The last Federalist Paper

The very last “Federalist Paper ” — Federalist #85, written by Alexander “Non-Stop” Hamilton — was first published on August 13 and 16, 1788 (happy 234th anniversary!) in the The New York Packet and The Independent Journal. Among other things, Hamilton acknowledges that the proposed Constitution was “imperfect”:

“I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberation of all collective bodies, must necessarily be a compound as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom of the individuals of whom they are composed. The compacts which are to embrace thirteen distinct states, in a common bond of amity and union, must as necessarily be a compromise of the dissimilar interests and inclinations. How can perfection spring from such materials?”

But Hamilton not only defends the necessity of compromise; he also explains why imperfection is inevitable in human affairs by quoting from David Hume’s 1742 essay on “The Rise and the Progress of the Arts and Sciences“:

“… to balance a large state or society … whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work: EXPERIENCE must guide their labour: TIME must bring it to perfection: and the FEELING OF inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into, in their first trials and experiments.”

In fact, Hume may have played a much greater role in our constitutional politics than most people realize. (See here, for example.) Maybe we should add the great Scottish philosopher and historian next to Hamilton on the Twenty Dollar Bill!

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to The last Federalist Paper

  1. Fascinating that Hume was so influential to the founding fathers.

    I don’t think much of western politics anymore is very welcoming to the idea of making compromises. Instead, we boast of our “perfect” solutions! My way or the highway!

    The constitution itself is the byproduct of numerous compromises. Like, how else would it have been possible to get 13 colonies to enter into a union without, say, coercion?

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