THE FEDERALIST essays are every bit as brilliant and richly deserving of study as scholars across the disciplines have long noted. But crucially, that process of close study forces us to admit that, historically speaking, the essays not only were but a drop in the bucket of the vast wealth of writing in the debate over the Constitution; they were, in terms of influence, a vastly overrated and barely perceptible drop at that.
While they are a feature in every history and government textbook, THE FEDERALIST PAPERS had almost no influence on the ratification debate in 1787-88 at all. Not only were they published almost exclusively in New York, the powerful ideas they contained had scant influence on the actual debate that took place in the newspapers and ratifying conventions. This lecture examines this historical anomaly and discusses when and how this series reached its canonical status in spite of this inconvenient fact.