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Debating The Federalist Papers : Why You Should Support the National Review Institute

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (Portraits by John Trumbull, John Vanderlyn/Wikimedia)
The Regional Fellows Program walks patriotic young men and women through the key questions of America’s Founding.

As part of the National Review Institute’s End-of-Year Appeal, NRI fellows are sharing words of wisdom and inspiration. Today, Rick Brookhiser explains why the institution created by Bill Buckley merits your consideration and support.

One of my main connections to National Review Institute, NRI, is that they pay my salary, which is certainly of interest to me. But another of my relationships to it may be of more interest to potential donors.

Once a year, through its Regional Fellows Program, NRI assembles a class of youngish Gotham conservatives, working in fields as diverse as charity and security. They get a reading list for a semester-long course of study, meeting once a week for dinner and discussion in the Union League Club. I am the man who walks them through the Founders’ Constitution.

Our main guide is that most brilliant of all commentaries, the Federalist, written by two signers of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, plus John Jay. Hamilton was the impresario of the project. He knew the Constitution needed help in New York State, where the governor and most of the political establishment were staunchly opposed to it. So he turned to the medium he had been working in since he was a teenager, the newspapers. From the fall of 1787 to the summer of 1788, he and his collaborators churned out 85 essays. They used a common pseudonym, Publius; “Federalist” was the label they appropriated to describe their constitutional views.

A modern op-ed piece or newspaper column usually runs about 750 words. The Federalist essays are each two thousand words long. A modern columnist appears, at most, twice a week. The Federalist essays typically appeared four times a week, occasionally five times, once six times (NB: remember the Sabbath). And of course the typical op-ed or column is gone with the wind as soon as it appears, sometimes even as we read it. But the work of Publius still marches on.

Talleyrand, the renegade French aristocrat, steeped equally in Old World wisdom and corruption, nevertheless so admired the work of these American political upstarts that when another European diplomat mentioned that he was unfamiliar with it, all Talleyrand said in reply, was, “Read it; read it.”

May NRI reap dividends long after I am gone. May you find that worth your support.

After we honor the speed of the Federalist’s authors, we discuss their thoughts. Why is the United States better off as one country, rather than three? How does commerce work in a continental republic? Do republics have to be as small as those of ancient Greece? Would it be simpler to have a one-house legislature? Would it be safer to have a plural executive, rather than one guy at the top? What will a federal court system do? Are political parties a bad idea? Are men good enough to not need government? Good enough to run one themselves, if they do need one?

As a biographer of both Madison and Hamilton (before he was cool), I have my own thoughts on all of this, which I share. But the point is not to dictate mine, but to get patriotic young men and women to think their own way through these questions, many still with us today.

So may NRI reap dividends long after I am gone. May you find that worth your support. Please make a tax-deductible contribution to its end-of-year appeal.

— Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and the author, most recently, of Founder’s Son.

In addition to New York City, NRI’s Regional Fellows Program operates in Washington, D.C., Dallas, and San Francisco. In the next months, it will expand into Philadelphia, and there are plans for continued expansion into the Midwest in late 2018 and 2019. The program’s objective is to help talented mid-career conservatives develop a deeper understanding of the foundations of conservative thought, and to build a network of like-minded individuals who can assist one another professionally and personally. A syllabus of the program’s eight-session course can be found here.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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