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The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide ~ Review and Interview

The Federalist Papers:
A Reader's Guide
By Kyle Scott

The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide

The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pen name Publius.  These papers were written mainly for the people of New York to convince them of the importance of the ratification of a new governing system and the document that would be its foundation - The Constitution of the United States of America.

But this document that came out of a secret convention was a matter of debate.  Would it stabilize the federal government at the expense of the local state governments?  America's Founding Fathers were on opposite sides of this issue and each side was equally passionate about their position.

The Federalist Papers had five main themes that ran throughout that the writers felt were important to address.  These issues were reason enough to change the existing governing system to one better able to withstand the whims of a person or entity that could corrupt what they had fought to establish.

The issues that the Federalists were concerned about were the fluctuating passions of human nature, separations of power, checks and balances among the three branches, republicanism, unionism, and federalism.  These issues are discussed in depth in chapter 3 so that one can more fully grasp the concerns that our founders had with the Articles of Confederation and why they felt the need to come up with a new governing system that was drawn up in the Constitution.

By reading The Federalist Papers we can more fully understand the intent of our founding fathers so that we are able to faithfully interpret the Constitution today.  We need to know for ourselves whether those using The Federalist Papers are using them as the founders intended.  We must make these decisions for ourselves and not rely on someone else's opinion or interpretation.  Knowledge is key to understanding and governing and we must look to the past to determine our present and future.

I found The Federalist Papers: Reader's Guide to be an interesting book.  I was especially intrigued by the background history on the three men who were Publius and the differences that made them a force to be the voice of the Federalists for the Constitution and its ratification.

Interview with author Kyle Scott

1) Why did you decide to write The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide?

Simple answer: I was asked to by my publisher. But I said yes because I saw the need for a book that would take the Federalist Papers out of their contemporary partisan interpretations. When I see a problem addressed irresponsibly or incorrectly I feel compelled to make a contribution. In The Federalist Papers: A Reader’s Guide I try to show how an open and reasoned dialogue between two opposing sides can be productive. In today’s political climate that seems so polarized and characterized by petty bickering I think we can learn a lot from the ratification debates and I try to help the reader see why the ratification debates have practical relevance for today. The goal was to break them out of their stale reputation and let readers see how alive and relevant the writings are.

2) Who do you hope will read this book? 

Everyone of course! But, those who want to take seriously the question of what it means to have a more just society should be the first to pick it up. Second, I would like for those who witness the pettiness of contemporary politics to read this and realize that our current situation is not how it has to be.

3) While writing The Federalist Papers: A Reader's Guide did you learn something about these documents that you hadn't fully grasped before?

Sure. Every time you read such deep and thoughtful texts you come away with something new. This time around I learned that there is a clear divide between Madison and Hamilton that I previously ignored or overlooked. Hamilton is more than willing to say what is necessary for ratification while Madison sticks to the same line of argumentation throughout even if he has to concede a point.

4) How much research went into this book, in the terms of time and outside sources?

Every book I write takes a year. But I had read the Federalist Papers at least a dozen times in their entirety before researching for this book in addition to the Papers that I had read separately and taught. Also, I was familiar with much of the secondary literature going in. Specifically for this book I made sure to read every Anti-Federalist paper and everything that has been published by Madison, Hamilton and Jay.

5) Is there a certain fact that you want people go "I never knew..." before?

I want people to know that the Federalist Papers have a direct parallel to the politics of today. They can bring hope or despair as a result. Hope in the fact that if they can find a way past their differences then so can we. Despair in the fact that they were much more thoughtful and high-minded that our leaders are today.

6) With your background American Politics and Constitutional Law do you see a lack of understanding and interest in these subjects or just a lack of materials about them?

There is plenty written about them but the writing is usually bad--it's just too academic and pedantic for anyone to care about. This book tries to tie together and illuminate the big ideas, those truly worth considering. And yes, most people are ignorant of history. This book will hopefully make a small dent there as well.

The Federalist Papers Tour Page


Kyle Scott, PhD, teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. He has published three books and dozens of articles on issues ranging from political parties to Plato. His commentary on contemporary politics has appeared in Forbes,, Christian Science Monitor,, and dozens of local outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.
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The Federalist Papers constitute a key document in the understanding of the American government. Written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, these 85 texts were published between 1787 and 1788 to convince the state of New York to ratify the Constitution.
Today, the Papers are studied in courses on American government, American political thought, and constitutional law. However, the size and organization of the full text, notwithstanding its complex political concepts and context, make it difficult for students to apprehend. The Reader’s Guide will be a key tool to help them understand the issues at hand and the significance of the Papers then and now. Organized around key issues, such as the branches of the government, the utility of the Union, or skepticism of a national regime, the work will walk the reader through the 85 Papers, providing them with the needed intellectual and historical contexts.
Designed to supplement the reading of The Federalist Papers, the guide will help elucidate not only their contents, but also their importance and contemporary relevance.