The Public Interest

A Revisionist Federalist

David F. Epstein

Fall 1981

THE Federalist, a series of essays written in 1787 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pseudonym of “Publius” in support of the ratification of the American Constitution, is America’s premier book about politics. As a sequel to his book on Jeffersons Declaration of Independence, journalist and professor Garry Wills now offers a new interpretation of the Federalist.  While his method appears to be that of the intellectual historian, tracking down sources and words in eighteenth century texts, his question is of more than historical interest: What principles guided America’s founders in making the political choices which, by law and opinion, still guide us? Wills’s two books have a common answer which is expressed in their common cast of supporting characters: John Locke, defender of the natural rights of individual men and traditionally thought of as “America’s philosopher,” is downgraded while the thinkers of the eighteenth century “Scottish Enlightenment,” analysts of human sociability and morability, are presented as the decisive influence on America’s founders. 

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