If you intend to interpret and understand the Constitution of the United States, there can be no better source than the Federalist Papers, which created quite a buzz in America in 1787 and 1788.
Basically, this era of the American history was marked by the Federalist vs Anti-Federalist tussle, with Federalist advocating the need of replacing the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution, and Anti-Federalist opposing this move.
So, the Federalists decided to put forth their stand on this issue by publishing articles advocating the need of ratification of the US Constitution.
What Were the Federalist Papers?
The Federalist Papers refers to a series of eighty-five articles supporting the ratification of the US Constitution, which were published in some of the leading dailies in the United States in 1787 and 1788. These articles urged the citizens to support the ratification of proposed constitution.
These articles were written in response to Anti-Federalist Papers, which highlighted the alleged dangers of the proposed constitution and urged people not to support its ratification. The Federalist Papers countered the Anti-Federalist Papers by highlighting how the new government would operate and why it was an ideal government for the United States.
Most of these articles were published in the leading dailies of New York, such as The Independent Journal and The New York Packet in a series titled The Federalist. (The use of name by which they are known today, The Federalist Papers, only began in the 20th century.)
Authors of the Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in 1787 and 1788. While the author's intent to influence people to vote in favor of the ratification of the proposed Constitution was more than obvious, nobody actually knew who this author was.
Going by the style of writing, people did guess that it was the handiwork of a group; not an individual. The needle of suspicion pointed towards some of the famous Federalist leaders of that period.
The articles were originally published in newspapers under the pen name 'Publius' (most probably in the honor of the Roman consul, Publius Valerius Publicola) between October 1787 and August 1788.
On March 2, 1788, the New York publishing firm, J. & A. McLean published the first thirty-six essays in a bound volume titled 'The Federalist' and followed it with the second volume, comprising the remaining forty-nine essays, on May 28, 1788.
In 1792, the French edition of the Federalist Papers was published with the names of its authors as "MM Hamilton, Maddisson E Gay", all of whom were the citizens of New York, thus bringing an end to the anonymity of the authors of the Federalist Papers. In 1802, an American edition published by George Hopkins also had the same names.
Whatever doubts were left, were cleared by the 1810 edition, which was published with reference to the list of articles left back by Alexander Hamilton. In 1818, however, Jacob Gideon published a new edition with the list of articles left by James Madison. Both the lists were different, which did result in chaos in the years to come.
Even today, the Federalist Papers are considered the best reference material for understanding the US Constitution and federal government. In fact, some of these are so famous that they are often cited in context with present day situation.
The best examples would be the Federalist Paper 10, on dealing with factions with interests contrary to those of the whole community, and Federalist Paper 51, advocating the separation of powers within the federal government.