Friday, December 7, 2012

The Federalist Papers by Kyle Scott

There are several reasons why our elected officials appear unreasonable. Neither side wants to concede ground, lose face, or give up what their party stands for. They each have a vested interest in protecting their position as it either means they could the support of voters, prominent positions within their party, or financial backing. But, each of our officials, although its sometimes hard to believe, have a committed view of what's right, just like most of us. 

After the men who drafted the Constitution departed Philadelphia and returned to their home states the fight for ratification was on. This collection of men, which included Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and many others, were tasked with revising the Articles of Confederation not creating new governing document that would get rid of the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation in their entirety. 

Given the conditions surrounding its creation there should be no surprise that there were objections to the new document. The general reaction to the Constitution was that it created too powerful a government, particularly at the national level. The people who opposed the ratification were collectively known as the Antifederalists and those who supported the ratification were the Federalists. The most prominent Federalists were James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton who wrote under the pen name Publius. Publius wrote what are essentially modern day op-eds about why the new constitution should be ratified. The essays were published in newspapers so that the people of New York, to whom they essays were addressed, could better understand their reasons for seeking ratification. The Antifederalists embarked on similar PR campaign, albeit one that was less successful obviously.

Each of the people involved felt strongly for their position and argued it well. Neither side seemed willing to budge. But at the time, even the polar extremes possessed the virtue of humility. Benjamin Franklin exhibited the social benefits of humility.

By changing his manner of speech Benjamin Franklin was able to recognize how humility makes one more sociable even if that humility is only superficial. For instance, when being less assertive and speaking in terms of certainty and absolutes, Franklin found that when he positioned his argument in less positive, and more conditional terms, he was able to be more sociable and interact in a more positive way. For instance, in Franklin’s account, he is outwardly humble because he finds that people are more receptive to his arguments when he uses phrases which connote humility such as “it appears as if” or “perhaps we can say” rather than positive assertions that connote pride such as “it certainly is” or “it is undeniably so."

Changing one's manner of speech is the first step, recognizing that one's cognitive capacities are limited and therefore one is fallible is a step most don't take. But if we can have humility in our speech, if not in our character, reconciliation may in fact become possible even over the most divisive matters. 

I invite readers of this post to read the Federalist Papers in an effort to grasp the political value of humility and see it in action.

The Federalist Papers constitute a key document in the understanding of the American government. Written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, these 85 texts were published between 1787 and 1788 to convince the state of New York to ratify the Constitution.

Today, the Papers are studied in courses on American government, American political thought, and constitutional law. However, the size and organization of the full text, notwithstanding its complex political concepts and context, make it difficult for students to apprehend. The Reader’s Guide will be a key tool to help them understand the issues at hand and the significance of the Papers then and now. Organized around key issues, such as the branches of the government, the utility of the Union, or skepticism of a national regime, the work will walk the reader through the 85 Papers, providing them with the needed intellectual and historical contexts.

Designed to supplement the reading of The Federalist Papers, the guide will help elucidate not only their contents, but also their importance and contemporary relevance.

Kyle Scott, PhD, teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. He has published three books and dozens of articles on issues ranging from political parties to Plato. His commentary on contemporary politics has appeared in Forbes,, Christian Science Monitor,, and dozens of local outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.

To find out more, please visit
Find him on Twitter at : ScottKyleA
Find him on Facebook at :


No comments: