Publius says “Trick or Treat!”

Today’s post is written by Monique Politowski, and is part of her ongoing series on the Federalists.

It must have been weird for the readers of the New York Independent Journal to see an essay supposedly written by a long since dead Roman.  Hamilton, Jay, and Madison all used the pseudonym “Publius,” intentionally becoming the namesake of Publius Valerius Publicola, a founder and defender of the Roman republic.  John Jay/Publius published Federalist No.2 on October 31, 1787, and the second warning “from beyond the grave” advised Americans against foreign intervention.  Record Group 360: Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765-1821 contains some of the pre-Federal records of the United States and documents from the frightening period in which the ghost of a Roman addressed the Constitutional needs of Americans.  Unfortunately, only the handwritten Federalist works of Jay remain preserved today through NHPRC funding, in particular Federalist No.5, and it along with his other works can be viewed here.

It is believed that Alexander Hamilton approached John Jay and James Madison to write the Federalist Papers during late September into early October of 1787, but it seems that he may have been inspired slightly earlier.  Archives I has a hand written copy of the voting record of the Constitutional Convention dated September 15, 1787 (NAID 301680).  Official copies were usually written by professional clerks and are undoubtedly legible by today’s standards, but this record was not written in the typical clerk copy style.

The voting record revealed that the delegates from New York abstained from voting toward the end of the Convention.  Due to the early departures of Robert Yates and John Lansing Jr., New York was unable to vote on the clauses regarding the establishment of the Judicial Branch.  Thus, New York was silent regarding agreement to “the nomination of the Judges by the Executive which shall become an appointment unless disagreed to by the Second Branch of ye. Legislature,” as seen on page four of the voting record.

The way in which members of the Supreme Court of the United States would be selected was one of the major issues states disagreed on.  It must have been difficult for Hamilton to simply watch the rest of the delegates decide the fate of the third branch of government during the last sessions in mid September.  Perhaps the spirit of “Publius” gave Hamilton foresight to recruit a future Chief Justice to join his literal campaign after the convention, anticipating the imminent creation of the Judicial Branch.  In hindsight, Hamilton’s actions were deliberate and not reactionary.  The three authors should have been able to publish Federalist Papers as themselves, but they felt this “trick” was necessary in order to enjoy the “treats” of a republican government later.  Therefore, it was important to keep the identity of Publius secret not only to protect their careers, but also to facilitate an understanding of their perspective on the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

One thought on “Publius says “Trick or Treat!”

  1. There is so much that I need to learn about history! I didn’t know that the Supreme Court selection process was such a topic of debate. Thanks for sharing.

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