A dispute among later readers concerning the meaning of a hallowed text is not exactly an unprecedented phenomenon. But rarely has it been carried so far as in the instance of The Federalist. The various interpretations of this work do not differ on mere points of detail, but with regard to the most important tendencies of the argument. The plan of the present study does not permit an exhaustive synopsis of the debate on this subject, but we may usefully review a representative sample of the sundry views expressed over the years.
Opposing interpretations may be grouped broadly into three categories: First, Publius is regarded by some as a firm nationalist. This interpretation is the oldest of the three and seems most sensitive to historical circumstances. It maintains that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were energetic leaders who were concerned with promoting the welfare of the United States as a whole.
Having served in the national government during the Revolution or under the weak Articles of Confederation, they had all felt the frustration of trying to impose a consistent line of conduct on a gaggle of thirteen fully sovereign entities. They wanted a potent general authority, able to take positive action on a continent-wide basis. They favored the Constitution because they felt it would strengthen their hands as national officials.