The Story Behind Alexander Hamilton's Best Performance As A Writer

The Federalist Papers made the case for the U.S. Constitution.

How do you write like you’re running out of time? Write day and night like you’re running out of time?”

As the musical “Hamilton” reminds us in song, Alexander Hamilton wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers in a frantic rush to persuade his fellow New Yorkers to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

The first of those essays he published under the pen name Publius in a New York newspaper on Oct. 27, 1787 ― 229 years ago today.

Eventually, there would be 85 essays laying out the foundational argument for the Constitution for generations of Americans.

A month before the first Federalist essay appeared in print, the Constitutional Convention had approved the Constitution in Philadelphia. But Hamilton was the only New York delegate who signed it. The state’s other two delegates left the convention in anger.

Nine of the 13 states needed to ratify the Constitution before it would go into effect, and the support of larger states like New York was considered crucial to the success of the nation.

New Yorkers were split on the Constitution, as evidenced by the convention walkouts. The Anti-Federalists opposed the creation of a strong federal government. Having just fought a war to escape the British crown, they pushed to preserve greater autonomy for the individual states. The New York governor stood with the Anti-Federalists.

The Federalists, including Hamilton, argued that a strong central government was necessary for the new nation to prosper. Under the Articles of Confederation, they said, the country was too weak even to organize and protect itself. They pointed to Shays’ Rebellion, a populist uprising in Massachusetts in 1786-87, as evidence.

Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers ― all under the same pen name ― and published them in The Independent Journal, The New York Packet and The Daily Advertiser from October 1787 through May 1788. Newspapers around the country reprinted the essays.

A bound edition of the Federalist Papers was published in 1788. But it wasn’t until an 1818 edition, years after Hamilton’s death, that the author of each essay was identified.

Federalist No. 1 lays out the intentions of the writers of the Federalist Papers, beginning with this long view:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.

New York ratified the Constitution in July 1788, the 11th state to do so.