The Federalist Papers

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13800

In the 1700s, three Founding Fathers wrote 85 essays to sell America on the need for a new Constitution. Why was that so important, and how are these essays still extremely relevant today?


Government, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Did you know the Articles of Confederation was the constitution for the United States from 1781 to 1789?

drafting articles of confederation stamp

  • What sort of country did this document create, and why was it changed?

Let's find out!

Articles of Confederation

thirteen star flag

Even during the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers were establishing a new form of government for the country to be.

For centuries, all European countries were controlled by powerful monarchs or by powerful Parliaments comprising only aristocracy. For this reason, it was impossible to have any degree of representation as a European citizen unless you were incredibly wealthy.

The Founding Fathers wanted to depart from this type of government as much as possible while still creating a united set of states.

Their solution was to create a very weak central government.

Pay particular attention to how much authority this new central government had when collecting taxes as you watch What Were the Articles of Confederation? | History:

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The Articles of Confederation was incredibly difficult to amend because it required that all 13 states agree, something that was almost impossible.

By the late 1780s, it was clear that changes needed to be made to the government. However, many of the Founding Fathers as well as the general public were wary of giving the federal government too much authority.

To curb public sentiment and convince their colleagues, three Founding Fathers wrote the Federalist Papers to outline what they thought the role of government should be.

Federalist Papers

title page of the Federalist Papers

Image by Publius, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

The Federalist Papers were a collection of 85 essays written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton between 1787 and 1788. These founders were publicly expressing their rationale and ideas on what would make the most effective government.

Jay, Madison, and Hamilton

However, in order to avoid being attacked or targeted for their views, the three men wrote under the joint pseudonym Publius, who was a co-founder of the Roman Republic.

Watch a portion of the video below to learn which of these essays was the most influential and why it is still significant today.

The Federalist Papers: The O.G. US Constitution from UntoldEdu:

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Once the new Constitution was written, three-fourths of the states had to ratify it before it could become the new governing document for the country.

Utilizing newspapers, which were the most accessible piece of media at the time, Federalist #10 was hugely impactful in convincing much of the new country that a stronger central government was needed.

Alexander Hamilton


James Madison wrote a third of the 85 essays, and John Jay only wrote five of them. Alexander Hamilton, however, wrote a total of 51.

To understand the argument Hamilton made in his essays, read these excerpts from his contributions to the Federalist Papers:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they are properly armed.

Vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty.

Hamilton was calling for checks and balances and a strong central government while expressing his belief that a federal government was the only way to ensure liberty in any country.

Continue on to the Got It? section to review why the Federalist Papers were written and why they remain relevant despite not being legal documents.

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