Federalist #1

You are here now : » Rhetoric Ring > Decorum on the Web > Federalist #1

A Sentimental Reflection on The Federalist, #1


John Jay wrote, in Federalist #2, "calm and mature inquiries and reflections . . . must ever precede the formation [and perpetuation] of a wise and well-balanced government for a free people." Following is a long quote (sorry) from Federalist #1 that describes, implicitly, the temperament required of a free people.We don’t think much anymore about being "fit for liberty," but I think it bears remembering (about once a generation).These lines bear special significance for anyone who has spent much time on discussion lists and other on-line forums.

It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. . . . This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. . . .

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. . . . nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterised political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes byfireand sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion.A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of the converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. . . .

In the course of the preceding observations, I have had an eye, my fellow-citizens, to putting you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision, in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth. . . . My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all.They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth. . . . In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavour to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention

Let us emulate our Founding Fathers. Let us not disgrace our cause by engaging in uncivil discourse. Let us recommit ourselves to being a free people, "filled with patriotism, virtue and wisdom," so we are fit for liberty and qualified to be its protectors.