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The Federalist, First Edition, Written to Support the Constitution During Ratification Battle
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“it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide, by their conduct and example, 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.”

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, JAMES MADISON, AND JOHN JAY. Book. The Federalist: A Collection of Essays Written in Favor of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. First edition. New York: John and Andrew M’Lean, Two volumes. 1788.

Inventory #25874       SOLD — please inquire about other items

First edition of one of the most important works of American political thought. This edition provides the first collected printing of all eighty-five essays written in defense of the newly drafted Constitution. Initially, the Federalist essays were issued individually by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to garner support for the ratification of the Constitution. They appeared in New York newspapers under the collective pseudonym “Publius.” The first thirty-six essays of the Federalist were published in book form in March 1788, with the remaining forty-nine, together with the text of the Constitution, in May of that year. Upon its publication, George Washington noted to Alexander Hamilton that the essays would “merit the Notice of Posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will always be interesting to mankind” (George Washington, letter to Hamilton, Aug. 28, 1788). Thomas Jefferson, a constant critic of Federalism, called The Federalist “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.” 



“A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” (Hamilton, Federalist No. 1)

“This intelligent people perceived and regretted these defects. Still continuing no less attached to union than enamored of liberty, they observed the danger which immediately threatened the former and more remotely the latter; and being pursuaded that ample security for both could only be found in a national government more wisely framed.” (Jay, Federalist No. 2)

“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war … will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” (Hamilton, Federalist No. 8)

“In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a Republican remedy for the diseases most incident to Republican Government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being Republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit, and supporting the character, of Federalists.” (Madison, Federalist No. 10)


“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”(Hamilton, Federalist No. 33)

“With so effectual a weapon in their hands as the exclusive power of regulating elections for the national government, a combination of a few such men, in a few of the most considerable States, where the temptation will always be the strongest, might accomplish the destruction of the Union, by seizing the opportunity of some casual dissatisfaction among the people.” (Hamilton, Federalist
No. 59)

“The ingredients which constitute energy in the Executive are, first, unity; secondly, duration; thirdly, an adequate provision for its support; fourthly, competent powers. The ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense are, first, a due dependence on the people, secondly, a due responsibility.” (Hamilton, Federalist No. 70)

“The deliberations 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.… How can perfection spring from such materials?” (Hamilton, Federalist No. 85)



Both volumes were once signed by a William Brown (largely obscured by ink, and also from washing). A possible relative then added his own signatures, “Henry Terry.” In August of 1775, one Henry Terry and two men named William Brown lived in Brookhaven, Suffolk County, New York, and signed the Continental Articles of Association. We don’t know if it was the same or another Terry who was an Enfield, CT legislator, and served in the state Constitutional Convention of 1818. The consignor acquired them privately more than 30 years ago from a New England collector.


Condition: Two volumes: vi, 227; vi, 384 pages. 12mo, early tree calf covers. Rubbing to extremities. Spine caps rebacked. Morocco spine labels are very similar but do differ from each other. End papers appear original. Internally, a clean copy with some intermittent light to moderate foxing. Text block Vol. I is 18.1 cm high; Vol. II is 17.9 cm. The incorrect essay numbers on pages 101 and 107 are corrected in pen. Other manuscript notes relay authorship attribution.

References: Sabin 23979; Howes H114; Printing and the Mind of Man 234; Church 1230; Evans 21127; Streeter Sale 1049.