The Public Interest

The Complex Balance of The Federalist

Gary L. McDowell

Spring 1986

WHEN THOMAS JEFFERSON put together a list of those works important enough to be required reading at his “academical village” in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, he prominently included The Federalist. Jefferson believed that, along with the works of Locke and Sidney, The Federalist was in part necessary to combat what he perceived as the growing tendency to transform the Constitution by interpretation. His fellow Virginian James Madison agreed. Madison believed that those essays (to which he had contributed so much) were among “the best guides” to understanding the “distinctive principles of the Government... of the United States.” Indeed, by 1818 he found The Federalist to be “an Authority to which appeal is habitually made by all & rarely declined or denied by any, as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed & those who accepted the Constitution of the United States on questions as to its genuine meaning.”

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