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The present edition of the Federalist contains all the numbers of that work as revised by their authors; and it is the only one to which the remark will apply. Former editions, indeed, it is understood, had the advantage of a revisal from Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Jay, but the numbers written by Mr. Madison still remained in the state in which they originally issued from the press and contained many inaccuracies. The publisher of this volume has been so fortunate as to procure from Mr. Madison the copy of the work which that gentleman had preserved for himself, with corrections of the papers, of which he is the author, in his own hand. The publication of the Federalist, therefore, may be considered, in this instance, as perfect; and it is confidently presented to the public as a standard edition.
Some altercation has occasionally taken place concerning the authorship of certain numbers of the Federalist, a few of those now ascertained to have been written by Mr. Madison having been claimed for Mr. Hamilton. It is difficult to perceive the propriety or utility of such an altercation; for whether we assign the disputed papers to the one or to the other, they are all admitted to be genuine, and there will still remain to either of these gentlemen an unquestioned number sufficient to establish for him a solid reputation for sagacity, wisdom and patriotism. It is not the extent of a man's writings, but the excellence of them, that constitutes his claim upon his contemporaries and upon posterity for the character of intellectual superiority: and to the reader, the difference in this case is nothing, since he will receive instruction from the perusal, let them have been written by whom they may,
The present moment may be regarded as peculiarly favorable for the republication of this work. Mr. Hamilton is dead; and both Mr. Jay and Mr. Madison have retired from the busy scenes of life. The atmosphere of political passions through which their principles and actions were lately viewed has disappeared, and has been replaced by one more pure and tranquil. Their political virtues are now manifest and almost universally admitted. Time, which tests the truth of every thing, has been just to their merits, and converted the reproaches of party-spirit into expressions of gratitude for the usefulness of their labors. It is to
be hoped that neither a mistaken zeal of friendship for departed worth, nor an inclination to flatter living virtue, will induce any one to disturb this growing sentiment of veneration.
To the Federalist the publisher has added the Letters of Pacificus, written by Mr. Hamilton, and an answer to those Letters by Helvidius, from the pen of Mr. Madison. As these two eminent men had labored in unison to inculcate the general advantages to be derived from the Constitution, it cannot be deemed irrelevant to show in what particular point, as it respects the practical construction of that instrument, they afterwards differed. The community is, perhaps, always more enlightened by the candid criticism of intelligent conflicting minds than it is by their concurring opinions.
In this collection, the Act of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States also find an appropriate place. They are the text upon which the Federalist is a commentary. By comparing these two national constitutions, and reflecting upon the results of each, the defects of the former and the perfections of the latter will be easily perceived ; and the American people may be thence instructed, that however prudence may dictate the necessity of caution in admitting innovations upon established institutions, yet that it is at all times advisable to listen with attention to the suggestions and propositions, of temperate and experi. enced statesmen, for the cure of political evils and the promotion of the general welfare.
The Constitution of the United States has had, in the sunshine of peace and in the storm of war, a severe but impartial trial, and it has amply fulfilled the expectations of its friends and completely dissipated the fears of its early opponents. It may, in truth, be asserted, that the ten first declaratory and restrictive emendatory clauses, proposed at the session of congress which commenced on the 4th of March, 1789, and which were ratified by the legislatures of the states, fully satisfied the scruples of those who were inimical to that instrument as it was first adopted, and by whom the amendments were considered necessary as a safeguard for religious and civil liberty. Thus, and still further, amended, the Constitution, as a great rule of political conduct, has guided the public authorities of the United States through the unprecedented political vicissitudes and the perilous revolutionary commotions which have agitated the human race for the last quarter of a century, to a condition at once so prosperous, so commanding, and so happy, that it has wholly outstripped all previous foresight and calculation. When we look back upon the state of inertness in which we reposed under the Act of Confederation, to the languishment of our commerce, and the indifference
with which, in that situation, we were regarded by foreign governments, and compare that disposition of things with the energy to which we were subsequently roused by the operation of the Constitution ; with the vast theatre on which, under the influence of its provisions, our maritime trade has been actively employed; with the freedom and plenty which we enjoy at home, the respect entertained for the American name abroad, and the alacrity with which our favor and friendship are sought by the nations of the earth, our thankfulness to Providence ought to know no bounds, and to the able men who framed and have supported the Constitution, should only be limited by those paramount considerations which are indispensable to the perpetuation and increase of the blessings which have been already realized.
The perspicuous brevity of the Constitution has left but little room for misinterpretation. But if at any time ardent or timid minds have exceeded or fallen short of its intentions ; if the precision of human language has, in the formation of this instrument, been inadequate to the expression of the exact ideas meant to be conveyed by its framers; if from the vehemence of party-spirit, it has been warped by individuals, so as to incline it either too much towards monarchy or towards an unmodified democracy; let us console ourselves with the reflection, that however these aberrations may bave transiently prevailed, the essential principles of the Representative System of government have been well preserved by the clearsighted common sense of the people; and that our affections all concentre in one great object, which is the improvement and glory of our country.
After deriving so many and such uncommon benefits from the Constitution, the notion of an eventual dissolution of this Union must be held, by every person of unimpaired intellect, as entirely visionary. The state governments, divested of scarcely any thing but national authority, have answered, or are competent to answer, every purpose of melioration within the boundaries of the territory to which they are respectively restricted ; whilst, in times of difficulty and danger, acting directly upon an intimate knowledge of local resources and feeling, they are enabled to afford efficient aid to the exertions of the national government in the defence and protection of the republic. These truths are obvious: they have been demonstrated in times of domestic tranquillity, of internal commotion, and of foreign hostility. In return, the advantages which the national government dispenses to the several states are keenly felt and highly relished. When the Constitution was ratified, Rhode Island and North Carolina, from honest but mistaken convictions, for a moment withheld their assent. But when Congress proceeded sol.
emnly to enact that the manufactures of those states should be considered as foreign, and that the acts laying a duty on goods imported and on tonnage should extend to them, they hastened, with a discernment quickened by a sense of interest, and at the same time honorable to their patriotic views, to unite themselves to the confederation.
The only alteration of importance which the Constitution has undergone since its adoption, is that which changes the mode of electing the President and Vice-President. It is believed, that all things being duly weighed, the alteration has been beneficial. If it enables a man to aim with more directness, at the first office in the gift of the people, it equally tends to prevent the recurrence of an unpleasant contest for precedency, between the partisans of any two individuals, in Congress, to which body in the last resort, the choice is referred. Besides, whether the Constitution should prescribe it or not, the people themselves would invariably designate the man they intended for chief magistrate : a reflection which may serve to convince us that the change in question is more in form than in fact.
To conclude, the appearance of so perfect an edition of the Federalist as the present must be allowed to be, may be regarded as the more fortunate, as the Journal of the Convention that framed the Constitution is about to be published, and a new light to be thus shed upon the composition of that instrument. The Act of Confederation, and the Constitution itself, have been, by permission of Mr. Adams, the Secretary of State, carefully compared with the originals deposited in the office of that department; and their accuracy may therefore be relied on, even to the punctuation.
City of WASHINGTON, May, 1818.