Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote arguably the most important document of political theory ever penned by Americans, the “Federalist Papers.” Published as the nation debated the new Constitution adopted in Philadelphia and now going before special state conventions for ratification or rejection, they made the case for a strong national government balanced by the power of states which retained sovereignty over all undelegated matters; for separation of powers among the President, Congress, and the Judiciary; for checks and balances to limit power and guard against tyranny. They argued that the United States, though destined to be a continental power, was not too large for republican government, contrary to Montesquieu; and that political “factions” could be managed to allow for robust debate without capture of the government by special interests.
Yet, shortly after the adoption of the Constitution, during the Administration of George Washington, they became bitter political enemies. Their antipathy formed the basis of the earliest political parties, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans -- precisely the “factions” of which both had warned.
What prompted this change and how did their differences affect subsequent U.S. history? These will be the questions we explore.
Richard Hoskins holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and teaches at Northwestern University School of Law. His principal interests are political philosophy, theology and social thought, law and legal history, and ancient Greek, Roman, and Medieval European thought.