Publication and Sale of The Federalist, Volume I

One of the most important parts of the debate over the ratification of the Constitution occurred on 22 March 1788 when the first thirty-six essays in The Federalist series were published as a separate volume. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pseudonym “Publius,” these essays first appeared in New York City newspapers beginning in October 1787. A total of eighty-five essays appeared in the series. The second volume, containing the last forty-nine essays, was published two months later on 28 May 1788. The entire series has been reprinted many times and has for over 200 years offered insights into the origins and interpretation of the Constitution.

Publication and Sale of The Federalist, Volume I, 22 March 1788

On 2 December 1787 James Madison, who had recently started to contribute essays to The Federalist, sent two numbers to Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia and apologized for not being able to forward all of the numbers that had been printed in New York City newspapers. He was not, however, too concerned because he understood that “the printer means to make a pamphlet of them” (CC:314). Two weeks later Connecticut Federalist Jeremiah Wadsworth asked Rufus King to send him two dozen copies of The Federalist if it was published as a pamphlet. Wadsworth hoped that a pamphlet edition of The Federalist would counteract the Antifederalist material that was being sent from New York into Connecticut (16 December. See also Wadsworth to Henry Knox, RCS:Conn., 496–97, 501.). King replied that The Federalist “will be published in a pamphlet or rather in a small volume; for the work will be voluminous” (23 December, CC:368).

New York City printers John and Archibald M’Lean were commissioned by Alexander Hamilton and a committee of gentlemen to produce 500 copies of a pamphlet containing 20 to 25 essays, at a total cost of £30. However, by 2 January 1788, when the M’Leans first announced their publication plans in John M’Lean’s New York Independent Journal, thirty-one essays had already been published in the newspapers. The M’Lean advertisement solicited advance subscribers promising them a price of five shillings for a 200-page pamphlet or six shillings for one of 250 pages or more. In general, the work would be “printed on a fine Paper and good Type” in a duodecimo volume, although “a few Copies” would be printed on “superfine Royal Writing Paper,” at ten shillings a volume. Printers and booksellers throughout America were authorized to accept subscriptions. From January to March, the M’Lean advertisement was run several times in the Independent Journal and the New York Packet and one or more times in the New York Daily Advertiser, the Poughkeepsie Country Journal, the Virginia Independent Chronicle, and John M’Lean’s Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal (CC:406).

James Madison
James Madison

As news of the proposed publication of the volume spread, people from various parts of America requested copies. Federalist essayist Tench Coxe of Philadelphia sent money to James Madison in New York asking to have the printer put him down for a copy. Coxe thought that “the letters of Publius” were the “most valuable disquisitions of Government in its peculiar relations and connexions with this Country” (16 January, Rutland, Madison, X, 375). Philadelphia merchant William Bingham requested that John Jay, another contributor to The Federalist, send him a pamphlet, declaring that “various detached Numbers . . . have much pleased me, as the Author has treated the Subject in a Strong masterly Manner” (29 January, Jay Collection, Columbia University Library). In Virginia, George Washington—who had received newspapers containing at least twenty-two numbers—asked Madison to forward him “three or four Copies; one of which to be neatly bound” (5 February, CC:499). George Nicholas, a Virginia Federalist and a delegate to the state Convention, asked Madison to obtain 30 or 40 copies for distribution to the Convention delegates (5 April, RCS:Va., 704). In North Carolina, James Iredell, Archibald Maclaine, and Richard Dobbs Spaight ordered copies of the pamphlet (John M’Lean to Iredell, 15 February, RCS:N.C., 68; Maclaine to Iredell, 4 March, CC:591; and Spaight to Levi Hollingsworth, 25 April, Hollingsworth Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Maclaine described The Federalist as “a judicious and ingenious writer, though not well calculated for the common people.” Stephen Van Rensselaer, the patroon of vast estates in northern New York, subscribed for twenty copies and possibly as many as fifty copies were subscribed in Albany and twenty in Montgomery County (Archibald M’Lean to Van Rensselaer, 10 April, RCS:N.Y., 906–7; and Leonard Gansevoort to Van Rensselaer, 11 April, RCS:N.Y., 913). George Cabot, a Beverly, Mass., merchant, put his name to “a Paper of Proposals” in Boston (Cabot to Nathan Dane, 9 May, Dane Papers, Beverly Historical Society).

