I am reading the Federalist essays. They are fascinating reading. I can just imagine being a Pensylvannian or Virginian and being pursuaded, step by logical step, by these words to the firmer union of the states.
And to a classicist the pleasure is heightened by the diction of Hamilton and Jay. Jay reminds me of simpler Suetonius, and Hamilton of a less vigorous Plutarch. Yet the resonance of the Roman authors is indisputably there in the text! They are a pleasure to read.
Here's Hamilton in Federalist 8:
"The history of war, in that quarter of the globe [Europe], is no longer a history of nations subdued and empires overturned; but of towns taken and re-taken; of battles that decide nothing, of retreats more beneficial than victories; of much effort and little acquisition. In this country the scene would be altogether reversed."
Isn't that marvellous? No emotional rant about the misery an American war would bring could have conveyed so simply the contrast. And for we moderns, few words can so well prophecy the bloodshed that characterised the Great War or the Civil War.
I think the Federalist papers are perhaps a fine place to start learning how to pursuade. I will be bringing home a paper copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica next week, and I look eagerly forward to reading the articles on the history of this period of the formation of the United States.
One more thing about the experience of reading these classics that will have been overlooked by the students of politics or rhetoric: the experience of reading the Federalist essays can best be compared to the experience of reading Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Both are comprehended in a single mental grasp; both are short, adhere to a strict internal structure, relate to universal themes, and furnish with image and idea the most elegant and direct way to express the point.
Finally, both can be read in a sequence or one to a sitting; but to read many Shakespearean Sonnets or Federalist essays invites fatigue, because they are unexpectedly powerful in their entirety; no single reading of the Sonnets or the Federalist Papers can capture their subtle, earthy, sophisticated flavor. So I can read only a few at a time, despite my eagerness to learn, and often must read aloud as I have read the Sonnets of Shakespeare (a recital of the sonnets over many days is in my opinion is the only way to access directly the authentic, anonymous voice of Will Shakespeare himself.) The Federalists and the Sonnets must be digested slowly, and chewed over at leisure.