin F. Wright (1961) and Clinton Rossiter (1961) issued editions of the essays. Wright's edition contained an 86 page introduction that distilled his mature reflections on the Federalist. Rossiter, a longtime student of American political thought, published a modernized edition for students with an index keying arguments to relevant sections of the constitution. Rossiter is likely responsible for the now common, if questionable usage, "Federalist Papers." The edition is still in print with a new introduction by Charles Kesler. Garry Wills's edition (1982) reprinted the scholarly text established by Cooke, included Madison's marginal notations, a glossary of terms and an outline of the argument of the papers. In 1987 Isaac Kramnick edited the essays for Penguin Books. As part of the Library of America Project, Bernard Bailyn (1993) published the essays in the context of newspaper articles, essays, private letters, pamphlets and speeches written or delivered during the debates over the ratification of the constitution between September 1787 and early 1788. Bailyn placed his selection in chronological order and in the context of the anti-federalist arguments.

Newer scholarship, reflected in the works of J. G. A. Pocock, Bailyn, and Gordon Wood, suggested that the Federalist could not be understood outside the context of the arguments being made by anti-federalists who sometimes sounded more like classical republicans than Lockeans. Herbert Storing provided the first complete edition, THE COMPLETE ANTI-

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FEDERALIST (1981), that enabled readers to make careful comparisons of the thrusts and parries that shaped the substance of the Federalist. Prior to the Storing edition there were a number of published selections of anti-federalist essays, chief among those, Cecelia M. Kenyon's THE ANTIFEDERALIST (1966), published as part of Bobbs-Merrill's American Heritage Series. With THE DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION (1976, 15 vols. to date) edited by Merrill Jensen, John Kaminski and Gaspare Saladino, we will have, at this late date, a comprehensive source for the ratification of our founding document.

It is not that scholars neglected the essays. No less an historian than Charles Beard made the essays, or more precisely essay No. 10, the centerpiece of his understanding of the Constitution. In his AN ECONOMIC INTERPRETATION OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES (1913) Beard calls The Federalists, he means No. 10, "the finest study in the economic interpretation of politics which exists in any language" (p. 153). Richard Hofstadter's THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (1948) although not strictly a Beardian, reflected a similar, Realpolitik, understanding of the Federalists.

Scholarly articles by Alpheus Thomas Mason, Martin Diamond, and Douglas Adair, among others, offered insightful analysis of the essays. Mason detected a split personality in the essays. Diamond focused on the federal nature of the constitution and the importance of institutions and founding. Diamond's article was a response to Robert Dahl's A PREFACE TO DEMOCRATIC THEORY (1956) in which Dahl subjected Madison's arguments to rigorous testing, finding them "shot through with assumptions and arguments that will not stand up to criticism." Adair saw the roots of Madison's No. 10 in Hume's political essays.

In 1960, nearly 175 years after the ratification debates, the first monograph in English appeared. Gottfried Dietze, a European expatriate, authored THE FEDERALIST A CLASSIC OF FEDERALISM AND FREE GOVERNMENT (1960). Dietze's monograph focused on the importance of federalism and the protection of individual rights, especially property rights. An earlier study was published in Italian by Aldo Garosci, IL PENSIERO POLITICO DEGLI AUTHOR DEL "FEDERALIST" (1954). The second monograph to appear was a study of the authorship of the disputed papers by Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace, INFERENCE AND DISPUTED AUTHORSHIP: THE FEDERALIST (1964, which confirmed Adair's conclusion that Madison wrote most of the disputed papers. Holmes Alexander's HOW TO READ THE FEDERALIST (1961), a study sponsored by Robert Welch and the John Birch Society, is an unreliable screed.

Vincent Ostrom's THE POLITICAL THEORY OF A COMPOUND REPUBLIC (1971, 1987) focused on the federal or "concurrent regimes" aspect of the union. In LOCKE, HOBBES AND THE FEDERALIST PAPERS (1979) George Mace claimed that the birthright of our heritage is Hobbesian, not Lockean.

