Federalist 1

Image: The Federalist, on the new Constitution. (Hallowell [Me.] Masters, Smith & co., 1857) Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/09021557/
According to Hamilton, the success or failure of what principle rested on the United States? Hamilton used the phrase “empire” in this excerpt. What do you think he meant by using this term? Hamilton referred to a “crisis” in this passage. What “crisis” was he referring to?
Was the United States a “new order for the ages”—an exceptional nation— and thus committed to breaking with the traditional practices of nation-states in Europe? (See “A City upon a Hill,” Declaration of Independence, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 22, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, Annual Message The Monroe Doctrine, Market Speech, Against American Imperialism.)

While Alexander Hamilton is appropriately described as one of the founders of the realist school of thought in American foreign policy, he also believed in the enlightenment principles that dominated western thinking during the eighteenth century, among them natural rights, natural law, and the consent of the governed. Frequently and erroneously described as a monarchist, Hamilton shared the American Founders’ belief in natural law and believed that legitimate government required the consent of the governed. Hamilton wrote in his essay The Farmer Refuted (1775) that “the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased.” And it seemed at times that Hamilton believed in American exceptionalism, that the fate of self-government around the globe hinged on the success and survival of the American experiment. This was a new order for the ages, and if the United States were to fail, mankind would be “forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” Hamilton expressed this view in the first of the Federalist Papers, a collection of essays he coauthored with James Madison and John Jay supporting the constitution devised in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787.

—Stephen F. Knott

George W. Carey and James McClellan, eds., The Federalist: The Gideon Edition (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 1, available at https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/jay-the-federalist-gideon-ed.

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the union, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind….

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