The papers, so entitled, were written in the latter part of 1787, & the early part of 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The original and immediate object of them was to promote the ratification of the new Constitution by the State of N. York where it was powerfully opposed, and where its success was deemed of critical importance. According to the original plan & in the early numbers, the papers went out as from a Citizen of N. Y. It being found however that they were republished in other States and were making a diffusive impression in favor of the Constitution, that limited character was laid aside.
The undertaking was proposed by A. Hamilton to J. M. with a request to join him & Mr. Jay in carrying it into effect. William Duer was also included in the original plan & wrote two or perhaps more papers, which tho' intelligent & sprightly, were not continued; nor did they make a part of the printed Collection.
The papers were first published in the Newspapers of the City. They were written most of them in great haste, and without any special allotment of the different parts of the subject to the several writers, J. M. being at the time a member of the then Congress, and A. H. being also a member, and occupied moreover in his profession at the bar, it was understood that each was to write as their respective situations permitted, preserving as much as possible an order & connection in the papers successively published. This will account for deficiency in that respect, and also for an occasional repetition of the views taken of particular branches of the subject. The haste with which many of the papers were penned, in order to get thro the subject whilst the Constitution was before the public, and to comply with the arrangement by which the printer was to keep his newspaper open for four numbers every week, was such that the performance must have borne a very different aspect without the aid of historical and other notes which had been used in the Convention and without the familiarity with the whole subject produced by the discussions there. It frequently happened that whilst the printer was putting into type the parts of a number, the following parts were under the pen, & to be furnished in time for the press.
In the beginning it was the practice of the writers, of A. H. & J. M. particularly to communicate each to the other, their respective papers before they were sent to the press. This was rendered so inconvenient, by the shortness of the time allowed, that it was dispensed with. Another reason was, that it was found most agreeable to each, not to give a positive sanction to all the doctrines and sentiments of the other; there being a known difference in the general complexion of their political theories.
The particular papers assigned to each of the writers have been differently presented to the public. The statement from a memorandum left by Mr H. with Mr Benson just before his death, is very erroneous, owing doubtless to the hurry in which the memorandum was made out. Besides the considerable number of papers written by J. M. and in the lump classed with those written by himself, he ascribes to himself No 64 written by Mr. Jay; and to Mr. Jay No written not by him, but by J. M. (see life of Mr Jay by Delaplaine) The paper No 49 also in which Mr Jefferson is painted in such strong colours was not likely to be even approved by Mr H: and the paper No 54, on the subject of the negroes as comprized in the ratio of representation, was most likely to be within the share executed by the Southern member of the Club. There can be little difficulty in admitting this instance of the fallibility of Mr H's memory; on comparing it with a far more extraordinary one furnished in his letter to Mr Pickering written at full leisure, in which, among other things which ought not to have been written, he says that in his plan of a Constitution deposited with J. M. he proposed that the President shd be chosen for three years (see Nile's Register ) when in fact, as the original in his own hand must show, that there as elsewhere he desired a President "during good behaviour."
(This original stated by Mr Mason to Mr Eustis (see the letter of E. to J. M.) to be among the papers left by Mr Hamilton: A copy is among the papers of J. M. with whom the document was placed for preservation by Mr H. who regarded it as a permanent evidence of his opinion, on the subject.)
A true distribution of the numbers of the Federalist among the three writers is contained in the Edition of that work by Jacob Gideon. It was furnished to him by me with a perfect knowledge of its accuracy as it relates to myself, and a full confidence in its equal accuracy as it relates to the two others.
In the same volume, edited by J. G. he has published along with Mr H's pamphlet under the name of "Pacificus" a pamphlet in answer to it by me under the name of "Helvidius" whose distinguished character was drawn by the pencil of Tacitus. The Pamphlet "Pacificus" had been improperly included in a former Edition of the "Federalist," of which it could not make a part, being not written as that was, conjointly with others, to recommend the adoption of the Constitution, but in opposition to one at least of the others, and as a comment on the Constitution long after its adoption. I suggested to Mr Gideon the impropriety of what had been done, with a view to a publication of the Federalist without combining with it, what was entirely foreign to it. The Editor having determined to publish both of the pamphlets, rather than omit what had been included in a former Edition, I sent him the copy of Helvidius which he published.
I ought not perhaps to acknowlege my having written this polemic tract, without acknowleging at the same time my consciousness & regret, that it breathes a spirit which was of no advantage either to the subject, or to the Author. If an apology for this, & for other faults can be made it must be furnished by the circumstances, of the pamphlet being written in much haste, during an intense heat of the weather, and under an excitement stimulated by friends, agst a publication breathing not only the intemperance of party, but giving as was believed a perverted view of Presidt Washington's proclamation of neutrality, and calculated to put a dangerous gloss on the Constitution of the U.S.