On 19 March the New York Independent Journal announced that “Those Gentlemen, who were intrusted with Subscription Lists for the FEDERALIST, are requested to send them to the Printing-Office, No. 41, Hanover-Square, as the first Volume of that Valuable Work will be published on Saturday next.”

On 22 March, the Independent Journal informed its readers that the first volume of The Federalist had just been published and was selling for three shillings to subscribers, who were asked to send for their copies. The Journal also stated that a second volume was in press (CC:639–A). This advertisement, which was also printed in the Daily Advertiser on the 22nd, ran in the Journal until 28 May when the second volume appeared containing forty-nine essays in 390 pages (Evans 21127). On 2 April the Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal reprinted the first three paragraphs of the Independent Journal’s advertisement and appended the following statement: “Subscribers to the above valuable work in Norfolk and Portsmouth, will be waited on with the First Volume immediately; those who from their remote distance in the Country cannot be attended, are requested to send without loss of time, as the rapid demand for this book will render it impossible to preserve them long in the Store.” Subscribers were charged three shillings per volume, non-subscribers three shillings and nine pence. This advertisement was run again on 9 and 16 April and was reprinted, in part, in the Virginia Independent Chronicle on 23 and 30 April.

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton

Volume I—entitled The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787 (see below)—contains a preface (see below); a table of contents giving descriptive titles for each essay; and the texts of the first thirty-six essays. The preliminary material runs to six pages, the essays to 227 pages. The unsigned preface, dated “New-York. March 17, 1788,” was written by Alexander Hamilton who also corrected a number of the essays (James Madison to James K. Paulding, 23 July 1818, RCS:N.Y., 879). Newspaper essay 35 became number 29 in the pamphlet and newspaper essay 31 became numbers 32 and 33. The signature “A Citizen of New-York,” as proposed in the Independent Journal advertisement of 2 January, was not used. According to James Madison, “a reason for the change was that one of the writers was not a Citizen of that State; another that the publication had diffused itself among most of the other States” (to Paulding, 23 July 1818, RCS:N.Y., 879).

Copies of Volume I were distributed to subscribers and others throughout America, most particularly in Virginia and New York whose conventions were scheduled to meet on 2 and 17 June, respectively. The authors actively disseminated the volume. On 24 March John Jay, perhaps at the request of James Madison who had left New York City for his Virginia home in early March, forwarded the The Federalist to George Washington (Washington Papers, Library of Congress). In mid-May Alexander Hamilton, at Madison’s direction, sent “40 of the common copies & twelve of the finer ones” to Governor Edmund Randolph, a delegate to the Virginia Convention, for distribution among the members of that body. These were probably the volumes requested by George Nicholas, another Convention delegate (Hamilton to Madison, 19 May, RCS:N.Y., 1103; and Madison to Nicholas, 8 April, CC:667). Convention delegate John Marshall had received a copy of The Federalist in mid-April, apparently through his own subscription (Herbert A. Johnson, ed., The Papers of John Marshall [Williamsburg, Va., 1974–], I, 409).

In April, two and a half weeks before the election of New York Convention delegates, at least sixty copies of The Federalist volume were forwarded upstate to Albany and Montgomery counties on subscription. Another twenty copies were sent upon request to Stephen Van Rensselaer. If he desired more volumes, Van Rensselaer was asked to contact Alexander Hamilton, Leonard Gansevoort, or the printers (Archibald M’Lean to Van Rensselaer, 10 April, RCS:N.Y., 906–7; and Gansevoort to Van Rensselaer, 11 April, RCS:N.Y., 913). James Kent and Egbert Benson distributed the volume, “to the best of our judgments,” in a Dutchess County meeting called to nominate candidates for the state Convention (RCS:N.Y., 879–80).

