Front Page Titles (by Subject) III: the text of the federalist - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 11
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III: the text 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 text of the “federalist”
The essays of the Federalist were first printed in the newspapers, and were then republished without substantial textual change in the McLean edition of 1788. In 1802, the Hopkins edition, described above, appeared with many textual changes in the essays written by Hamilton, and in 1818 the Gideon edition, with further changes in the Madison essays. The new text of these two editions was adopted in all subsequent editions, until the appearance of the one published in 1863 by Mr. Dawson, who reverted to the original text. Mr. John C. Hamilton, in his edition a year later, adopted the Hopkins and Gideon text. Thus it happens that there are two texts of the Federalist which contend for the honor of being the best and most authentic version of these famous essays.
I have had no hesitation in deciding as to the text to be adopted in this edition. Mr. Dawson’s argument in favor of the original text is unanswerable, and can be readily summarized. The essays of the Federalist were written at a special time for a special purpose. They formed an elaborate argument, intended to convince the people of the country of the value and usefulness of the proposed Constitution, and it is, therefore, historically essential that we should have them in the precise form in which they did their work.
The Federalist furthermore was the first authoritative interpretation of the Constitution, and was mainly written by the two principal authors of that instrument. It was the first exposition of the Constitution and the first step in the long process of development which has given life, meaning, and importance to the clauses agreed upon at Philadelphia. It has acquired all the weight and sanction of a judicial decision, and has been constantly used as an authority in the settlement of constitutional questions. The essays of Publius are undoubtedly a great work upon the general subject of political federation, and if they were nothing else, textual changes and improvements would be at least defensible, if not wholly desirable. But changes cease to be permissible when the writings in question are not only essays on the general subject of political federation and government under a written constitution, but are also arguments intended to serve a specific purpose at a particular time, which have assumed the weight and sanctity of judicial interpretation.
The authority for the most extensive changes, moreover, is by no means clear. It is certain that Hamilton opposed any alterations, and indeed forbade them. It is conceded also that the changes in the edition of 1802 were not made by Hamilton, with the exception probably of the paragraph in No. 56, and the extent of his approval of them is a matter of conjecture. The further slight changes in the edition of 1818 have, it is true, the sanction of Madison, but what we desire now is not Madison’s arguments in the phrases which he preferred in 1818, but in the words which he actually used in 1787 and 1788.
Finally, the changes were, as a rule, unimportant, often trivial, with two or three exceptions, entirely verbal, and, in my opinion, made no improvement. The text of this edition, therefore, is the original text of the newspapers and the McLean edition of 1788 as adopted by Mr. Dawson. I have added a few notes giving the text of the subsequent changes in every case where they seemed of the slightest importance, or where, by any possible construction, they could be considered to affect the meaning of the passage.
In only one point is Mr. Dawson’s edition as it seems to me open to criticism, and in that point alone does this edition depart from his text. The McLean edition changed the original numbering of the essays as they appeared in the newspapers. No. 35 of the newspapers was put back in the series and numbered 29. This was a proper change, because it placed the original No. 35 where it belonged in the natural sequence of subjects and arguments. The original Nos. 29 and 30 thus became 30 and 31, respectively. Then the McLean edition divided the original No. 31 into two parts, and numbered them 32 and 33. This change has no apparent reason, but it is perfectly harmless and unimportant. The effect of these changes was to advance the McLean essays one number each over the newspaper originals up to 76, which became 77 in the book-form. The remaining essays, 78 to 85 inclusive, appeared first from the author’s manuscript in the McLean edition, and were reprinted in the newspapers from that edition probably with the newspaper numbering, so that no No. 85 ever appeared in the newspapers. It is obvious that the McLean edition must have had the approval of Hamilton, because the last eight numbers were printed from his manuscript; and if the edition had his sanction, of course the arrangement and numbering must have had it also, for these were the only points on which it differed from the newspapers. It is clear, therefore, that Hamilton thought the McLean numbering an improvement, and the changes then made in this direction have of course no effect whatever on the authority of the Federalist either as argument or interpretation.
Mr. Dawson shows by an ingenious bit of reasoning that there was no “original number 77,” and accordingly omits that number from his edition, and thus makes his last number 85. There is no ground, as I have pointed out, for thus adhering to an enumeration which omits one number because there was confusion in the differing forms of original publication, and which has no peculiar authority or sanction. There is, moreover, one fatal objection to Mr. Dawson’s system, in the fact that the numbering of the McLean edition has been universally adopted in all subsequent editions and has become the standard of reference. It is to be regretted that Mr. Dawson, in deference to rigid antiquarianism, should have marred his edition by a numbering which, for no substantial reason, differs from the accepted standard and which, on this account and by omitting one number altogether, makes intelligent reference to it difficult, if not impossible.
The text of this edition, therefore, is, as I have said, the untouched original text, and the essays are numbered according to what, in my opinion, is the original arrangement, and which is certainly the best, as it is the standard numbering, that of the first edition of 1788.
In conclusion, I have only to express my thanks to the many kind correspondents who have given me information as to the Federalist and its editions, and to state my obligations to the work of Mr. Dawson, to whose masterly introduction and admirable analytical table of contents this and all the subsequent editions of the essays of Publius must be largely indebted.
May 21, 1886.