American Political Philosophy Term Paper

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American Political Philosophy: Republicanism

Within this paper, the general theory of republicanism will be presented. The conceptualization of republicanism discussed within the paper as an American political philosophy will be based on The Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison in 1787. Initially, a brief overview of relevant background information on The Federalist Papers will be provided. This will be followed by a discussion of the primary components of republicanism as set forth within the works of Hamilton, Jay and Madison. A summary and conclusions will then be provided.

Overview of The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers have been suggested as representing one of the most important writing in American political thought (Yarbrough, 1986). It represents a collection of 85 letters written by Hamilton, Jay and Madison under the pseudonym of Publius. The letters were written to the American public and were initially published in a series fashion in the newspapers of New York City. As explained by Rossiter (1961), the papers were written by the three authors for the purposes of influencing the ratification of the Constitution. Yarbrough further clarified that the motivation for the papers emerged after the Federal Convention concluded its session on September 17, 1787 after deliberating and compromising for a period of four months on the Constitution. At the closing of its session, the Federal Convention forwarded the proposed Constitution to Congress with the stipulation that nine states would need to ratify it before it could go into effect. As noted by Yarbrough, Alexander Hamilton who was a New York delegate to the Convention and represented one of the Constitution's most ardent advocates recognized the importance of New York in securing the ratification of the Constitution. New York was the seat of the Articles of Confederation and was believed to have a pivotal influence in relation to the New England states as well as to other states. He sought out the assistance of Jay and Madison in pursuing the hurried writing of The Federalist Papers as a means of gaining the support of the people of New York in ratifying the Constitution while educating them as to the significance and meaning of the Constitution in the establishment a system of government within America.

According to Rossiter (1961), of the 85 letters that were written Hamilton wrote fifty-one numbers (1, 6-9, 11-13, 15-17, 21-36, 59-61, 65-85), Madison twenty six (10, 14, 37-58, and probably 62, 63), and Jay five (2-5, 64). Three of the letters (18-20) represented the joint efforts of Madison and Hamilton. As further explained by Rossiter, The Federalist Papers provide an explanation of the benefits of federal government; criticism and documentation of the Articles of Confederation as not producing such a government; an examination of the Constitution as means for securing federalism; and, and, a discussion of "enduring truths" that help to clarify both the dangers and benefits associated with a free government. While the papers did little to influence the outcome of ratification, as noted by Rossiter, they remain a lasting foundation upon which federalism has come to be understood and provide an ongoing understanding of the principles of constitutionalism, representing in their entirety a treatise on free government in peace and security.


Within The Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison provide a conceptualization and vision of republicanism as the political philosophical model upon which the federal government of the U.S. should be based. Included within the papers are definitions of republicanism, discussions on the characteristics of republicanism and the benefits associated with the Constitutional guarantee of republicanism. Using the papers as the basis for this discussion, an overview will be provided of each of these areas as conceptualized by Hamilton, Jay and Madison.

In The Federalist Papers, there is an effort made to clarify and define republicanism. In this vain, Madison engaged in an effort in No. 10 to distinguish between government based on republicanism and that representative of a pure democracy. According to Madison, republicanism as represented by the establishment of a republic form of government differs significantly from a pure democracy. Madison explained that a pure democracy often relies on the assembly of a small number of its citizens who do not have the necessary incentive to protect the personal security or the rights of property of the larger society. As noted by Madison, "theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions" (Hamilton, Jay & Madison in Rossiter, 1961; p. 81). However, according to Madison, republicanism leads to the establishment of a republic in which a plan is developed and implemented in order to insure representation of the people.

In No. 14, Madison suggested that a republic was very often confused and presented as representing a pure democracy. Madison offered further clarification once more regarding the differences in the two forms of the government when he stated:

It is that in a democracy the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, must be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region." (Hamilton, Jay & Madison in Rossiter, 1961; p. 100)

In No. 39, Madison once more provides a more expansive definition of republicanism when he explained that a republic obtains all its powers "directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior" (Hamilton, Jay & Madison in Rossiter, 1961; p.241). Without the direct or indirect provision of power by the people, Madison concluded that governments claiming to conform to republicanism failed to do so.

Within The Federalist Papers, there is an effort to document the characteristics of republicanism. The characteristics of republicanism were largely addressed by Madison in letters No. 39 and No. 57. In No. 39, Madison presents an examination as to whether the framers of the Constitution had established a republican form of government and over the course of his exploration identifies the critical elements associated with republicanism. Initially, Madison raises the question of whether republicanism is a hallmark of the Constitution and concludes that if it is not, the Constitution should not be worth further pursuit or ratification. As Madison stated:

The first question that offers itself is whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible." (Hamilton, Jay & Madison in Rossiter, 1961; p. 240)

Thus, as Madison continued: "What, then, are the distinctive characters of the republican form?" (p. 240).

In addressing the question he had raised, in No. 39, Madison provides the reader with a further understanding of the characteristics of republicanism and a republic form of government. These characteristics are as follows:

true and valid form of republican government is that which further builds upon the principles associated with the American Revolution - the adherence to and demonstration of the possibility and practicality of self-government.

Government that is based on republicanism is one in which its' powers are derived directly or indirectly from the people.

Republicanism provides for the establishment of a government that is actually administered by the people who are represented by individuals who serve in public office for a limited period of time or when their good behavior warrants their continuation in office.

Government that derives its' power from a few or from a favored and wealthy class does not represent republicanism. Thus, the President, Representatives of the House and Senators are elected to serve by the people as are others, including judges, who are appointed by those officials elected to office.

Republicanism further insures that elected officials serve in office only for a specified period with the exception of judges, who are appointed to serve throughout their life unless their behavior warrants their removal from office

Titles of nobility, representative of monarchy, are prohibited within a government based on republicanism.

The states that are a part of the republic are also guaranteed their rights for the formation of a republican form of government. Therefore, republic forms of government have a division of power between the states and the federal government in which the representatives of state government, when acting in matters related to the federal government, fulfill their role as citizens of their states, rather than citizens of the nation.

Under a republic form of government, states retain certain powers…

Sources Used in Document:


Hamilton, A., Jay, J. & Madison, J. (1961). The Federalist papers. C. Rossiter (ed.). NY: New American Library.

Yarbrough, J. (1986). The Federalist. News for Teachers of Political Science, (Spring 1986). 7 June 2003:

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