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The Federalist Papers: No. 2

On this day in 1787, the second in a series of essays defending the Constitution was published in New York’s Independent Journal. Ultimately, 85 of these Federalist Papers would be written: They have been called “the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States.”

Federalist Paper no. 2 was written by John Jay, a prominent lawyer of the time who had helped to draft the New York Constitution of 1777. Alexander Hamilton had recruited Jay to help him throughout the project, but Jay unfortunately fell ill early in the process and was able to complete only five papers. Hamilton and Jay had also recruited the assistance of James Madison, although it is not known whether they recruited him before or after Jay first became ill. The assistance of the academic Madison undoubtedly helped the project a great deal. In the end, Hamilton and Madison did the vast majority of the work on the 85-essay series.


The first fourteen Federalist Papers laid the foundation for the papers to follow: Why does it benefit America to keep the Union? Why is this better than breaking up into many confederacies?


In Federalist No. 2, Jay started by reminding people that they had appointed trusted men to the Constitutional Convention. These delegates were educated men, with much “accumulated knowledge and experience”; they had earned the confidence of the people because of “their patriotism, virtue and wisdom” during the difficult days of the Revolution. Now, these same trusted men had spent “many months in cool, uninterrupted, and daily consultation” and produced a proposed new system of government.


Jay reminded his readers that this Constitution was “only RECOMMENDED, not imposed.” It should be “neither recommended to BLIND approbation, nor to BLIND reprobation.” In other words, Americans should not automatically endorse it! But they should not automatically reject it, either. Instead, they should submit the plan “to that sedate and candid consideration which the magnitude and importance of the subject demand.”


Good advice today, too, right? There is no reason to blindly approve—or disapprove—something simply because it was proposed by a particular political party. Instead, simply think about it. Consider the pros and cons as best you can, independent of partisan considerations.

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