The Rhetorical Approach in the Federalist Papers No.10, No.54, No.84 and No.85

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008
19 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Historical Background

3. Analysis of selected Federalist Papers
3.1. Federalist No. 10
3.2. Federalist No. 54
3.3. Federalist No. 84
3.4. Federalist Nr. 85

4. Summary and Conclusion

5. Literature

1. Introduction

The eighty-five essays, today commonly referred to as The Federalist Papers, were written in 1787 and 1788 in order to help in securing the ratification of the proposed United States Constitution in the State of New York.1 Although the essays were all signed Publius, they were written by three men of different background and, to some extent, different political ideas. John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison have contributed to the Papers in different quantity. Due to an illness Jay has contributed only five articles. Hamilton’s and Madison’s contributions are not always easy to separate but most scholars ascribe twenty-nine articles to Madison and fifty-one to Hamilton.2 The authorship of essays “18-20, 49-58, and 62-63 was the subject of heated historical controversy for more than a century and a half, because both Hamilton and Madison allegedly claimed authorship of these essays.”3

The object of this paper is to analyze the rhetorical approach of Madison and Hamilton in selected papers. Also, an attempt will be made to determine if, and to what extent their rhetorical style and political ideas are distinguishable even under the joint guise of Publius.

The analysis will be undertaken on the examples of four selected papers – No. 10, 54, 84 and 85, which were chosen as representatives of the respective author’s style, since a detailed analysis of all 85 papers would be to extensive for a term paper. Contributions by John Jay are deliberately left out since they consist of only 5 papers which are arguably among the less important ones.

Federalist No.10 was chosen as the most famous of Madison’s contributions due to its prominence within the scholarly debate and the prevailing significance of the problem discussed in the essay – the dangers or factions within a republic system. No. 54 was chosen as an example of disputed authorship and due to its treatment of the complex problem of slavery in regard to the number of Representatives of Southern States. A special interest lies in the author’s approach to distinguish the slaves status of being ‘people’ and ‘property’ at the same time. No. 84 was chosen due to Hamilton’s interesting rhetorical treatment of and political stance on the bill of rights. No. 85 was chosen because of its importance as a conclusion to the complete work and arguments of the whole body of texts.

In order to put the essays and their respective authors into a perspective, pertinent to the following analysis, a short historical background of the situation preceding the composition of the papers will be provided.

2. Historical Background

After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the erstwhile British colonies united into a confederation of thirteen sovereign states and adopted a first join constitution in 1777. Those so called Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781.4 After the end of the War of Independence in 1783, this constitution proved to be inadequate, especially in regard to the ensuing economical crisis in all the states of the Confederation. It seemed that only a central settlement of the problem could save the Confederation. The Congress, hindered in its attempts to solve the crisis by the current constitution, called for changes in the Articles of Confederation, which would have given the federal government a higher authority within the single states. This approach failed because of a disagreement between the states.5

In May 1787 a national convent with representatives from all the states was convoked in Philadelphia. A new constitution was drafted, favoring a strong central government.6 The final draft was almost unanimously approved by the Philadelphia convent participants and sent out for ratification in September 1787, with the stipulation that the approval of at least nine states was necessary for the final adoption.7 The citizens of every state elected a ratification convent and a public argument soon ensued between the advocates (Federalists) and the opponents (Anti-Federalists) of the new constitution. The hardest battles of words were fought in the states of New York, Virginia and Massachusetts.8 The concentration of Anti- federalists was very high in New York and the election for the ratification convent was set for April 1788.9 Alexander Hamilton, a young lawyer, decided to carry out the task of explaining and propagating the advantages of the new Constitution in the state of New York in a series of articles. He won John Jay, a New York judge, and James Madison, a representative of Virginia at the Philadelphia convent, as co –authors for this ambitious project.10

It is not determinable in how far the Federalist Papers have helped the ratification of the Constitution. The elections for the ratification convent in New York was eventually won mostly by Anti-Federalists, but since nine other states had already voted for the constitution, it was only left for them to decide wheatear they would join the Union or not. Forced by the circumstances, the convent did eventually ratify the constitution in July 1788, by narrow majority.11 Still, despite the questionability of their success in 1788, the Federalist Papers remain an outstanding example of political rhetoric of their time and a valid exposition to the Constitution of the United States of America.

3. Analysis of selected Federalist Papers

3.1. Federalist No. 10

At the beginning of Federalist No. 9 Hamilton has already warned the audience of the danger of domestic factions giving examples of how such influences have endangered the classic republics and states in Greece and Italy (44)12. Madison begins No. 10 by repeating Hamilton’s emphasis of the advantages the Union would have in controlling such influences and addresses the task of his essay to the examination of the nature of factions and to a solution of the problems they cause.

There is, of course, some rhetorical embellishment. From the start, Madison endows the Union directly with positive attributes like having “numerous advantages” and being “well-constructed” (50). He continues to describe the present state of affairs by a series of antitheses, opposing the “adversaries to liberty” (50), who use the current chaos (which in itself is opposed to a “well-constructed Union”) for their own goals, to the “most considerate and virtuous citizens” (51) who fear for the public and private good. Thus he makes it obvious that he wishes to address the latter and solve their problems and to, at the same time, oppose the former.

Having reviewed the situation, Madison points out the culprit and the cause of the problem – “the factious spirit [which] has tainted our public administrations” (51), enforcing his previous argument that the problematic situation in the states has “been erroneously charged on the operation of our government”(51, emphasis added.).

Madison’s next step is to exactly define the term ‘faction’: “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” (51) Further he clearly states the obvious methods of curing the metaphorical disease – by removing its causes or controlling its effects. The only ways to remove the causes of factions would be “by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; [or] by giving to every citizen the same opinions,


1 c. Dierkes, Dr. Hans J. / Neugebauer, Hans G .: Bausteine für die Unterrichtspraxis. Die 'Federalist Papers'

(1787/88). In: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 4/89. Göttingen. 1989. pp. 203-224. Here referring to p. 212.

2 c. Gebhardt, Jürgen: „The Federalist“. In: Klassiker des politischen Denkens. Band II. Hrsg. v. Hans Maier et al. 5.Auflage. München. 1987.pp. 58-79. Here referring to p. 61. also c. Dierkes. p. 212.

3 s. Encyclopedia Americana. (11.10.2008)

4 c. Dierkes. p.210.

5 c. Hübner, Emil: Das politische System der USA. Eine Einführung. München. 1991. p.12.

6 c. Hübner. p. 12 f.

7 c. Dierkes. p. 211.

8 c. Dierkes. p.211f. and Hübner p.12 f.

9 c. Dierkes. p.212.

10 c. Gebhardt. p. 60.

11 c. Dierkes. p. 212.

12 c. Hamilton, Alexander; Madison James; Jay John: Federalist Papers. New York. Bantam. 2003. P. 44. (All quotes or paraphrases from the Federalist Papers will from now on be referred to directly in the text, giving the appropriate page number from the above issue of the Federalist)

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The Rhetorical Approach in the Federalist Papers No.10, No.54, No.84 and No.85
RWTH Aachen University
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Federalist Papers, RHetorics
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Jelena Vukadinovic (Author), 2008, The Rhetorical Approach in the Federalist Papers No.10, No.54, No.84 and No.85, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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