Federalist Papers

First Edition of The Federalist On Display at the Kirby Center

Written by Meghan Barnes

For a defense of the principles that underlie the U.S. Constitution, there are two main sources from America’s founding era: the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist, which Thomas Jefferson described as “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” Visitors of Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., can view an original copy of this seminal work, thanks to the generous donation of nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Mark Levin.

Mr. Levin’s copy of The Federalist was originally on loan for two years, but at the unveiling in November 2015, he donated the book outright to the college.

“Hillsdale College is a bright, shining beacon of hope for the salvation of America’s principles,” said Levin, host of Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show. “I can think of no better place than the Kirby Center to display this document for all to see. I’m thrilled to give this opportunity to the faculty, students, and visitors of the college’s D.C. campus.”

The copy on display is one of five hundred first-edition copies commissioned by Alexander Hamilton in 1787. Within months of Federalist No. 1 appearing in New York’s The Independent Journal on October 27, 1787, Hamilton asked the Journal’s editors, John and Archibald McLean, to print a collection of the essays to influence the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Fifty copies, for instance, would be sent to Richmond to persuade delegates to Virginia’s state ratification convention.

Originally planned as a compilation of twenty to twenty-five essays, The Federalist soon grew to eighty-five essays in two volumes. The first volume, published March 22, 1788, contained papers 1–36. The second volume, published May 28, included papers 37–85. The two volumes were occasionally bound together, as is the case with Hillsdale’s rare copy.

The book is currently housed in the Kirby Center’s Lincoln Parlor and contained in a museum-quality display that is open to the public. It will remain on display for the foreseeable future, according to Sophia Carr, student programs coordinator for the Kirby Center.

Dr. Matthew Spalding, associate vice president and dean of educational programs at the Kirby Center, welcomes visitors.

“I invite everyone—especially members of Congress and their staff members who are only blocks away—to visit the Kirby Center and see this rare book as a prelude to learning more about American constitutionalism,” Spalding said. “The Federalist Papers represent a great source of the political thought of America’s Founders, and the best explanation and defense of the Constitution as understood by the Founders themselves.”

The copy on display is titled specifically, The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, written in favour of the new Constitution, agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, and includes its original burgundy morocco spine label. The exhibition is open to the general public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m on weekdays. Please call the Center at (202) 600-7300 ahead of your planned visit to ensure there are no conflicts with Kirby events and closures.