The first significant anticonsolidationist commentary on The Federalist was probably that of Henry B. Dawson, a quarrelsome and acerbic scholar and a self-styled “states-rights Democrat,” who published in 1863 an excellent edition of the work based solely on the original newspaper sources. To this edition, which soon became a standard, Dawson affixed a long introduction, which became something of a scandal, wherein he held that the argument of Publius tended to support the doctrine of “state sovereignty.”


At the time, this view was thought to be heretical and shocking-especially coming, as it did, from a Northerner during the Civil War. But Dawson’s opinion eventually became acceptable in polite company. A later observer sharing this notion was Felix Morley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of the right-wing journal Human Events. In his book Freedom and Federalism, Morley declares that the “objective” of the Founders “was not nationalism.” Rather, he contends, the “rights of the several states” have been preserved “inviolate” to protect their “widely differing political and social customs” from “centralized governmental oppression.”


And Morley observes that “the Federalist Papers. . . argued almost two centuries ago that the connection between Freedom and Federalism is neither accidental nor capricious.” Incidentally, President Ronald Reagan once invoked this interpretation of The Federalist. He did so in a 1981 address previewing his efforts to shift social responsibilities away from the national government to state and local levels.