Front Page Titles (by Subject) I: the authorship of the federalist - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 11
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I: the authorship of the “federalist” - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 11 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 11.
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the authorship of the “federalist”
The authorship of certain numbers of the Federalist has fairly reached the dignity of a well-established historical controversy, and has become almost as hopeless of settlement as the identity of Junius or the guilt of Mary, Queen of Scots. In character it closely resembles the former question, except that the mystery of Junius is due to his secrecy, while with the Federalist more authors have confessed themselves than can be provided for in the essays.
The discussion about the Federalist began nearly seventy years ago, has continued at intervals down to the present day, and culminated some twenty years since in two most elaborate essays, one by Mr. Henry B. Dawson, the other by Mr. John C. Hamilton, which were prefixed to the editions of the Federalist published by those two gentlemen respectively. It is of course idle to suppose that any thing can now be written which will convince or satisfy everybody as the true answer to this long-mooted question. Yet it is possible, perhaps, not only to present the evidence, including a little that is new, in a compact form, but also to state the case and set forth the arguments in brief and simple fashion, so that the merits of the question may be readily understood and easily appreciated.
The first step is to employ the process of elimination which will free us from much extraneous matter and from the repetition of many long and bewildering lists of numbers. We can throw out first all those essays of which the authorship has never been questioned. We can then do the same with certain others as to which the authorities are at variance, but from which a little examination removes all doubt. This done, there will be left a small number of essays, which are the subject of irreconcilable claims, and on which this controversy really turns. The total number of essays, according to modern numbering, and as agreed to by both Hamilton and Madison, is eighty-five. Of these, the following have never had their authorship disputed by any one, and are to be thus assigned:
To Hamilton: 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 59, 60, 61, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85,—in all, 49.
To Madison: 10, 14, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48,—in all, 14.
To Jay: 2, 3, 4, 5,—in all, 4.
This disposes of 67 numbers, and leaves 18 to be still accounted for—i. e.: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, 63, 64.
We now come to the second class of essays, where the authorship, after examination, can be fixed with entire certainty. Number 17 is claimed for Madison in one of his own lists (there are four from his hand), and in one of the two Jefferson lists. Hamilton claims it in all his own lists, and Madison concedes it to Hamilton in three of his. When Madison in any one of his four lists agrees with Hamilton as to the authorship of any essay, it must be considered as settled. Number 17 therefore belongs to Hamilton. All the Hamilton lists assign numbers 18, 19, and 20 to Hamilton and Madison jointly. Two of the Madison lists give the authorship of these three papers exclusively to Madison. One Madison list and one Jefferson list give 18 and 19 exclusively to Madison, and 20 wholly to Hamilton. In his fourth and last list Madison appends to No. 18 the following note: “The subject of this and the two following numbers happened to be taken up by both Mr. H. and Mr. M. What had been prepared by Mr. H., who had entered more briefly into the subject, was left with Mr. M., on its appearing that the latter was engaged in it, with larger materials, and with a view to a more precise delineation, and from the pen of the latter the several papers went to press.” This note confirms Hamilton’s statement that these three papers were the work of himself and Madison, and to them jointly Nos. 18, 19, and 20 may therefore be credited without any reserve. One Jefferson list and one Madison list give No. 21 to Madison. Three Madison lists and all the Hamilton lists give it to Hamilton. No. 21, therefore, can be set down unhesitatingly to Hamilton. No. 64 is claimed by Madison for himself in one of his lists; but in his three other lists, and in one of the Jefferson lists, it is given to Jay. In five of the Hamilton lists 64 is claimed for Hamilton, and 54 is given to Jay. Chancellor Kent’s Hamilton list gives 64 to Jay, while the edition of 1810 credits both 64 and 54 to Hamilton. Jay claimed for himself Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 64, and the MS. of 64 has been found among his papers and in his own handwriting. There is therefore no longer any doubt whatever as to 64, which can be given with absolute certainty to Jay.1
The eighteen numbers left over from the first sifting are now reduced to twelve. Two of the six thus disposed of go to Hamilton, one goes to Jay, and the other three (18, 19, and 20) to Hamilton and Madison jointly. This makes Hamilton’s total 51; Jay’s, 5; Madison’s, as before, 14; and Madison’s and Hamilton’s jointly, 3. The twelve remaining numbers (49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, and 63) are those over which the whole controversy as to the authorship of the Federalist really arises.
It now becomes necessary to notice briefly the various authorities in regard to the disputed authorship. The day before his fatal duel Hamilton called at the office of his friend Egbert Benson, and left there a slip of paper in his own handwriting, which read as follows:
“Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 54, by J.
“Nos. 10, 14, 37 to 48 inclusive, M.
“Nos. 18, 19, 20, M. &H. jointly.
“All the others by H.”
Mr. Egbert Benson was absent when Hamilton called, but Mr. Robert Benson, his nephew, was present, saw the paper deposited by Hamilton in a volume of Pliny, and afterwards examined it himself. Judge Benson on his return pasted the slip thus left by Hamilton on the fly-leaf of his own copy of the Federalist. Thence he removed it, after making a copy, and presented it for safe-keeping to the New York Public Library, where the paper remained for some years. It was still there in 1818 when, in the controversy which then sprang up, William Coleman, the editor of the New York Evening Post, referred to it, and informed the public that they could call and examine it. At some subsequent time this valuable document was stolen, and it has never been recovered. In 1802–1803 John C. Hamilton, at the request and dictation of his father, sent a list to Philip Church, a nephew of General Hamilton, which agrees precisely with the Benson list. In 1807 the executors of Hamilton’s will deposited in the New York Public Library Hamilton’s copy of the Federalist in which the authorship of the various numbers was said to be designated in his own handwriting. Attention was called to this fact by a letter in the Portfolio, attributed to Chancellor Kent, who there gave from the copy thus deposited a list of the authors, corresponding exactly with the Benson list. In 1810 an edition of Hamilton’s works was published in New York. The second and third volumes contain the Federalist, and the author of each paper is designated, as we are informed in the preface, “from a private memorandum in his own [Hamilton’s] handwriting.” The designation of authors in this edition is the same as the Benson list, with one striking exception: No. 54 is given to Hamilton, and Jay is left with only four numbers. This difference would indicate either that the Portfolio list was wrongly given, or that the editor of the 1810 edition had some list of which nothing is now known.
In a copy of the Federalist belonging to Fisher Ames, one of Hamilton’s intimate friends, the authors of the papers are designated in accordance with the Benson list.
I have in my possession a copy of the Federalist of the edition of 1802, which belonged to my great-grandfather George Cabot, who, like Ames, was a very close personal friend of Hamilton. To the preface Mr. Cabot appended this note: “Those by Mr. Jay and Mr. Madison are now marked in this edition, those without a mark are from the pen of Hamilton.” The marking corresponds with that of the edition of 1810, from which it may have been taken, and gives No. 54 to Hamilton as well as No. 64. In the second volume, however, Mr. Cabot has wafered in a slip of paper giving a list of the authors which corresponds exactly with the Benson list.
Then there is a list made and preserved by Chancellor Kent, which he says was revised by Hamilton, and which differs from the Benson list by giving 64 instead of 54 to Jay and 49 and 53 to Madison in addition to the fourteen assigned to him in the other Hamilton lists.
Finally, there is the Washington list, which, so far as I am aware, has never been published before, and for which I am indebted to the kindness of John R. Baker, Esq., of Philadelphia. At the sale of Washington’s library Mr. Baker purchased the General’s copy of the Federalist, of the first edition of 1788. On the fly-leaf of the first volume occurs the following memorandum in Washington’s well-known handwriting:
“Mr. Jay was author of Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 54.
“Mr. Madison of Nos. 10, 14, and 37 to 48, exclusive of the last.
“Nos. 18, 19, 20 were the production of Jay, Madison, and Hamilton.
“All the rest of Gen. Hamilton.”
Washington died in 1799. He speaks of Hamilton, it will be observed, as “General,” and that fixes within a year the time when his list was written. It must have been made up after July, 1798, and before December, 1799, and is therefore much the earliest list we have. It contains some curious variations from all the other lists, and these differences would seem to indicate that Washington made it up from recollection of information derived several years before from the authors. The striking and important fact is that this, the earliest list, drawn up by a singularly accurate man years before there was any thought of controversy, agrees in the main with the Benson list, and assigns the twelve disputed numbers unhesitatingly to Hamilton.
