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A portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

The Significance of Federalist No. 1 eLesson


Taken at face value, Federalist No. 1 serves as an introduction to The Federalist Papers. But, to reduce it to merely an introduction trivializes its importance.  It is not simply an introduction, but rather an unprecedented appeal to the people of the United States to abolish the foundation of their government and decide on a “new Constitution.” According to the author, Alexander Hamilton, the consequence of this decision is “nothing less than the existence of the Union…” The fate of the United States did not rest on the shoulders of those who were arbitrarily awarded with power either by birth or force, it rested on the shoulders of every single American citizen.  The significance of this cannot be overstated. The most important decision in our nation’s history was placed in the hands of the people.

Hamilton believed in the potential future greatness of America. When discussing the consequences of this deliberation, he refers to “…the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.” The use of the word empire indicates the amount of belief and confidence Hamilton had in the Constitution. The Constitution was proposed in order to preserve the Union which Hamilton and others believed was in danger of dissolving. In reality, the United States was far from being considered an empire. Nevertheless, Hamilton knew that this experimentation with a constitutional republic founded on the consent of the governed would prove to be remarkable.

In many respects these issues, namely the proper scope and function of our government, remain relevant-and controversial.


Read Excerpts from Federalist No. 1 and answer these questions:

  1. What is consent of the governed? Why is this principle important in the American Founding and in Federalist No. 1?
  2. Are societies of men capable of establishing a good government through reflection and choice? If so, how? If not, why?
  3. Is it possible to have a government based on the consent of the governed which respects the will of the majority and at the same time protects the rights of individuals? If so, how? If not, why?
  4. Hamilton believed that “the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty.”  Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why? What do you think he meant by “vigor”?