THE FEDERALIST PAPERS EXPLAIN U.S. CONSTITUTION
By Mary E. Webster
February 16, 2014
It's intimidating to be the new author on a website full of writers who obviously love the Constitution of the United States. As we all work in defense of the Constitution, I hope to offer some new weapons to use in the battle.
The war against the Constitution began immediately after the Constitution was ratified. And it will continue until the republic of the United States loses. We, the defenders of the Constitution, will never be able to declare full victory. But every battle we win postpones the inevitable and ultimate destructiveness of tyranny.
I feel an enormous debt to all the people who went before me, creating the greatest nation that has ever existed. And I hate the people who are systematically destroying the very foundation of our nation—the foundation that led to the most innovations and prosperity the world has ever seen.
I joined this battle in the fall, 1994. At the time, I knew nothing about the Constitution, but I hoped it contained the solutions to the problems I saw in the federal government. I decided I needed to study the Constitution. However, I'd been watching C-SPAN for 6 months. And, according to all the experts and pundits on C-SPAN, the Constitution was obviously far too intricate and nuanced for a simple person like me to understand!
I thought about returning to the University of Iowa and taking classes in Constitutional law. As I continued watching C-SPAN, I found myself agreeing with the ideas of some guests and being repelled by the comments of other guests. Each guest claimed to understand the Constitution, but both sides could not possibly be right—unless, of course, the Constitution was thoroughly ambiguous and could be interpreted in many ways.
As I continued to consider the best way to study what the Constitution means, I wondered if "Constitutional interpretation" lay at the core of my questions. I seriously considered reading over 200 years of court decisions. I had a single-minded determination to understand the United States Constitution.
Then I realized that I didn't want to know about 200 years of constitutional interpretation. Common sense told me that human error, greed, and love of power would have influenced and swayed constitutional interpretation throughout the years. I wanted to know what it meant to the people who ratified it! When they ratified the Constitution, they were standing in for me and all the generations of United States citizens who followed them.
Although I'd heard of The Federalist Papers, I had no idea what they were. I picked up the book and started reading the introduction, which explained that the Papers were written following the Constitutional Convention. They were published in New York newspapers in the fall,1787, and spring, 1788. They explained the new Constitution and encouraged New York to ratify it. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that this one book was the answer to my questions about the United States Constitution!
I began studying The Federalist Papers in December, 1994. The first paragraph felt like the author was reaching through time, grabbing me, and telling me that I had found the most important work of my life:
"You are asked to study and consider adopting a new Constitution for the United States of America to replace the current, ineffective federal government. This is a very important decision. Our country's existence depends on it. So does the safety and welfare of its people, communities, and States. We will decide the fate of a nation that is, in many respects, the most interesting in the world. The people of this country will decide important questions: Can societies establish a good government by careful thought and choice? Or are people destined to be governed only by accident and force? The answers depend on our response to the current crisis. And the wrong decision will be unfortunate for all of mankind."*
I've been studying and sharing the concepts within The Federalist Papers for nearly 20 years. Everything that I know about the United States Constitution, I learned from The Federalist Papers. I don't read other interpretations or opinions. I try to only share the arguments left by the authors of the Papers.
My first translation of The Federalist Papers was published in 1999. For me, the word "translation" is a technical term and involves a specific, learned skill set. I studied translating and graduated from St. Paul College. If not done with the highest professionalism, translations can go horribly wrong, as shown in this short video.
However, I am a trained translator. And I have had scholars check my translation with the original text to make sure that I did not deviate from the authors' original intent. The Papers, themselves, talk about how language can be an obstacle to understanding the meaning of a message. Federalist Paper #37 says:
"Humans use words to express ideas. Clear expression requires well-formed ideas and the appropriate words. But no language has words and phrases for every complex idea. And many words have several meanings. Therefore, the definition of even a precise subject can be inaccurate because words are inaccurate. This unavoidable inaccuracy grows worse as the subject becomes more complex or novel.
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"When God himself talks to mankind in our language, his meaning--brilliant as it must be--is made dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated. There are three sources of vague and incorrect definitions: (1) indistinctness of the subject, (2) the brain's imperfections, and (3) the language's inadequacies…" [10-11]*
I am looking forward to sharing what I've learned from The Federalist Papers with a new audience.
*Webster, The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, 2008.
© 2014 Mary E. Webster - All Rights Reserved
Mary E Webster, a graduate of St. Paul College and the University of Iowa, started studying The Federalist Papers in 1994. Her books, including a 10th-grade reading level translation of the Papers, The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, and The U.S. Constitution: Annotated with The Federalist Papers in Modern English make the timeless arguments within the Papers available to everyone. Webster is related to Noah and Daniel Webster and a direct descendent of several signers of the Mayflower Compact.