Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 83 and 84.
Q83: The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
A. George Washington
B. James Madison
C. Roger Sherman
D. Abraham Lincoln
Q84: Why were the Federalist Papers important?
A. They explained George Washington’s views of the Constitution
B. They helped people understand the Constitution and why it should be approved.
C. They argued for why Americans should vote for John Adams’s Federalist Party
D. They explained why the Articles of Confederation were the best system of government
Although most agreed that the Articles of Confederation had significant problems, many feared that the proposed Constitution created too strong of a central government, among other problems. There were many such critics, but one of the most effective wrote under the pseudonym Brutus, who argued New York should reject the proposed Constitution. Some scholars have suggested Brutus was in fact Robert Yates, who had been one of New York’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention but who had left in protest of the stronger government being developed, which he saw converting the states into mere administrative units instead of semi-sovereign entities. Other scholars have suggested that Brutus may have been Melancton Smith, a leader of the Anti-Federalists in the New York ratifying convention.
Defenders of the Constitution began writing in support of its ratification, arguing that the Constitution created a stronger central government but still one carefully limited by federalism and the separation of powers—that its logic indeed followed Montesquieu’s description of a well-functioning and free government. In other words, these writers claimed, the Constitution actually created the kind of government sought by its critics.
The most important and famous of these writings were the Federalist Papers, which were written to convince New York to ratify—agree to—the proposed Constitution. Three important Founders-- James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay – wrote the Federalist Papers, using the joint pen name Publius. ASU Visiting Scholar Michael Zuckert has argued that this pen name was likely chosen as a response to the aforementioned Anti-Federalist’s choice of Brutus. While the Anti-Federalist association with Brutus indicated a passionate commitment to protecting the young republic against those (allegedly) seeking to undermine it, Publius, in the Roman writer Plutarch’s account, represented a leader committed to the republic but aware of the need for thoughtful reforms to the government.
A series of 85 essays in total, The Federalist Papers explained to readers the case for and logic of the Constitution, and they remain a key tool in interpreting the Constitution today.
The authors of The Federalist Papers wanted, first of all, to impress upon their readers that it was vitally important to have a strong union and thus to support a constitution and a government that could sustain such a union. So, they dedicated a number of essays at the beginning of the series to arguing for the benefits of union (before turning to the defects of the Articles of Confederation and the case for the proposed Constitution). One of those essays, Federalist No. 10, became one of the most famous of The Federalist Papers – and, indeed, one of the most famous writings in the history of American political thought. While the Anti-Federalist opponents of the proposed Constitution stressed the traditional view that sustainable, free republics must remain small in size, Madison made the case that a large republic on the scale of the United States would be capable of solving a central problem of republican governments – the problem of factions. For this activity, students will outline and discuss Madison’s argument in Federalist No. 10 in order to understand and evaluate his arguments for the benefits of an extended republic.
- Provide each pair/group with Federalist No. 10
- Provide each pair/group with Federalist 10: Outlining the Argument Worksheet
Print Federalist 10: Outlining the Argument Answer Key for your own reference
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key.
- Divide the class into pairs (or groups of 3-4) based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Provide the students with the necessary materials: a copy of Federalist No. 10, as well as the Federalist 10: Outlining the Argument worksheet.
- Explain to the students that they will outline and discuss the argument that James Madison makes in Federalist No. 10 – one of the most famous of the Federalist Papers and an important essay in the history of American political thought.
- Allow time for the pairs/groups to fill out their worksheets as they read through Federalist No. 10.
- To save more time for discussion, you might consider asking students to begin filling out their worksheets the night before.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their worksheets to check for understanding and help as needed.
- Once the students have completed the worksheet, use it as a springboard into discussing and evaluating Madison’s argument. Questions may include the following:
- Which parts of Madison’s argument did you find to be most convincing? Which parts were least convincing?
- Did you find any parts of Madison’s argument to be unclear or confusing?
- What role does Madison see representatives playing in solving the problem of faction? Do you agree with his understanding of what representatives should/will be like?
- Do you think that the large republic of the United States protects us from factions today? Why or why not? Has anything changed over the course of American history that casts doubt on Madison’s argument, or does his argument still hold weight today?
Many New Yorkers were skeptical of the new Constitution, threatening ratification there. To gain the support of the people in that important state, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay began publishing essays in defense of the Constitution, rebutting some of the charges made by its critics in local newspapers. Over the course of 10 months, the three men wrote 85 essays, which are now known as the Federalist Papers.
To gain the support of the people of New York, a state whose voters were skeptical of the Constitution, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay began writing essays arguing for the ratification of the new constitution. Over the course of 10 months, the three men wrote 85 essays, which are now known as the Federalist Papers.
Determined to gain the support of the people of New York and ratify the Constitution, three of the Founding Fathers wrote the essays that became the Federalist Papers. Can you name at least one of those authors?
Madison, Hamilton, and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, but they did not use their real names. Rather, they wrote under the pen name “Publius.” Why do you think that the authors used a pen name (pseudonym)? What are the benefits to writing anonymously? Would that approach work today? Why or why not? Use current and past events to support your answer.