Bench Memos

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Footnote on Blogging Pseudonymously


I agree with Ed’s latest comments, that a blogging law professor who argues irresponsibly about legal matters doesn’t have much of a claim on our attention when he wants to stay pseudonymous.

Here I just want to (gently) correct Wendy Long about a historical matter.  She writes:

Hamilton, Madison, and Jay did not invoke the pseudonym Publius in order to hide as individuals from being credited with authorship . . .   Rather, their reason was precisely to the contrary: to share authorship, and indeed credit, with all the Framers of the Constitution.
I’m afraid this just isn’t right.  Yes, writing as “Publius” enabled the three men to appear to be one man.  But they most certainly did want to “hide as individuals” for a number of reasons, though none of them was dishonorable.  A few people knew they were writing as Publius, and some could guess at one or two of the writers’ identities.  But they did not want it generally known.  One of the things that “Publius” helped them conceal was the fact that two of the three men had been at the Philadelphia Convention–which could have caused some readers to dismiss their arguments as self-serving.  So they didn’t want to be known publicly as being numbered among the “Framers of the Constitution” or to “share . . . credit” with the others who had been there.  The pseudonym helped in other ways too.  There is no question, for instance, that James Madison would have found it very difficult to publish Federalist No. 54 under his own name.
Writing pseudonymously was the norm in 1787-88.  Usually the pseudonym concealed the identity of just one writer.  Maybe this was a hangover from more dangerous revolutionary days.  But it persisted in American political writing for a long time, and the purpose was always to “hide” one’s identity.


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