Until two days ago, I don’t think that I had either. Yes, I have seen the play. Yes, I have watched it on Disney+. Yes, I have pretended to people that I was “for sure going to read his biography now!” Yes, I have streamed the original Broadway cast recordings on Spotify.
But none of that amounted to reading any of the actual works — largely The Federalist Papers — that he’s famous for writing much of.
Well, that has all changed: I read the first one. And boy, is it is a doozy. It’s not particularly long (just a few pages), but it does make for some sophisticated reading. So I thought hell, why not take a stab at pulling out the concepts into a little post to share with other people who have lied at cocktail parties? Now you can sprinkle in some Hamilton-inspired government formation concepts the next time you put “My Shot” on when you have people over.
The Federalist Papers: What?
Believe it or not, a bunch of people didn’t really want there to be a “United States of America”. They especially didn’t want a powerful federal government, and so by extension didn’t want a Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, to his credit, did want a Constitution. So, he wrote eighty-five (85) essays in defense of a Constitution that were ultimately titled The Federalist Papers.
So far I have read 1.17% of them — the first one only. Here are the main takeaways as I understand them from the first paper. If you disagree with these or think I missed important salient points, answer in the comments. I’m not a history scholar, I am a DevOps engineer.
(Note: you’re going to see a lot of similarities between this essay from 1787 and how people act today)
Union vs. Confederacy: A big topic in the paper is whether or not the colonies should break apart into confederacies or become a Union (USA). Alexander Hamilton says it’s way more efficient and powerful to go the Union route.
The Public good: Everything Hamilton advocates for he says is for the public good and the welfare of the people at large. The thought being that one powerful federal government will more uniformly protect the politics of ordinary people than 13+ State governments. I believe him, mostly.
Powerful men stand to lose: He points directly at the bulk of the rich and powerful and calls them out as “a certain class of men” who will not want to lose power that they have in the arrangements as individual States. He says we gotta steamroll these fellas.
Political parties are full of sh*t: He goes on to say citizens should ignore the political parties, as the party’s goal is like that of a church: Be as loud and as scary as you can be to win converts. “…they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions… by the bitterness of their invectives.”
Populism is also dangerous: Remember 2016? Hamilton is very direct in highlighting that anyone who shouts “Rights for the people!” as future despots. Indeed, he writes they will be “commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants.”
Now is the time to defend the Union: While many people take for granted that most of their fellow citizens really want a Constitution and the Union, that’s a false sense of security. Hamilton claims it is “already whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new Constitution.” Never underestimate a scared dog.
I hope this helps you understand The Federalist No. 1, written by Alexander Hamilton in 1787 and signed as Publius. It’s only 3–4 pages, try to pick it up and plod your way through it. I read it twice, slowly, to write this post.
If you’ve got thoughts or feedback, toss them in the comments.