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The Federalist

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay

Study Help Essay Questions

1. What, essentially, is the difference between a federal government and a confederation of states? Between a republic and a democracy? What is the meaning of "anarchy" by strict definition? And by loose definition, the form commonly used?

2. To get an idea of the structure and scope of the book, review the outline (Chapter 1) of the main themes to be developed in the essay series.

3. Do you believe our nation was established by the "design of Providence" and that Americans at the time were "one people . . . descended from the same ancestors," as Jay (Chapter 2) contended?

4. Explain your reasons for agreeing, or not, with Hamilton's argument (Chapter 6) that commerce, far from being a pacifying influence among men and nations, only whets the appetite for wealth and power, generating rivalries conducive to strife.

5. Review Hamilton's argument (Chapter 8) about "STANDING ARMIES, and the correspondent appendages of military establishments."

6. Is politics, as Hamilton contended (Chapter 9), a "science"? Or is it the "art of the possible," as others have said? Be explicit in explaining your views.

7. Do you agree, or not, with Madison's view (Chapter 10) that the greatest source of "factions," or political parties, has always been the "various and unequal distribution of property"? Give examples in support of your opinion.

8. In what specific ways, in Hamilton's words (Chapter 11), has the United States been able "to dictate the terms" between the New World and the Old?

9. What do you think of Hamilton's pronouncement (Chapter 12) that the national government's chief source of revenue should come from "imperceptible" taxes on consumption? Is that equitable, or not? Do you favor a sales tax at any level of government? Why, or why not?

10. What is the point of Hamilton's argument (Chapter 17) that the feudal system of medieval Europe "partook of the nature" of confederacies? Is this historical analogy a sound one? Why, or why not?

11. In view of his dislike and profound distrust of the people and his confessed aversion to popular forms of government, what was Hamilton's purpose in saying (Chapter 22) that the "American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE"? Was this an argument against states' rights?

12. Review carefully what Hamilton set forth (Chapters 21–22) as the six major defects in the national government under the Articles of Confederation.

13. Review Hamilton's reasons for believing that, under the proposed constitution, the military could not become so strong as to dominate and even upset civilian rule, as had happened in so many countries. What, specifically, would be the checks on top American military men?

14. Has the militia system (the national guard system, as it is now called) worked out as well as Hamilton anticipated? What is its function today? Under whose command is it?

15. Do you agree, or not, with Hamilton's view that a large standing military establishment in times of relative peace and quiet is a constant menace to the people's liberties and civil rights? Be explicit in supporting your view.

16. Review Hamilton's explanation (Chapter 34) about what "concurrent jurisdiction" was and how it would operate in the field of taxation.

17. Do you believe, as Hamilton did (Chapters 35–36), that a legislature made up almost exclusively of large landowners, merchants, and lawyers could and would "truly represent" all classes and interests in the community? Be explicit in supporting your view.

18. Review Madison's argument (Chapter 39) about how the proposed new government would be at once federal and national under a "mixed Constitution."

19. Considering the Federalist arguments up to Chapter 39, do you think that the Constitutional Convention, exceeding its official instructions, was justified in drafting a whole new constitution? When, if ever, should official instructions and commissions be disobeyed?

20. Do you agree, or not, with Madison's argument (Chapter 41) that the national government should have "unlimited" power in levying taxes and borrowing money. If not, why not?

21. Review Madison's views (Chapter 42) about the slave trade.

22. What was Madison's argument (Chapter 45) to show that the "unlimited" powers to be granted to the national government would not be dangerous to the authority of the states?

23. How effective could the resistance of the states be (Chapter 46) if the national government exceeded its delegated powers?

24. What do you make of the argument (Chapters 47–48) that while separation of powers among the three main branches of government was a "sacred maxim of free government," yet such powers could not be "kept totally separate and distinct"? Why not?

25. Review the arguments (Chapters 49–51) against "occasional" or "periodical" appeals to the people to determine their views on constitutional questions.

26. Review the arguments (Chapters 52–53) in support of biennial elections to the House of Representatives.

27. What do you think of the argument (Chapter 54) that slaves, though to be counted in the general population, were to be counted as only three-fifths of a man when it came to determining how many members in the House each state was entitled to? Did this give Southern states undue weight and influence in the House? Was this an issue in the Civil War?

28. What are the arguments for and against having the states enjoy equal representation in the Senate — two senators (two votes) for each state, regardless of wealth, size, or population? Does this give the smaller states undue weight and influence in national councils?

29. Review the explanation (Chapter 64) of why it would be desirable for the Senate to have a voice in signing foreign treaties.

30. Should the Senate have a determining voice (Chapter 66) in approving or disapproving the appointment of those chosen by the president for high government offices, such as members of his cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, and so on?

31. List the principal powers of the president, making brief notes on the character of each and how it operates.

32. In what fields is the president restricted from acting without the advice and consent of the Senate? Do you consider such restrictions desirable, or not? Why?

33.     Review Hamilton's explanation (Chapter 68) of how the electoral

34. college would work and be composed of "men most capable" of analyzing the situation, calmly deliberating, and coming to a judicious conclusion about the candidate best qualified to become president. Has the electoral college system worked out that way? Is the college today a deliberative body with a free choice of its own, as originally envisioned?

35. What is "impeachment"? Who initiates and conducts such proceedings, and on what charges and causes? What presidents have been impeached? What were the final dispositions of the impeachments?

36. Review the argument (Chapter 78) on whether the United States Supreme Court should have the authority to declare acts of Congress null and void because "unconstitutional." Do you, or do you not, think the Supreme Court should have such authority? Explain your reasons.

37. Review the explanation (Chapter 82) of how the "doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction" between national and state courts would work. Has it worked in practice? In general, what type of cases go to the federal courts? What type to the state and county courts?

38. Read the Constitution, especially the preamble, noting the main aims the Constitution was designed to achieve.

39. Read the first ten amendments and list the rights to which every individual American is entitled regardless of race, creed, or color. Are these rights in full effect today, some two centuries after they became the supreme law of the land? Give examples pro and con.

40. Are the Federalist papers persuasive and convincing? If you had been a voter at the time and of a divided mind about immediate ratification of the proposed constitution without prior modification or amendments, would the Hamilton-Madison-Jay arguments have made a Federalist of you? Explain why, or why not.