Defense for the Judiciary: Hamilton’s Stance in Federalist Papers 80, 81, and Others
In writing the Constitution, very little was said by the founders about the judiciary branch, the powers of the Supreme Court, or the functions of law in general. To explain and provide detail to the broad statements presented in the Constitution on the subject, Alexander Hamilton created Federalist Papers 80, 81, 83, and 84. These four articles not only provided ample discussion about the exact workings of the judiciary, but served as a persuasive piece to defend the ideas presented in the Constitution, which had yet to be ratified. Hamilton was able to analyze the four sentences that make up Section III, Article II of the Constitution and create a lively discourse for the establishment of the Supreme Court, the checks on the Court, and the discussion about trial by jury, all while maintaining a passion and promotion for the single most influential document in american history.
Alexander Hamilton opens Federalist paper 80 with his argument for Congress’s format of the Judicial branch of government by defending the belief that a national judicial authority is a necessity for the success and security of the nation. The need stems from the idea that there must be a final voice in all legal disputes, or as Hamilton phrases it, “Thirteen independent courts of final jurisdiction over the same causes, arising upon the same laws, is a hydra in government from which nothing but contradiction and confusion can proceed”(Hamilton, 444). Yet to placate this issue, Article III, Section II of the Constitution merely establishes that a Supreme Court will exist, and lists the four times said court will maintain original jurisdiction. This lack of detail was a point of concern for many anti-federalists, who feared that a judiciary separate from the legislature would lead to a non-elected, tyrannical law making force, and the idea of a court that was “Supreme” with next to no Constitutionally described checks, did little to ease that fear. In both Federalist paper 80 and 81, Hamilton goes into great detail to educate the masses on what it is the Supreme Court will do. In detailing the few instances the Supreme Court will be granted original jurisdiction, as well as the need for the people to press for the Court’s appellate jurisdiction, and his further justification of a judiciary separate from the legislature, for the mere reason that, “The habit of [the judges] being continually marshaled on opposite sides will be too apt to stifle the voice both of law and of equity”(Hamilton, 452). This defense stymied a myriad of feelings of unease about this branch. This logical progression from one topic of debate to another surrounding the institution of the Supreme Court shows Hamilton’s methodical and verbose style of carefully dismantling the arguments of his opponents. As seen in the quoted text, Hamilton effectively focused his discussion on why the lack of these institutions would lead to chaos, placing an emphasis on the incompetency of the previous establishments instead of blindingly promoting the wonders of the new.
The emphasis on the need for change and for control is propagated in his following arguments as well. Federalist paper 81 continues to focus on the Supreme Court, but elects to decode what the court is not able to do, as opposed to the previous discussion of what they were capable of doing. Once again having only a small point of reference in the Constitution, Hamilton emphasises the Judicial branch’s lack of authority in regard to enforcing the decisions they declare, as well as the Supreme Court’s primary service being merely a court of appeals, instead of an all powerful law molding force. One of the primary concerns of those opposed to the new plan for a judiciary was that it would be allowed to interpret the laws made however they see fit, leading to an omnipotent force of the law, subject to reinterpret the spirit of law at any moment. Hamilton quells this concern as he claims, “there is not a syllable in the plan under consideration which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution, or which gives them any greater latitude in this respect than may be claimed by the courts of every state.”(Hamilton, 450). According to Hamilton, the Supreme Court is not nearly so powerful as the anti-federalists claims it to be. Since there is no historical defense for this idea in America, Hamilton pulls from people’s dissatisfaction with the courts in Great Britain, claiming how the Constitution works to ensure that this court will never reach the corrupt levels of the lands across the ocean. Similar to the previous paper, Hamilton’s use of persuasion focuses on curing previous injustices, remedying already present issues, without claiming the new system infallible or falling back on more base forms of persuasion. His simple description of the checks, then focus on the past, makes his claims convincing because it makes no promise of perfect remedy, instead talks of change and of progress, without utopian philosophy marring his argument, or idealism making it less effective.
The realistic attitude Hamilton presents his facts and claims in is the primary reason his defense is still referenced today and is considered . While no one would ever claim that Alexander Hamilton was anything but verbose, his reiteration of fact and focus on the concrete truth to dismantle oppositions makes him an excellent model of debate and effectual writer. This skill is especially prominent in his rationalization of the lack of a jury in the Supreme Court. Not a single word is said in the Constitution as to why there is no jury for the Supreme Court. Hamilton is able to describe in few sentences that the reasoning that cases of such import and lacking location require an impartial set of judges, an intellectual board of unified experience. This simple explanation plays into Hamilton’s bias towards the educated and the empowerment of a select few, yet instead of writing in that opinion he instead portrayed it as a gift to the people, a grant of absolute fairness. But the lack of a jury in the Supreme Court was rather uncontested, the real issue surrounded the Constitution’s lack of a call for a jury in civil cases. His explanation that the rules set in place in the Constitution are not the only that may exist is Hamilton’s longest and strongest defense in the entirety of the Federalist papers. Hamilton writes in Federalist paper 83 that, “…a thing which is only not provided for is not entirely abolished. Every man of discernment must at once perceive the wide difference between silence and abolition…The rules of legal interpretation are the rules of common sense.” ( Hamilton, 464). Once again going against some of his personal beliefs, he writes a dozen pages on the idea that the local governments, the people, would be allowed to bring their legal needs into existence as they saw fit. The philosophy of the Constitution was not to be a conclusive list of concrete laws that defined ther entirety of the nation, but rather a general framework for the government in this new and growing country. In Federalist papers 83 and 84 Hamilton promotes the ideas of personal liberty, acknowledges and alleviates all major grievances, yet restricts himself by never letting philosophy enter the conversation, never rising above the solid ground of fact and history. His ideals and personal beliefs quelled in the name of dutifully and anonymously defending the document to the public. It was not his duty to conclusively interpret the Constitution, but rather to teach, and then have the public interpret as they saw fit, until the next generation grew up to do the same, and so on.
Alexander Hamilton’s defense of the United States Constitution, specifically of the Constitution’s establishment of the judicial branch in Article II Section III, is both comprehensive and compelling. His focus on fact and specific complaints allowed for the majority of valid concerns to be invalidated by explaining the exact reasoning for enacting the institutions as they were in the Constitution, and how this document contained only the best solutions to all the problems that plagued the Articles, plagued America. His discourse on each portion of the judiciary, and the claims of the anti-federalists against them, allowed him to always have the final word on the truths of this imperative document. In the end, the work proved successful, and after six months of constantly writing, demanding the public see the necessity for change, the Constitution was ratified, and all the detailed dreams formed by the founding fathers were put into effect.
Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, Clinton Rossiter, and Charles R. Kesler. The Federalist Papers. N.p.: Penguin Putnam, 1999. Print.
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