Founders’ Intentions

Source: Library of Congress

On August 28, 1788, George Washington, who would become the first American president eight months later, wrote a letter from Virginia to Alexander Hamilton in New York, about their mutual intent regarding democracy and separation of powers as stated in The Federalist Papers.  “In it are candidly discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government,” Washington said, describing the arguments in favor of the newly-drafted federal Constitution, “which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in civil society.” 1

According to historian Garry Wills, the “drivespring” of democracy and separation of powers promoted by The Federalist Papers was virtue.  It was a concept that was encouraged for the public good in “considerate and virtuous citizens” who desired to be in command of their own fate during an American enlightenment struggling against a long-established history of monarchy. 2

Modern political experts blame a decline in the standards of virtue exemplified by an American Founder like Washington on the power of separation between facts and public opinion, thus allowing political celebrities to masquerade as heroes intended by The Federalist Papers to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.3


1.  John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 vols. (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), 30:66.

2.  Garry Wills, Explaining America: The Federalist (New York: Doubleday, 1981), 185-192, 268-269.  Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 42.

3.  Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), xi.  Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 45-76.