Locke, Hobbes, And The Federalist Papers

Jay, Madison, Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers to persuade the states to ratify and defend the U.S. Constitution. Many times, the Founding Fathers’ words echoed those written by 17th-century authors Thomas Hobbes or John Locke. Federalist #10 through #51, as well as #78 bear some resemblances to these philosophers. Many essays in Federalist Papers are based on these gentlemen’s works.

Federalist #10 is James Madison’s address to the problem and inability of dissolving these factions. He says that factions cannot dissolve without taking away liberty. It is therefore best to take power away and try to manage them. This view is very similar to Hobbes’ “state of nature”. Madison says that a society with many factions will likely run wild and rampant, as in Leviathan. Madison says that factions are formed to allow people to come together with common passions and to work against those they disagree with. This causes animosity and conflict between groups. Hobbes says that “if any two men desire a same thing, but they can’t both enjoy it, they become enemies.” But the freedom that allows these factions exist cannot be taken away. Madison agrees and defends Locke’s all-natural rights to “life, health and liberty” which Madison also supports. These “natural rights” are subject to debate. Madison’s answer is similar to Locke’s: a representative government. A government that is influenced by its leaders. Madison also suggests that this government must include a large number people to make it less likely that one group will infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Madison’s Federalist #11 and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government #2 agree that there will be factions, or groups, in the natural order. To control them, a representative body is necessary.

Federalist #51 discusses how power must be divided among the various branches of government so that no one group can rise up to take complete control. Madison says that it is possible to “construct the interior structure” of the government in such a way that all its parts can, by their mutual relationships, keep each other in their proper place. Locke also states that the government only has the powers that the people grant it. Locke allows people to rebel if the government stray from its limits or violates natural rights. One group can no longer rise up if the power is spread out.

Alexander Hamilton wrote Federalist #78. It discusses the role and importance of the judiciary. Locke is in favor of the creation a judicial branch. Locke stated that those who can be united into one body with a common established law, judicature and appeals to it, are in civil societies. But those who do not have this common appeal, I mean people on the earth, are still “in the state” of nature. It takes people from the “state-of-nature”. Hamilton considers the judicial branches relatively harmless. Hamilton says that the judicial is the weakest branch because it can’t “attack with great success” the other two. Hamilton proposes that the Constitution will be built upon the judicial. The courts have the power to declare legislation and executive acts unconstitutional. They can also check the other branches. This proposal would conform to Locke’s principle of spreading power in order limit factions. Hobbes would support having a separate judiciary. Hobbes states that “He therefore which is partial in his judgement, doth the what in himself to deter people from the use judge and arbitrator and, consequently. is the cause and effect of war.” As the nature and nature of man are greedy, selfish, cruel and indifferent, an impartial judge becomes almost nonexistent. Locke’s separate powers, however, defeats this argument.

The influence of Locke and Hobbes is evident in each essay from The Federalist Papers. Madison, Jay, Hamilton, and Jay all had different views about the nature of things and were able to find ways to improve Hobbes’ short, miserable, brutish, and ill-healthful life. They also incorporated some Locke ideas to eliminate the nature state. The Founding Fathers established a government that is independent of the judiciary, spreads power and limits factions.


  • jamielane

    Jamie Lane is a 31-year-old blogger and traveler who loves to share his educational experiences with others. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been traveling the world ever since. Jamie is always looking for new and interesting ways to learn, and he loves to share her findings with others.

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