A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

The war of words: the Federalist Papers (October 27, 1787-May 28, 1788)

As early as July, Governor Clinton had been building a coalition of his own to oppose whatever came out of Philadelphia. When Hamilton returned to New York, an fervent anti-constitution movement was operating, fueled by Lansing's and Yates' alarmist stories from the convention. Local papers vehemently denounced the convention's plan, some of which included snide personal attacks on Hamilton. The pro-constitution rebuttals were scattershot and inadequate in Hamilton's view, so he wrote a defense of his own. While commuting up the Hudson on a boat, he began writing, under the pseudonym of Publius, a systematic, objective analysis of the constitution which was to become the first in a monumental series of essays he entitled the Federalist. The name of the collection of essays was also to become the name of the pro-consitution movement, and later, Hamilton's political party.

The project was necessary to Hamilton for many reasons. At bottom, it was simply his problem solving style to devise reasoned solutions and deliver them to an audience; he had been doing that publicly and privately since his "Vindication" essays of 1774. Hamilton had always held onto the faith that logical, dispassionate arguments would win people over, despite the middling success of his own efforts throughout his career.

He also knew that it was desperately important for New York to ratify the constitution. Even if every other state in the union ratified, New York's refusal to do so, because of its size, economic strength, and geographical position, would derail the union. The Clintonian/Antifederalists knew this, and the fact buoyed their efforts; they had a clear majority over the Federalists in all parts of the state except Manhattan, Hamilton's district.

James Madison was aware of the importance of New York as well. Leaving Virginia in the capable hands of Washington, he sped off to New York at Hamilton's request for help. (John Jay, with whom Hamilton initially collaborated, became ill and withdrew from the project after four essays.) Hamilton knew that, of all the constitutional convention delegates, Madison's ideas on the subject were the closest to his own. In a pairing of two of the most powerful minds of the age, Hamilton and Madison turned out the first and most enduring American political masterwork.