The Federalists Papers

Essential Questions

What was the political philosophy of the Federalist Papers?

Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists

After the Constitution was written and made public, the states had to vote on whether or not to make it into law and follow the laws of the Constitution. A huge debate started in America and people were divided into two groups, the Federalist and Anti-Federalists.


Anti-federalists were people who opposed the Constitution and thought that the Constitutional Convention should not have created a new government. Others thought the Constitution gave too much power to the central government and feared that a strong president could become like a king. They preferred that most of the power belong to state governments and a strong legislature, or lawmaking, body for the national government. For some Anti-federalists, the main problem was that the Constitution did not have a section that guaranteed individual rights. Many Anti-federalists were small farmers and debtors. However, some were wealthy. Some Revolutionary War heroes were also strong Anti-federalists, including Richard Henry Lee, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry.


Anti-federalists were challenged by many Americans who believed that the United States needed a stronger central government and a strong executive branch. They called themselves Federalist. Most Federalists believed that the Constitution offered a good balance of power. They thought it was a careful compromise between various political views. Many Federalists were wealthy planters, farmers, and lawyers. However, many others were poor workers and craftspeople. Merchants also supported the Constitution.

Activity 1: Primary Source: Federalist vs. Anti-Federalists

Read the primary sources on Federalists and Anti-Federalists to compare and contrast their ideas.

Federalist v Anti Federalist Student Version.pdf

Federalist Papers

Federalists and Antifederalists debated whether the new Constitution should be approved by the state legislatures. They made speeches and printed pamphlets advocating their views. The Federalists had to convince people a change in the structure of government was needed. To do this, they had to overcome people's fears that the Constitution would make the government too powerful.

One of the most important defenses of the proposed Constitution appeared in a series of 85vessays that became known as the Federalist Papers. They were published anonymously, but historians now know that they were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The authors of the Federalist Papers reassured Americans that the new federal government would not overpower the states. In one essay, Madison argued that the diversity of the United States would prevent any single group from dominating the government. The Federalist Papers were widely reprinted as the debate over the Constitution continued.

Activity 1: The Federalist Papers, Number 39 - 1787

Define the vocabulary words, read the primary source excerpts, and answer the text-dependent questions.

Primary Source-The Federalist Papers, Number 39

Discussion Questions

  • What did Federalists believe?

  • What did Anti-Federalist believe?

  • What were the Federalist Papers?

  • Who is the "father of the Constitution" and why?

  • What was the role of George Washington in creating the Constitution?

  • How did other founding fathers help create the Constitution?'

Activity 3: What are the motivations to create and the impact of the Federalist Papers?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities

NEWSELA: Federalists and Anti-Federalists Fight Over the Constitution

NEWSELA: Anti-Federalists: The Other Founders of America's Constitutional Tradition?

NEWSELA: Primary Sources: James Madison's Federalist Papers No. 10

NEWSELA: Primary Sources: James Madison's Federalist Papers No. 51

NEWSELA: Primary Sources: Hamilton and the Electoral College, Federalist Paper 68

Federalist Papers