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If Men Were Angels, No Government Would Be Necessary

Political Freedom in the Federalist Papers

by Stephen B. Presser

Federalist Papers referenced in essay: #10, 44, 51, 84

A. “Political Freedom,” or as the authors of the Federalist Papers refer to it, “The Science of Politics,” is what everything in the Federalist Papers is about. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s purpose was to write about how the proposed constitution created a form of government that would make it possible for politics to work in America. The three were concerned that after the break with Great Britain in 1776, the governments of the thirteen states were not functioning properly. They were not protecting the basic rights of the citizens. For the authors of the Federalist Papers, the science of politics and politics itself were about how best to secure the rights of the people, and how to make sure that governments and people did not endanger those rights. The challenge for the authors of the Federalist Papers was to show how the kind of republican government contemplated by the proposed constitution would be the best way to preserve basic rights. Their adoption of the name “Publius,” after Publius Valerius Publicola, one of the Founders and saviors of republican Rome, was designed to suggest just that.

B. When Hamilton, Madison, and Jay invoked republican Rome, they had a vision somewhat different from the politics practiced in this country today. For us, politics is about the government providing services, regulating activity, or redistributing wealth to secure social welfare. For the Framers of the Constitution, however, the science of politics and the practice of politics were all about how to distribute power within the government in order to preserve private property, individual rights, and the rule of law which secured both. The authors of the Federalist Papers are especially worried about the majority trampling the property and rights of the minority, as was then happening in individual states.