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Federalist No. 1: How Would Publius Define Good Government Today?


Paul C. Light is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service in the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Before joining NYU, he was vice president of the Brookings Institution's Governmental Studies Program and founding director of its Center for Public Service. He served as the senior advisor to the 1988 and 2002 National Commissions on the Public Service chaired by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker.


Federalist No. 1 sets the basic framework for interpreting the U.S. Constitution. It contains an implied definition of “good government” that occupied the founders as they built a stronger national government. This essay explains the conflict embedded in the debate between the two theories of good government offered by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and asks how the competing definitions might be reconciled with recent experience.