We now come to the Madison lists. The first appeared in the National Intelligencer, April 18, 1817, in a letter signed “Corrector,” and was stated to be from “indubitable authority—a pencilled memorandum in the handwriting of Madison himself.” The second was given by Madison to Richard Rush at about the same time apparently as that of “Corrector.” The third was published in the City of Washington Gazette, December 15, 1817, and was stated “to be furnished by Madison himself.” The fourth appeared in Gideon’s edition of the Federalist, published at Washington in 1818, and was taken from Madison’s notes in his own copy of the work.1 These lists all agree in giving the twelve disputed numbers to Madison, but they differ among themselves as to other numbers in a very marked degree.
There are two Jefferson lists. One was in his copy of the Federalist, and corresponds with the most erroneous Madison list, that furnished to the Washington Gazette, while the other was given to his friend Gideon Granger, and is identical with the Benson list.2
The only information derived from Mr. Jay was that he was the author of Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 64.
Thus we find that the two principal authors of the Federalist are at variance as to the authorship of twelve important numbers.
Having stated what the authorities are, it merely remains to examine them. Suggestions have not been wanting that the principal Hamilton list, that of Benson, never existed. It is difficult to see how any one could seriously entertain such an idea, but in this inquiry I do not propose to pass over any theory which has even been hinted at. In his introduction to the Federalist which is marked by the most extraordinary care, and is thorough to the last degree in details, Mr. Dawson says that he had an interview with Mr. Robert Benson, who was present in the office when Hamilton came in and left the memorandum, and from this eye-witness Mr. Dawson received the whole story. Mr. Benson said that he saw Hamilton and saw the list which was in Hamilton’s handwriting; that his uncle made a copy of it, which still exists, and that his uncle then deposited the original in the New York Public Library. There, as has been said, the list remained for many years. There it could have been and no doubt was seen by any one who chose to look at it, and in 1818 public attention was called to it and everybody was invited to examine it. During all those years its existence and its authenticity were never questioned for a moment, even in the somewhat sharp controversy which then arose. To suppose that it did not exist, is to assume that Egbert Benson and his nephew were either liars or forgers, or both, and the mere statement that such an assumption is necessary, is sufficient to destroy at once any theory that the Benson list never existed in Hamilton’s handwriting.
All the Hamilton lists agree except as to No. 54, which the edition of 1810 gives to Hamilton. Chancellor Kent’s list gives 64 to Jay, which is correct, and 49 and 53 to Madison. As to the two last the difference is peculiar, but the Chancellor corrected his list in later years, and owing to the confusion between the original and the modern numbering, the changes as to 49 and 53 seem to lose significance, especially as they are two of the first ten of the disputed numbers, and these ten all coming consecutively, must on any reasonable theory be assigned to one or the other of the authors in a block.
The next step is to find out the errors of the different authorities as to the undoubted numbers, in order to properly test their value as to those in dispute. The one unquestioned error made by Hamilton was as to number 54. He gave Jay his correct total of five numbers but assigned him 54 instead of 64. We are now trying the value of these lists simply as documents by the ordinary rules of historical evidence, and this error may be justly said to impair their authority. This being admitted, let us apply the same rules to the Madison lists. In Gideon’s edition of 1818 Madison concedes 18, 19, and 20 to be the joint work of Hamilton and himself, and gives 17 and 21 to Hamilton and 64 to Jay. In his first list, that of the National Intelligencer, he claims 18, 19, and 20 as exclusively his own work, and also 64, which belonged to Jay. In the Rush list Madison again claimed 18, 19, and 20 for himself alone. In the Washington Gazette list he takes 17, 18, 19, and 21 to himself, two of them being joint and two belonging to Hamilton, and gives 20, which was the third joint number, wholly to Hamilton. The authority of the lists other than that of the edition of 1818 cannot be questioned, for Madison says in a letter to Gideon, dated August 20, 1818 (Writings, iii., 110): “It may, however, be proper, perhaps, to observe that it [his copy lent to Gideon] is not the only one containing the names of the writers correctly prefixed to their respective papers. I had, a considerable time ago, at the request of particular friends, given the same advantage to their copies.”
