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Alexander Hamilton’s First Federalist Paper

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Alexander Hamilton’s First Federalist Paper

Alexander Hamilton’s first Federalist Paper endorses ratification of the proposed constitution. His unifying point is that the use of reason—in the form of the people’s "reflection and choice"—will lead to the truth, whereas their use of passion will lead to ruin. Hamilton attempts to persuade his readers to make the correct decision by reminding them of the sheer importance of the matter. He suggests that "good men" will want to make the correct choice in light of their "true interests" (33), while the adversaries of the Constitution will be ruled by passions, deceit, and even weak minds. He frankly warns his readers against "any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth" (35); he offers them a chance to join him on the right side of the issue, which he implies he has arrived at by knowledgeable deliberation. Finally, Hamilton courts his audience by implying that they will use reason to reach the truth. By contrast, the opponents of the Constitution rely on their emotions and follow a "much more certain road to the introduction of despotism" (35).

In the first paragraph, Hamilton introduces the idea of truth—not in passing, but by asking whether "good government from reflection and choice" is at all possible (33). He indicates that the decision is of greater importance than just one country; the wrong decision would "deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind" (33). By broadening the implications of the question at hand, depicting it as "of the first magnitude to society" (34), and describing the Constitution as "the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness" (36) and "favorable to the discovery of truth" ...

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... is a compliment to his readers’ minds. He uses words like "consideration," "frankly acknowledge to you," and "I propose" (36) to illustrate the rationalism he expects to share with them.

Hamilton uses imagery and rhetorical language effectively in order to discredit his adversaries in the eyes of the people. His main tool is a rationalistic "truth" which he detaches from his opponents and associates with himself. He also portrays "truth" religiously, and connects the Constitution and its supporters with the highest cause. Hamilton passionately defends and elevates the people’s use of reason. But he equally passionately believes that the people’s reason is admirable only when it leads to the conclusion that the United States needs a strong, vigorous, central government.

Source Cited

The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter New York: Penguin Books, 1961
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