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Introduction - Colleen A. Sheehan, Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787-1788 
Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787-1788, edited by Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998).
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By the late 1780s virtually all Americans agreed that their union needed to be strengthened. Some, most notably George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, saw much earlier the necessity of a firm, indissoluble union. In the years preceding the Constitutional Convention, those who favored stronger bonds of union and a larger role for the federal government were often referred to as “federal men” or “federalists.” It is no accident or case of mistaken identity that these men came to be known as “Federalists” when the battle for ratification of the Constitution was waged, the grumblings of some “Anti-Federalists” who thought they better deserved the title, not-withstanding. The Federalists of 1787-88 simply retained the appellation they had acquired in previous years.
The selection following shows that the Federalists generally agreed that their country was sinking into disunion and anarchy. They concurred about the need to cement the union and fortify the federal head. Given what they perceived as a deteriorating economic situation, rise in domestic factions, and weakness in the face of foreign powers, their first object, of necessity, was the security of the United States.
But many Federalists also believed that union was necessary to the liberty, prosperity, and happiness of the American people. Man’s nature fits him for society, John Dickinson claimed, for man needs society to be secure, security to be free, and freedom to be happy. James Wilson agreed, arguing that civil society and government are not only necessary for man’s security, but for his perfection and happiness as well. The achievement of these beneficial ends of political society, the Federalists generally believed, requires a union of “invincible firmness.”
The Federalists did not claim that the Constitution was perfect. They understood that perfection in the human realm was not to be expected and that in fact prudential compromises had been made in the Philadelphia Convention. Though imperfect, Federalists nonetheless proudly declared that the proposed constitution was the best that could be obtained and perhaps the best that had ever been offered to the world. Despite the view widespread among Anti-Federalists that ratification should await the addition of a bill of rights, Federalists argued that the correction of any defects or omissions in the new plan of government should be made after ratification, through the constitutionally prescribed amendment process. It would be folly to expect more rather than less unity in a second convention, they asserted, and the immense risk that must accompany another convention would threaten the very existence of the United States. George Washington put it bluntly: the choice was between adoption of this Constitution or anarchy.
Cognizant of living in the opening era of a new and free world, Federalist writers and orators often reminded their fellow citizens that the choice they were to make would decide the fate of freedom for generations yet unborn. This is the time of our political probation, Washington declared; “the citizens of America” are “Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre.” It was not uncommon to hear from the Federalists self-conscious acknowledgments of the part the United States had been assigned in mankind’s struggle for liberty and just government. With Providence the director, the American people the leading actors, and their war-worn soil the stage of the dramatic scenes to unfold, the eyes of the audience of the world were fixed upon them.
The play is not over, the Revolution is not complete, the Federalist chorus rang out. The “temple of liberty” is yet to be secured from licentiousness and injustice, they said. The Federalists must bind themselves, said “Philodemos,” “with the restraints of just government.” They must conform their spirits to the spirit and cause of the Union—“the political Rock of our Salvation”—so that the fruits of the Revolution may ripen, and that so many sufferings and sacrifices will not have been in vain.
The Federalists maintained that the fears spread by the Anti-Federalists concerning the Constitution’s lack of provision for freedom of the press and trial by jury, annihilation of the state governments, and general alarm for the people’s liberties were simply unfounded. The Constitution, they said, creates a federal government of expressly delegated, limited powers, reserving to the states and to the people all other powers; it is marked by a myriad of checks and balances to guard against tyranny and protect liberty. Besides, there are limits to what constitutional, parchment arrangements can do. The fundamental question is not what new provisions and arrangements are needed, but whether the American political system is sufficiently founded on the authority of the people. Is the will of the people given a decisive influence in the American polity? Dickinson asked. If the answer is yes then the preservation of liberty depends, finally, on the people themselves.
The American people have been granted the singular opportunity of governing themselves wisely, said John Jay, and on this the “cause of freedom” depended. “In short,” wrote a “State Soldier,” “as there is nothing in this constitution itself that particularly bargains for a surrender of your liberties, it must be your own faults if you become enslaved.” Washington had issued the republican challenge of self-government even earlier during the founding period. As was his wont, his words and deeds were of the nature of a freeman mindful of the society of other equal and free men among whom he dwelled. His commands were of the kind that taught others that they must command themselves. Whether the American people will retain their liberty and secure prosperity and happiness depends on their choices and conduct, he said, and if they “should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be intirely their own.”
Perhaps it was because of Washington’s solemn and commanding presence and Franklin’s gentle irony and wit that these two men were so beloved by the American people, but more likely it was because the citizens saw in them an uncommon devotion to the cause of a free people—a public spirit that reigned in them almost before there was any public to be spirited about. That Washington and Franklin were Friends of the Constitution carried enormous weight with the American people, as the Federalists who invoked their names well understood.