In the Hamilton lists, then, we find two errors as to two numbers, while in the Madison lists there are twelve errors as to six numbers. Tried, therefore, by the list of admitted errors, Hamilton’s authority is shown to be six times as good as that of Madison. But this is not all. In 1807 the Benson list, or one just like it, was published, and in 1810 came the edition of Hamilton’s works, which gave four numbers to Jay, fourteen to Madison, and all the rest to Hamilton. Yet it was not until 1817 that the authority of these assignments was publicly disputed for the first time. Over ten years elapsed after the publication in the Portfolio before Madison contradicted Hamilton’s list, which is a very serious matter if we again apply the rules of evidence. The excuse that it would not have been becoming in the President to have entered upon a literary controversy will not do, for the publication in the Portfolio preceded Madison’s elevation to the presidency by nearly eighteen months, and there was certainly no reason why a Secretary of State should not defend his copyright. There is still another point which tells against Madison. In a letter to J. K. Paulding, written in 1831,1 as well as in an unpublished memorandum2 quoted by J. C. Hamilton in the introduction to his edition of the Federalist, Madison argues from internal evidence that he was the author of certain of the disputed papers. This would not have been done probably by a man who had no doubt in his own mind as to the essays, and it certainly would not be the course of any one who had contemporary memoranda to guide and assure him. Madison’s argument from internal evidence makes it clear that he compiled his list from memory. There is no direct evidence that Hamilton did the same, except from his error in regard to Jay’s number on the treaty power. The probabilities, however, are strong that he also wrote his lists from memory, and all the lists, therefore, stand on the same footing in this respect.
The arguments from internal evidence on both sides, whether by Madison or others, seem to be for the most part worthless. One, for example, is that No. 49 speaks in terms of praise of Jefferson, and therefore could only have proceeded from Madison. But the essays were written in 1788, and in 1788 Hamilton knew Jefferson simply as a revolutionary leader, who was respected by all men, and had never had any political quarrel with him. Moreover, the essay, after quoting Jefferson and praising him, goes on to refute his doctrine as to the point in question. It is also said that 49 continues 48, and must therefore be by the same hand. But this argument fails if we examine the undoubted numbers. No. 9, for instance, is on “the utility of the Union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection,” while No. 10 is “the same subject continued,” and No. 9 is by Hamilton and No. 10 by Madison. As to the historical examples cited in the essays, Madison and Hamilton used the same illustrations and drew from the same sources, as may be seen from the notes and briefs of their speeches. The differences in style are never sufficiently marked to lead to any safe conclusions.
This much, as has already been said, may be asserted with confidence: that Hamilton and Madison both relied upon their memories. We have therefore certain conflicting lists of the highest authority, and if we go merely upon the documentary evidence tried by the ordinary rules of historic evidence, the balance inclines very strongly in favor of Hamilton. The proportion of admitted errors, the ten years without contradiction, and Madison’s arguments from internal evidence all tend to show in the strongest way that Hamilton’s memory was decidedly the more accurate. But if we go beyond the direct documentary evidence, the case is not quite so clear. The best Hamilton list, that given to Benson, was written in haste and at a most agitating moment. It contains one acknowledged slip of the pen which gives 54 instead of 64 to Jay. As an ingenious writer in the Historical Magazine (vol. 8, 306) suggests, “37 to 48 inclusive, by M.” The essays from 49 to 58 inclusive, all deal with the same general subject of the popular element in the Constitution, including representation in the lower House, and on their face they certainly seem to be from the same pen. Madison, in the letter to Paulding just quoted, says that Hamilton’s errors were due, of course, to haste and a lapse of memory, but if he himself was accused of errors they could only be attributed to a want of veracity. This is true to the extent that Madison gave time and thought to his assignment and contradicted Hamilton deliberately. Yet he, too, wrote from memory, and in four lists he made twelve errors, which were certainly owing to forgetfulness and not to untruthfulness.