Portrait of John Jay by Gilbert Stuart
Portrait of John Jay by Gilbert Stuart

Copies of The Federalist were sent to other states and abroad. John Jay, as requested, sent a copy to William Bingham in Philadelphia (24 March, Henry P. Johnston, ed., The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay . . . [4 vols., New York and London, 1890–1893], III, 325). John Vaughan of Philadelphia borrowed a volume and, as soon as he finished reading it, he planned to send it to John Dickinson in Delaware (9 April, Dickinson Papers, Library Company of Philadelphia). Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, forwarded The Federalist to James McHenry, a delegate to the Maryland Convention which was scheduled to meet on 21 April (CC:692). And Virginia delegate to Congress Edward Carrington sent a volume to Thomas Jefferson in Paris (14 May, CC:743).

John and Archibald M’Lean were not satisfied with their compensation as printers of The Federalist. On 14 October 1788, four and a half months after the appearance of Volume II, Archibald M’Lean sent a bill to the New York committee that had commissioned the publication. M’Lean stated that when he and his brother first agreed to print the pamphlet edition, they anticipated one volume of no more than twenty-five essays, for which they planned to charge six shillings. However, “The Work encreased from 25 Numbers to 85, so that instead of giving the Subscribers one vollume containing 200 Pages for six shillings, I was obliged to give them two vollumes containing upwards of 600 pages.

“The Money expended for Printing Paper, Journeymens Wages and Binding was upwards of two hundred and seventy Pounds; of which sum I have charged Coll: Hamilton with 144 Pounds, which is not three shillings per Vol: I have several hundred Copies remaining on hand, and even allowing they were all sold, at the low Price I am obliged to sell them at, I would not clear five Pounds on the whole impression” (to Robert Troup, RCS:N.Y., 880). On 22 May and 14 August 1789, Archibald M’Lean advertised in his New York Daily Gazette (a successor to the Independent Journal) “that a few Copies” of The Federalist remained for sale. In 1799 the remaining copies of the M’Lean edition were republished by John Tiebout of New York City with new title pages.

Soon after its appearance, Volume I of The Federalist was reviewed in the March and April issues of the New York American Magazine. The reviewer, probably editor Noah Webster, summarized the essays and asserted that “it would be difficult to find a treatise, which, in so small a compass, contains so much valuable information, or in which the true principles of republican government are unfolded with such precision.” Volume II of The Federalist was reviewed in the May and June issues of the Magazine.

For a general discussion of the authorship, circulation, and impact of The Federalist, see CC:201.

New York Independent Journal, 22 March, 1788

Price to Subscribers, only Three Shillings,
Volume First.

 A desire to throw full light upon so interesting a subject has led, in a great measure unavoidably, to a more copious discussion than was at first intended; and the undertaking not being yet completed, it is judged adviseable to divide the collection into two Volumes.

The several matters which are contained in these Papers, are immediately interwoven with the very existence of this new Empire, and ought to be well understood by every Citizen of America. The Editor entertains no doubt that they will be thought by the judicious reader, the cheapest as well as most valuable publication ever offered to the American Public.

The second Volume is in the Press, and will be published with all possible expedition.

☞ Subscribers will be pleased to send for their Copies, to the Printing-Office, No. 41, Hanover-Square, four Doors from the Old-Slip.

∵ Those Gentlemen who were intrusted with Subscription Lists, will please to return them to the Printers; and those in the Country are desired to forward theirs immediately.

New-York, March 22, 1788.

Title Page: The Federalist, Volume I

Preface, The Federalist Volume I

It is supposed that a collection of the papers which have made their appearance, in the Gazettes of this City, under the Title of the FEDERALIST, may not be without effect in assisting the public judgment on the momentous question of the Constitution for the United States, now under the consideration of the people of America. A desire to throw full light upon so interesting a subject has led, in a great measure unavoidably, to a more copious discussion than was at first intended. And the undertaking not being yet completed, it is judged adviseable to divide the collection into two Volumes, of which the ensuing Numbers constitute the first. The second Volume will follow as speedily as the Editor can get it ready for publication.

The particular circumstances under which these papers have been written, have rendered it impracticable to avoid violations of method and repetitions of ideas which cannot but displease a critical reader. The latter defect has even been intentionally indulged, in order the better to impress particular arguments which were most material to the general scope of the reasoning. Respect for public opinion, not anxiety for the literary character of the performance, dictates this remark. The great wish is, that it may promote the cause of truth, and lead to a right judgment of the true interests of the community.

New-York, March 17, 1788.

To read the complete documents: See The Federalist Papers