Anticipation of the bicentennial in 1987 undoubtedly galvanized scholarly study of the Federalist. Garry Wills's EXPLAINING AMERICA: THE FEDERALIST (1981) argued, as he had in his study of the Declaration of Independence, that the key to understanding

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the Federalist was the Scottish Enlightenment. Three years later David Epstein's THE POLITICAL THEORY OF THE FEDERALIST (1984) steered a middle course between the Lockean and republican readings of the essays, claiming that the Federalist were committed to both republican and liberal political concerns or objectives.

The increasing sophistication and theoretical coherence reflected in the work of Wills and Albert Furtwangler in his THE AUTHORITY OF PUBLIUS questioned Epstein: A READING OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS (1984). Furtwangler claimed that the essays had little effect on the outcome, that their theoretical coherence has been vastly overestimated, and that they do not deserve the status as authoritative summaries of the Founding Fathers constitutional philosophy, all in 150 pages. Coincidental with the bicentennial celebration came, SAVING THE REVOLUTION: THE FEDERALIST PAPERS AND THE AMERICAN FOUNDING (1987), edited by Charles R. Kesler, a collection of essays by fourteen authors on various aspects of the Federalist as well as its bearing on the development of America's political practice. In 1988 Thomas Engemen, Edward Erler and Thomas B. Hofeller, editors, published THE FEDERALIST CONCORDANCE (1988), a valuable research tool for students of the essays.

Philosopher and student of American intellectual history, Morton White attempted a comprehensive analysis of the major philosophical themes in the Federalist in PHILOSOPHY, THE FEDERALIST, AND THE CONSTITUTION (1989). White discovered Locke and Hume behind Federalist epistemology and political ideas. Along the way he gives Dahl's logical compression of Madison a drubbing, berates Beard for his inaccuracies, and lectures Wills on how to read Hume. In the following year Edward Millican published ONE UNITED PEOPLE: THE FEDERALIST PAPERS AND THE NATIONAL IDEA (1990). The gap between the more formal Latinate language of 18th century public writing and today's breezy, low syllable, sort sentence writing, and the discomfort that it causes for today's students is the raison d'etre for Mary Webster's THE FEDERALIST PAPERS IN MODERN LANGUAGE (1999).

This discussion brings us to William Allen's THE FEDERALIST PAPERS A COMMENTARY. In spite of the out-pouring of scholarship on the Federalist in the past twenty years and the thorough investigation of the theory and theoretical roots of the papers, Allen manages to work through the papers in ways that are refreshing and thought provoking.

Starting with the proposition that a constitution is "a way of life for a people," Allen's purpose is to discover "what kind of way of life it was that was produced" by the convention. He does this by analyzing the arguments on behalf of the proposed constitution made in the Federalist. The book has three related objectives. The first is to demonstrate that the focus on No. 10 as the key theoretical essay is mistaken. The second is to rescue the Federalist from the charge that its approach to politics and constitution-making was mechanistic institutional tinkering -- a charge which in turn has led scholars to claim that Publius anticipated the notion of government as an honest broker among interest groups. Allen argues this view of politics "is entirely incorrect and inverts the understanding of the framers at least as expressed in the FEDERALIST PAPER" (p. 347). His final

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objective is to demonstrate that if such an understanding of the polity and constitution were in fact at the heart of the Federalist, our constitutional democracy, resting as it does on such foundations, would stand undefended against contemporary ideologies which expect a regime to originate in justice, possess institutions that operate to improve human life and are based on the conception of humans who are capable of reasoning together about the things common to human life and the common good. We must be capable of "moderation, self-government and moral sense in order to justify confidence in universal suffrage" (p. 388). The papers taken collectively demonstrate that in a republic, majorities will determine the course of public policy, but that the constitutional structure will inhibit the formation of policy majorities on any principles except those of justice and the common good. How does he proceed to make this case? The book is organized in eight parts, an epilogue and an appendix consisting of a list of Supreme Court cases referring to the Federalist. With the exception of part one, the overview, the work proceeds chronologically with the papers under discussion noted in the margin, a useful device given the absence of an index. Careful attention is given to the counter arguments made by anti-federalists.

In the first two sections, "Overview" and "The Constitutionalism of the Federalist Papers," Allen stakes out his argument: "no constitution can make government free. Government is free only to the extent that citizens keep it free."