The theory of the writer in the Historical Magazine provides very comfortably for the ten numbers from 49 to 58 inclusive, but it breaks down utterly as to 62 and 63, the remaining two of the twelve in dispute. As to these two I have very little doubt. I think they both belong to Hamilton. They follow three undoubted Hamilton numbers, and they treat of the Senate, a subject on which Hamilton made a most elaborate speech in the New York convention, and the general line of thought and argument is the same in both cases. It was, too, a topic to which Hamilton had given particular attention, and this may have been the reason that he fell into an error as to number 64, which is concerned with the treaty-making power of the Senate. As to every doubtful number outside of the ten from 49–58, Madison was in error, and this seems to me to be fatally against him as to 62 and 63.
In regard to the disputed ten, I have been able to come to no confident conclusion. Before I knew of the Washington list, and before I had discovered a curious addition to No. 56 in the edition of 1802, I felt that the probabilities were in favor of Madison, and I was inclined to assign those numbers to him, although not so confidently as in giving 62 and 63 to Hamilton.
The Washington list, both from its date and the character of its author, seems to me to tell very strongly against Madison. The other point to which I have just alluded in regard to number 56, has never been noticed before, so far as I am aware. When the edition of 1802 was in preparation, Hamilton was asked to revise it, but declared, in the strongest terms, that the Federalist must be printed as it was written, and he also insisted that full credit should be given to Mr. Jay and Mr. Madison in the preface for the excellence of their work. The edition was revised, unquestionably, I think, as Mr. Dawson has shown, by William Coleman, the editor of the New York Evening Post. Many changes were made, but, with one exception, they were utterly unimportant, effected no improvement, and were nearly all purely verbal. In number 56, however, in treating of the regulation of the militia, a sentence is inserted, as may be seen by referring to that number in this edition, which relates to the need of local knowledge in dealing with such troops. This sentence is a bit of military criticism, and could hardly have been written by any but a military man, for it would not have occurred to a civilian. It is very unlikely indeed that it would have occurred to Coleman, and he certainly would not have inserted it without Hamilton’s approbation. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the proof-sheets of this edition were seen by Hamilton, and the sentence in question is very characteristic of Hamilton and of his mode of thought. He was rigidly scrupulous as to changes in the Federalist and was extremely particular as to the work of his fellow-writers. Hopkins, the publisher of the edition of 1802, wrote to Mr. J. C. Hamilton that the most scrupulous delicacy was observed in regard to the essays of Madison and Jay, and that a portion of the work was reprinted because a single favorite word of Madison had been changed in one passage. It is therefore in the highest degree improbable that Hamilton would have added such an important sentence himself, or permitted any one else to add it, to an essay which he did not know to be his own. The insertion of this sentence, therefore, points very strongly to the conclusion that Hamilton, in 1802, considered number 56 his own, not in a moment of agitation and hurry, but when coolly examining proof-sheets. If this was his opinion at that time and under such circumstances as to number 56, it is difficult to believe either that he was mistaken as to that number or as to the other twelve in dispute. At the same time, the Washington list and the sentence in number 56 are not, of course, conclusive, and while these two bits of evidence have almost removed my inclination to believe in Madison’s authorship of the disputed numbers, I am not even yet completely satisfied that they are not his work.
The outcome of it all is that the evidence in regard to the twelve disputed numbers is so conflicting that, although the balance is strongly in Hamilton’s favor the best which can be done is to present the plain facts and all the arguments as simply and clearly as possible, and then leave every one to draw his conclusions to suit himself. No one is entitled to assign the disputed numbers to either Hamilton or Madison with absolute confidence. They were surely written by one or the other, and with that unsatisfactory certainty we must fain be content.
Hamilton’s error as to No. 64 would seem to have been of long standing, for in a note to the last number of Camillus (1796) he certainly suggests that he was himself the author of that essay. See vol. vi., p. 186.
This copy is now in the possession of the Government in the library of Congress.
The Granger list is now in the possession of the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, of Boston.
Writings of Madison, iv., 176.
A careful search for this memorandum, which Mr. J. C. Hamilton alleges, in his edition of the Federalist (p. C), to have been in the State Department, has failed to reveal it. This is entirely unimportant, however, as the memorandum merely differs verbally from the argument in the letter to Paulding, which is of unquestioned authenticity.