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The Risk of Being Less Free

JK154-1788-title“The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”
― Alexander Hamilton

The Federalist: A Collection of Essays…
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), James Madison (1751-1836), and John Jay (1745-1829)
New-York: Printed and sold by J. and A. M’Lean, no.41, Hanover-square, M,DCC,LXXXVIII (1788)
First edition
JK154 1788

Although written for the purpose of supporting New York state’s ratification of the Constitution of the United States, these essays were eventually published together as The Federalist and were soon recognized for their brilliant commentary on the new republican charter. The use of The Federalist as a tool for interpreting the Constitution began before it was officially ratified and has continued to the present day. The Federalist is the fundamental document left by the framers of the Constitution as a guide to their philosophy and intentions.


Alexander Hamilton was the principal force behind the pro-ratification pamphlets, enlisting fellow New Yorker John Jay and Virginian James Madison as coauthors of the essays. The individual responsible for each essay is not clear. The first essay by “Publius” (the pen name for all three authors) appeared in the 27 October 1787 issue of The Independent Journal, and all or some of the subsequent numbers were also printed in the New-York Packet, The Daily Advertiser, and The New-York Journal. The first thirty-six Federalist essays were collected and published by the M’Lean brothers in March 1788 and the final forty-nine, along with the text of the Constitution, followed in a second volume in May. The last eight essays were printed in book form before they appeared in newspapers. In all, the essays represent one of the most important American contributions to political theory.

The first edition of the collection was of five hundred copies, fifty of which were purchased by Hamilton and sent to Virginia. The sale of the others was poor. The publisher complained in October 1788, long after New York had ratified the Constitution, that they still had several hundred copies unsold.


The Federalist, On the New Constitution, Written in 1778, by Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Jay, and Mr. Madison
Philadelphia: Published by Benjamin Warner, No. 147, Market street, and sold at his stores, Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, 1818
Fifth Edition
KF4515 F4 1818

Despite the poor sales of the first edition, The Federalist was published again and nearly continuously to the present day. The fifth edition of The Federalist contains an appendix of the Articles of


Confederation and the Constitution of the United States with Amendments, not found in the fourth edition. The Philadelphia imprint contains revisions by Madison, along with his claims of authorship of some of the essays previously attributed to Hamilton. This is the second single-volume edition printed, complete with full-page engraved portraits of Hamilton, Madison and Jay. It was published the same year as a Washington, D.C. imprint.

James Madison became the fourth President of the United States.

Alexander Hamilton, who had represented New York at the Constitutional Convention, became the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, holding the post until he resigned in 1795.

John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the United States in 1789, stepping down in 1795 to become governor of New York, a post he held for two terms, until retiring in 1801.

Rare Books copy of fifth edition is gift of Dr. Ronald Rubin.

View the original article on the OpenBook Blog

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