Alexander Hamilton’s Lesson on Winning an Argument Before it Starts

By John Suttle

While much has been made of Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the founding of the United States of America, most people are unaware of his contributions to public relations.  As one of the authors of The Federalist Papers (along with James Madison and John Jay), Hamilton provides a valuable lesson in counter messaging. 

As Federalists, Hamilton et al. were proponents of a strong national government as laid out in what would become the U.S. Constitution, contrasted to the position of the Antifederalists led by Thomas Jefferson that called for a very small central government with power concentrated with the states. With the Constitutional Convention on the horizon, Hamilton and his colleagues devised a scheme to influence public opinion by disarming the Antifederalists before they had a chance to advocate their position. 

They identified possible objections the Antifederalists might have with the Constitution and constructed arguments designed to refute them.  They then packaged their counter arguments in a series of essays (some authored individually and some collaboratively) and had them published in the foremost newspapers of the day in all 13 colonies.  In what would become known as The Federalist Papers, the essays were written under the pseudonym Publius, and it is only because Hamilton revealed the authors’ identities just before his fatal duel with Aaron Burr that we know who wrote them. 

It is important to understand that adopting the Constitution was nowhere near a sure thing as many pundits believed the 13 colonies would not be able to agree on a constitution given differences in philosophy, politics and economics.  The Federalist Papers made a powerful impact on the landscape of public opinion allowing the argument for a strong central government to be heard above the noise of democracy.  While the document that came out of the Constitutional Convention was by no means perfect, the fledgling nation at least had something more substantial than the Articles of Confederation.  For this, we thank you Alexander Hamilton.