Federalist No.85

Concluding Remarks

Wednesday, May 28, 1788

Alexander Hamilton


This final paper is a summation of some of the key points made in the previous 84 papers, as well as an exhortation to adopt the Constitution quickly rather than continuing to argue that the document should be perfect from the start.


Of the supposed defects of the Constitution, Hamilton lists four in particular:


Previous papers have addressed these concerns – the last two are in fact addressed in the previous paper to this – but Hamilton has this to say about the criticisms here: that the Constitution of New York is thought to be good by the very people who criticise the Federal Constitution for its same supposed defects. For this reason, he dismisses some of their objections as insincere.


As to the benefits of the new Constitution, Hamilton settles on the following to summarise his case. That:


Hamilton suggests that the campaign run by the anti-Federalist deserves opprobrium, for their charges of conspiracy against the people and their misrepresentations concerning the Constitution.


Hamilton concludes the Federalist Papers by making an argument that the best course is to ratify the Constitution as soon as possible: that this must be done with impartiality, free of party loyalty or personal prejudice. He concedes that the Constitution is not a perfect document, but questions the possibility that it might be so: I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The Constitution is a compromise between many different interests and therefore cannot be anything but imperfect.


Hamilton argues that the means by which the document might be further perfected is through further Amendments, but America should not wait for these Amendments before ratifying the Constitution, because it will be easier to pass Amendments once the Constitution comes into effect. Once that happens, alterations might be called for by as few as nine of the thirteen States and ratified by ten. Prior to that, any alterations to be made would require the agreement of all thirteen States. Given the multiplicity of issues and their effects on different States, such a concurrence would be difficult to achieve. This is because any alteration prior to the Constitution’s ratification would be subject to bargaining and compromise, necessarily bargaining one gain against another. Once the Constitution is ratified, each Amendment would be considered singularly on its own merit. And since States will have the power to collectively call for Amendments, the question is not about the Federal government being in opposition to States – a power struggle – but a process whereby the government could make alterations so as to operate more effectively and to serve the liberty and security of the people. This is Hamilton’s position. So adopting the Constitution is actually the fastest road by which to achieve some of the adjustments critics of the document want.


Hamilton balances this against a more negative outcome: A nation without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle. Hamilton quotes the philosopher, David Hume, who makes the point that no individual has the capacity to bring a government of this complexity into effect; rather, that it is the work of people working together, of experience and time to gain a sense of what is and is not working, and then perfect it.


Without this cooperation and a long view to achieving the desired goals of the nation, Hamilton suggests that the country hazards the possibility of anarchy, civil war, alienation between each State, and military despotism of a demagogue.


Given that the Constitution was able to be formed by the Convention during a time of peace with the cooperation of the States, he feels it would be dangerous to restart the process again, given that there would be no guarantee of similar success, and the likelihood of groups antipathetic to the process who are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape would likely work against the success of the new Convention.


So ends the Federalist papers.

23 December 2019