In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Federalist Papers

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Print Editions
  • Digital Editions
  • Reader’s Guides
  • Authorship
  • Political Philosophy
  • Federalism
  • National Identity and US Nationalism
  • Rhetorical Analysis

American Literature The Federalist Papers
Keri Holt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0231


The Federalist is widely considered to be one of the most influential political writings in the early United States. Consisting of eighty-five essays in total, the first seventy-seven essays were originally published in New York newspapers between October 1787 and April 1788, and the final eight appeared in the first collected edition of The Federalist in 1788, although they were later republished in New York newspapers as well. The Federalist was written collectively by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the newly drafted Constitution. In keeping with the conventions of 18th-century public political debate, The Federalist was published under the pseudonym “Publius” to present its arguments to the public in anonymous terms, focusing attention on the content of the essays rather than the personal views or personalities of the authors. Although Hamilton, Madison, and Jay would not be formally identified as the authors of The Federalist until the publication of a notice in The Port-Folio on 14 November 1807, their collective authorship was widely known by the 1790s, and their reputations as respected statesmen and innovative political thinkers brought considerable attention and credibility to their arguments. Through the voice of Publius, The Federalist explains and defends the core principles and structure of the new government outlined within the Constitution, while also identifying the flaws and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. In doing so, The Federalist provides substantive critical and philosophical discussions of federal governance and its relationship to the principles of plural sovereignty, national unity, republican representation, citizenship, national security, commercial interests, and the separation of powers, all of which had a profound influence, not just on the ratification debates, but also on subsequent interpretations of constitutional language and authority, from the founding period to the present. While scholars have endlessly debated the political, historical, philosophical, literary, and cultural impact of The Federalist, these essays continue to serve as foundational texts for studying the politics and culture of the early United States, as well as contemporary interpretations and revisions of constitutional principles in legal, legislative, and cultural spheres.

General Overviews

Critical studies of The Federalist encompass many disciplinary approaches, including history, political science, law, literature, economics, and philosophy. The essay collections Kesler 1987 and Rakove and Sheehan 2020 provide excellent overviews of the disciplinary range and focus of Federalist scholarship. Allen 2000 stands apart by offering commentary on all eighty-five Federalist essays, providing a comprehensive overview of the central arguments and political and cultural contexts that shaped these essays, drawing on lectures prepared for a summer institute on The Federalist Papers hosted by Louisiana State University. Coenen 2007 provides an equally expansive study, examining The Federalist in relation to biographical and historical contexts, rhetorical structure, thematic content, and impact on US governing principles. Levinson 2015 brings a contemporary focus to The Federalist, examining all eighty-five essays in relation to their relevance and ongoing impact to the political and legal contexts of the present.

  • Allen, W. B., with Kevin A. Cloonan. The Federalist Papers: A Commentary. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

    While most studies of The Federalist focus more narrowly on several specific essays, Allen’s book provides a comprehensive analysis of all eighty-five Federalist essays, emphasizing the connections and interdependencies that emerge when considering The Federalist as a whole. The appendix includes a useful list of references to The Federalist in Supreme Court cases from 1798 to 1999.

  • Coenen, Dan T. The Story of The Federalist: How Hamilton and Madison Reconceived America. New York: Twelve Tables Press, 2007.

    Although the title of this work suggests a biographic focus, Coenen’s study extends beyond an analysis of Hamilton’s and Madison’s authorial influence to provide an expansive study of The Federalist that addresses its historical contexts, rhetorical structure, theorizations of national security, individual rights, separation of powers, and impact on US national ideology and identity.

  • Kesler, Charles R., ed. Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding. New York: The Free Press, 1987.

    Published in commemoration of the Constitution’s bicentennial, this collection explores The Federalist in relation to a range of topics and disciplinary perspectives. While some chapters focus on individual essays, such as No. 10 and No. 51, others take a broader approach, examining The Federalist in relation to the ratification debates, early US foreign policy, and the development of partisan politics. A number of essays also focus on The Federalist’s role in shaping the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government.

  • Levinson, Sanford. An Argument Open to All: Reading The Federalist in the Twenty-First Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

    Levinson examines all eighty-five Federalist essays, summarizing their main arguments and analyzing them in relation to their relevance to 21st-century issues and political contexts.

  • Rakove, Jack N., and Colleen A. Sheehan. The Cambridge Companion to The Federalist. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316479865

    This collection provides an overview of contemporary approaches to The Federalist, focusing primarily on the fields of political science, history, and law. The book’s content is organized in relation to three thematic areas, the first addressing The Federalist’s arguments about national security; the second examining Madison’s theorizations of federalism, republicanism, and separation of powers; and the third exploring The Federalist’s assessments of the three branches of government.

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