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In 1776, with the Declaration of Independence from the crown of Great Britain, the American colonies had before them both an amazing opportunity and daunting challenge, the likes of which was unparalleled in modern human history. Early American leaders like George Washington and James Madison realized that the best way to have a strong national government was to centralize that government in an effort to prevent personal interests and local squabbles from defeating the purpose of an independent nation. As an answer to exactly how this new government was expected to operate, a collection of 85 essays were written, detailing the operation of the new government.
These essays would be published collectively under the title of “The Federalist Papers”, and while there would be later questions as to who the actual authors of some of the inpidual essays were, the intent of the Papers was clear- to not only show how the new government was to operate, but also why this form of government was the right choice for America. This research will discuss key facets of the Papers in an effort to better understand these documents as well as the underpinnings of a new nation dedicated to freedom, liberty and a better life for those who came to her shores.
An earlier point was made that the Federalist Papers sought not only to lay the groundwork for the operation of the new American government, but also choose the right form of government from the outset. This needs assessment, for lack of a better term, is clearly explained in Federalist Paper 1, also known as the Introductory Paper. In this paper, there are several key needs that are laid out in plain language for all to clearly understand. First, the point is deliberately made that the temporary federal government that was instituted with the approval of the Declaration of Independence was not sufficient moving forward, and literally, the call is made for the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America.
The need for this Constitution is first broadly identified as the need to preserve the Union of states, and is made more specific when the Paper details the need for patriotism, freedom, truth and liberty to be instituted as key elements of the new United States of America. With the preservation of the Union of states in mind, it is also interesting to note that Federalist 1 specifies that the new federal Constitution mirror those of the inpidual states in an effort to have a level of harmony between state and federal government, but with federal government being the more powerful of the two. (Federalist Papers).
Subsequent Papers also point out additional needs of the new government. To be specific, Federalist Paper 23 begins with a general assessment that the new government must be at least “energetic” as the one that it is replacing. This is not as much a reference to the need for the leaders of the new nation to perform their duties with a high level of energy as it is a call for the new government to be designed so that specific goals will be achieved. This Paper makes clear the point that the new government must have a legislative, judicial and executive branch in order for it to function properly, and within those branches the powers to provide for a common defense of the nation, the assembling and maintaining of troops to make that defense a reality, the institution of laws to protect the citizens as well as the mechanism through which those laws would be interpreted, and the existence of a chief executive of the federal government to enforce laws and to make the many tough decisions that certainly lie ahead.
In fact, it is in this Paper that the point is made that since it is impossible to predict what the future would hold for the new nation, there needed to be from the start the existence of a strong national defense as well as a way for one branch of the government to ensure that another branch did not overstep its authority or intended purpose. This idea would come to be expanded into the proposed system of checks and balances that emerges in Federalist 51 (Federalist Papers). As a general observation, what is seen in each of the Federalist Papers are the materials from which the Constitution would eventually be built.
An important issue that is referred to in this Paper, setting the stage for other Papers as well as the next portion of this research, is the recognition of threats to the new nation and ways to fight back against them.
If the citizens of the newly freed United States of America had the impression that victory over Britain ended the threats they would face as a nation, a review of the Federalist Papers would quickly set the record straight. Specifically, Federalist Paper 2 sets the tone for the others that would come after it in regard to the addressing of the threats that the new nation faced.
Echoing what was said in the first Federalist, the recommendation was made once again that the United States be instituted as just that- states that were joined together by a solid federal government, basically reflecting back to the old adage of strength in numbers, for if each state tried to keep its independence in terms of not being part of a Union of states, those states could very easily find themselves open to the same kind of foreign occupation and rule which sparked the American Revolution in the first place. Therefore, as Federalist 2 suggests, by staying unified, the states will all benefit and be far safer than if they broke into smaller confederacies (Federalist Papers).
Federalist Paper 9 discusses the possibility of internal enemies and threats to the government. Earlier Papers made the important point that a strong central government would reduce the possibility of inpidual interests and corruption weakening the United States of America because if any inpidual state chose to rise up against the entire nation, the other states would be on hand to fight against such a situation (Federalist Papers).
Although the Federalist Papers predate the ratified Constitution of the United States, as the point has been made throughout this research, the Papers made arguments in support of the Constitution and in many ways laid the groundwork for what the Constitution would ultimately become. Among the elements of the Constitution that echoes from the Federalist Papers is protection against national threats.
Regarding threats to the nation, the term “all enemies, foreign and domestic” is quite familiar to the average person; in the modern day, this term has been used in discussion of the threats to life and security brought forth by those that would, and have, launched successful terrorist attacks within the borders of the United States itself. In the time of the framers of the Constitution, a foreign enemy was more widely considered to be an invading nation that would seek to take advantage of the new nation and occupy it as the British had so recently done, and a domestic enemy would be considered a power-hungry politician who would disrupt the smooth flow of the new government for his own self interests, or perhaps a rogue state or group of rogue states that would do the same, not to mention the possibility that one branch of government would attempt to overpower the others.
Therefore, as was first brought forth in the Federalist Papers, the Constitution has within it protections against any type of threat to the nation. Threats that would come from other nations are guarded against through the creation of a national system of defense, including well equipped armed forces, ready to fight for freedom whenever necessary. The Constitution also provides for the system of checks and balances to prevent the government itself from becoming too powerful in one branch, which could threaten the others. Overall, what all of this accomplishes is not only protection of the United States, inside and out, but also a fulfillment of the ideas laid out in the Federalist Papers themselves.
The beginning of this research made the point that along with the victory of independence won by the United States in the late 18th century, there were also huge challenges that lie ahead in that a new government would have to be formed which was strong enough to protect the citizens but flexible enough to provide freedoms and inpidual rights for those citizens as well. This government would also have to give inpidual states a certain level of freedom, but also keep them under control in a central governmental unit.
Likewise, the very central government itself would have to have multiple branches charged with specific tasks, but also being held accountable to the other branches of the government and the people that it served. Therefore, a Constitution was required, and that Constitution would find its essential ideas and beginnings in the Federalist Papers. Therefore, in conclusion, it should be understood that without the Federalist Papers, a nation that was taking its first steps as a free nation may have lacked the direction it needed to have a solid start, making the difference between the effective, while not perfect government that Americans still enjoy today.
Federalist Papers (1788). Retrieved February 15, 2009 from the World Wide Web: http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers
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