Federalist Spin

In arguing against the idea that the Founders were Constitutional Conservatives who spent most of their time worry about protecting property rights from democratic majorities, Jonathan Chait looks closely at their views on the fateful way the Senate was set up, which is one of the greatest long-term obstacles to progressive legislation today.

He notes that Madison and Hamilton took views significantly different positions than those expressed in the Federalist Papers when it came to the actual negotiations at the Constitutional Convention; both favored more senators from larger states. And then he makes this important observation:

Figures like Madison and Hamilton negotiated the best deal they could make, then they set out to sell it to the public, correctly calculating that a compromised Constitution was better than none. The Federalist Papers were an exercise in spin — spin in service of a worthy cause, but spin nonetheless.

It is often forgotten that the Federalist Papers were designed to promote ratification of the Constitution, not to articulate an ideal constitutional scheme. Along with their dubious incorporation of the Declaration of Independence into the Constitution, this divinization of selected items from the Papers is part of the Con-Con effort to revise history in their own images.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.