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The Federalist Papers: No. 37

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 37 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

Publius is finally changing the direction of his papers to topics that you will enjoy more.  Former papers discussed the general need for Union (papers 1-14), inadequacies of the then-existing Union under the Articles of Confederation (papers 15-22), and the need for a stronger Union than Americans then had (papers 23-36).

Now, Publius turns to a discussion of the merits of the Constitution—our Constitution—then being considered by the states for ratification. Perhaps it was appropriate that the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, wrote this particular paper.

Madison starts by noting the incredible difficulty encountered by the convention—“difficulties inherent in the very nature of the undertaking.” The convention knew that the existing Articles were inadequate. And the well-read Madison knew that looking to other confederacies for precedent didn’t really work, either. Those countries, he explained, had often been founded on “erroneous principles.” The convention, then, could only seek to “avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own.”

Madison goes on to describe the many conflicts facing the convention: How do you make a government simultaneously strong and weak? How can government be big enough to fulfill its obligations, but small enough to preserve the liberty of the people? How do you properly balance the power of state v. national governments? How do you delineate among the legislative, executive, and judicial functions?

Madison reminds his readers that all of these (already difficult) questions were further complicated by another matter: “the interfering pretensions of the larger and smaller States.” The large states wanted influence “fully proportioned to their superior wealth and importance”; however, the small states were “tenacious of the equality at present enjoyed by them.” Neither side could or would “entirely yield to the other.” Thus, compromises had been necessary.

At this juncture, Madison is not telling his readers how these questions were answered in the proposed Constitution. He is simply laying the groundwork and giving them background. He wants them to understand how difficult the task was so they will perhaps be more sympathetic to some of the compromises made.

He concludes: “The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted, and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected.”

My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, HERE).



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