Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finally, a few Federalist Papers

OK, I'm officially declaring September to be Federalist Papers month until I read the ones on my list. I was pretty lazy again this week, and read 3 dystopian YA novels in 3 days instead of anything more strenuous. But I've gotten restarted and am developing a crush on James Madison. Here's what I've been reading:

A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, by James Madison, June 1785. Apparently somebody in Virginia came up with the bright idea of collecting taxes to pay salaries to ministers of certain Christian denominations. The result was this essay, which beautifully sums up the reasons for religious freedom. It's also, I think, a piece of evidence against current factions in the US which assert that our country was founded as a Christian nation (an assertion which also disguises Dominionists, who are actually seeking to establish one particular kind of Christianity in the government). Madison says, "Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions, may establish, with the same case, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects; that this same authority, which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property, for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment, in all cases whatsoever?" Read the whole thing.

Letter to George Washington, by James Madison, April 1787, laying out his ideas for a Federal constitution before the convention gets started.

And the Federalist Papers! No. 1 is a sort of introductory essay to the series, by Alexander Hamilton. (He and James Madison collaborated on these and published them under the name Publius, no matter which of them was writing.) No. 10, by Madison, is apparently one of the most famous ones and has been widely commented on, and I must say there's good reason for it. It offers reasons why a republican government is the best system for dealing with factions wishing to impose actions or philosophies on all the people. This is another one that I'm going to tell you to read. In No. 14, Madison argues that the size of the US is no bar to an efficiently working Federal Assembly; that in fact republicanism becomes more ideal, the larger and more diverse the country becomes. And in No. 15, Hamilton wants to convince you that the US has reached a crisis point; without a Federal government, the American experiment will fail.

I didn't actually set out to read practically nothing but James Madison this week. But I should do something like that; I'm nearly completely ignorant of his writings and they are turning out to be important and thought-provoking.


Jenny said...

Hey - so I actually want to join you but feel overwhelmed at the thought of figuring out what to read. Do you have any tips? Is there a list of things you should read before you die kind of deal? - that I could access and just go down the list? How do I get my hands on the primary sources?

Jean said...

Hey Jenny, they're quite easy to get hold of--I have a bunch or you can borrow them from the library. Do you want to start with a particular period, like the Revolution, or just read anything, or what? I put 3 links to online collections up in the corner there, or you could just find the Declaration of Independence and start there. :)