Moreover, he claims Publius understood the constitution not only as an arrangement of offices but as a way of life that reveals the preferences of the citizens of the community. More than mere constitutional tinkerers, they were creating an order that would shape the kind of lives people were meant to live. He focuses on the use of the term "political prosperity" as a key understanding this way of life. The constitution expected and encouraged political prosperity (the blessing of liberty) and material prosperity (a commercial republic). Turning to the nation building dimensions of the essays, Allen argues the constitution was meant to create a people sufficiently homogeneous, sharing the same moral and political principles, thus, able to act on the world stage as a single people. We cannot homogenize interest, but we can "harmonize assimilate and protect the several parts and members and extend the benefits of its foresight and precaution to each" (No. 4).

Allen's analysis of No. 10 is bracing. He places the problem of faction in the context of how the term is used in a number of other essays. He concludes that No. Ten is not a discussion against majorities, rather a caution against how majority rule is to be organized and that the federalist is as much about creating the conditions for a just majority as it is a warning about majority faction.

In the section titled "The Mechanics of Liberty" where the institutions are examined, Allen argues that the three branches of government were meant to refine and harmonize interests, create a nation and the conditions for the operation of a just majority. His examination of Nos. 51 to 77 leads to the conclusion that Congress and the President were intended not simply to represent interests but to shape those interests in the pursuit of the public good.

Allen takes the reader through most of the essays explaining and elaborating aspects of the text left untouched by earlier

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studies. The writing style bears the stamp of the lecture format in which this material was originally presented. His sometimes elliptical, occasionally leaving the reader hanging, with the argument difficult to follow at times. The work deserves a place on the shelves of those interested in the Federalist and the character of our founding.


Alexander, Holmes. 1961. HOW TO READ THE FEDERALIST. Boston.


Beard, Charles, ed. 1948. THE ENDURING FEDERALIST. N.Y.: Doubleday and Co.


Cooke, Jacob E. ed. 1961. THE FEDERALIST. N.Y.: Meridan Press

Dahl, Robert. 1956. A PREFACE TO DEMOCRATIC THEORY. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dietze, Gottfried. 1960. THE FEDERALIST A CLASSIC OF FEDERALISM AND FREE GOVERNMENT. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Engemen, Thomas. Edward Erler, and Thomas B. Hofeller, eds. 1988. THE FEDERALIST CONCORDANCE. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Epstein, David. 1984. THE POLITICAL THEORY OF THE FEDERALIST. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fairfield, Roy. 1981. THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, 3rd ed. John Hopkins Press.

Furtwangler, Albert. 1984. THE AUTHORITY OF PUBLIUS: A READING OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Hofstadter, Richard. 1948. THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION. Alfred E. Knopf.

Jensen, Merrill. John Kaminski, and Gaspare, Saladino, eds. 1976. THE DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE RATIFICATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION, 15 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin. Press.

Kenyon, Cecelia M. 1966. THE ANTI-FEDERALIST. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.


Kramnick, Isaac. 1993. THE DEBATES ON THE CONSTITUTION. New York: Library of America.

Mace, George. 1979. LOCKE, HOBBES AND THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

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Millican, Edward. 1990. ONE UNITED PEOPLE: THE FEDERALIST PAPERS AND THE NATIONAL IDEA. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Mosteller, Frederick and David Wallace. 1964. INFERENCE AND DISPUTED AUTHORSHIP: THE FEDERALIST. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Ostrom, Vincent. 1971; rev. ed. 1987. THE POLITICAL THEORY OF A COMPOUND REPUBLIC. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Rossiter, Clinton. 1961. THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. New York: Mentor Books.

Storing, Herbert. 1981. THE COMPLETE ANTI-FEDERALIST. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Webster, Mary. 1999. THE FEDERALIST PAPERS IN MODERN LANGUAGE. Bellevue, Washington: Merill Press.

White, Morton. 1989. PHILOSOPHY, THE FEDERALIST AND THE CONSTITUTION. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Wills, Garry. 1981. EXPLAINING AMERICA: THE FEDERALIST. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Copyright 2000 by the author, Peter J. Galie.