Aristotle's Legacy in the Federalist Papers
While the government of the United States owes its existence to the contents and careful thought behind the Constitution, some attention must be given to the contributions of a series of essays called the Federalist Papers towards this same institution. Espousing the virtues of equal representation, these documents also promote the ideals of competent representation for the populace and were instrumental in addressing opposition to the ratification of the Constitution during the fledgling years of the United States. With further reflection, the Federalists, as these essays are called, may in turn owe their existence, in terms of their intellectual underpinnings, to the writings of the philosopher and teacher, Aristotle.
In 1789, the Confederation of the United States, faced with the very real threat of dissolution, found a renewed future with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. This document created a structure upon which the citizens could build a future free of the unwanted pitfalls and hazards of tyrannies, dictatorship, or monarchies, while securing the best possible prospects for a good life. However, before the establishment of the new United States government, there was a period of dissent over the need for a strong centralized government. Furthermore, there was some belief that the new constitution failed to provide adequate protection for small businessmen and farmers and even less clear protection for fundamental human rights.
To counter these and a variety of other arguments, statesmen Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay composed a series of articles that would logically and critically address the grievances of those opposed to the new constitution. Consisting of some eighty-five essays, these arguments came to be called the Federalist Papers, addressing matters ranging from the reasons for the inability of the then-present Confederation to survive as it existed to the purpose and organization of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of the proposed new government.
If the question were posed as to whether the writers of the Federalist Papers were in some way influenced by Aristotle, one would only have to look as far as the educational background of the authors. Madison studied under John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton. Although there is no explicit suggestion that Aristotelian political theory was an integral part of Madison's education at the New Jersey College, there is evidence that Witherspoon incorporated an analysis of government along lines very close to that found in Aristotle's Politics.1 Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were both students at King's College in New York (now Columbia University) and, while there is no particular indication that they studied Aristotelian philosophy any more than Madison did, they were both well read, reading the likes of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Hugo...