Hamilton wrote … the other FIFTY-ONE!
You probably know that line about the Federalist from the Act One finale of Hamilton, “Non-Stop,” in which Aaron Burr repeatedly asks Hamilton, “how do you write like you’re running out of time?” In the musical, his indefatigable pen is treated as a virtue (and yes, I have at times listened to the number on repeat to motivate my own writing). By contrast, scholars frequently point out that the eighty-five Federalist essays were not widely reprinted when they were first written in late 1787 and early 1788, even if they have since garnered attention as a clear statement of the views of (some of) the Founders on the meaning of the Constitution.
We are thrilled to have another guest post from Spencer McBride, a historian and editor with the Joseph Smith Papers Project. You can read Spencer’s previous two posts here and here. More importantly, you can order his hot-off-the-press book, Pulpit & Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (UVA Press) here. You can look forward to a review and Q&A later this month. -BP
In researching and writing my book, Pulpit & Nation, I became keenly interested in the religious language employed by participants in the ratification debates of 1787-88. Not only did it illuminate the role of religion and clergymen in the politics of Revolutionary America, but it seemed particularly relevant to the almost canonical way in which so many twenty-first century politicians and pundits view the Constitution. Of course, when—or if—these individuals ever consult that document’s history, they rarely bother to question what political motivations drove so many of the seemingly religious expressions made by early national leaders. And there are many such statements. Yet, amid the numerous examples of Federalists and Anti-Federalists employing (and exploiting) providential language and Old Testament Biblicism in arguing for ratification, one example stands out as particularly complex in its motives and implications: the argument Benjamin Rush made for ratification in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention. Continue reading
The ratification of the Federal Constitution is a notoriously difficult historical event to categorize. On the one hand, it is a watershed moment; the creation of a consolidated federal government with extensive power is a clear break with the immediate post-Independence traditions of American governance. Yet at the same time, it is traditionally seen as the final achievement of a revolutionary generation—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution. Continue reading