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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: February 2020

4 - “The Known Opinion of the Impartial World”


Conventional accounts of The Federalist tend to overlook a critical and uncontroversial fact about the Constitution: the principal function it assigned the proposed new government was the conduct of the Union’s foreign affairs. By neglecting this simple point, readers too often miss the forest for the trees. The central task of The Federalist was not to offer a general blueprint for republican government but rather to demonstrate the depth of the Confederation’s failures in foreign affairs and to explain why the new federal government would govern more effectively in that realm without imperiling the republican commitments of the Revolution. This insight in turn reveals another: Even when The Federalist focuses on other, very different themes – whether in analyzing the general principles of federalism or the separation of powers, the importance of energy in the executive or independence in the judiciary, or the deficiencies of popular assemblies – foreign affairs remains its ultimate subject. These explorations were so many arguments to demonstrate that the federal government would neither repeat the Confederation’s foreign affairs blunders, nor pose a threat to the states and the republican principles upon which they were founded.