Pseudonyms in American History

Dec 5, 2023

Debates around the ratification of the Constitution and the early formation of the United States happened through pseudonymous authors. They often used names borrowed from Greek or Roman History.


  • Plausibly some protection against retaliation. However, most pseudonymous writing was quickly attributed to authors.
  • Power in names. The names weren’t chosen at random. Often, they called back to famous Romans who took part in the formation of the Roman Republic. Or others who were known for their virtue or principles.

Alexander Hamilton might have written under the most pseudonyms (at least five). Benjamin Franklin used at least three. Here’s a list of some of the more popular ones around the time of the American Revolution.

Phocion (Alexander Hamilton) — Essays defending the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Phocion was an Athenian statesman known for his integrity and opposition to demagoguery.

Columbus (Alexander Hamilton) — Defending the Continental Congress and criticizing British policies.

Publius (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay) — The authors of the Federalist Papers, which were a series of essays advocating for the ratification of the Constitution. Individual authorship wasn’t released until Hamilton’s death, and even then historians are still trying to match authors to text. It’s hypothesized that Hamilton wrote 51 essays, Madison 29, and Jay 5. Publius Valerius Poplicola was a Roman consul known for his role in founding the Roman Republic.

Historicus (Alexander Hamilton) — Essays on various topics related to the Constitution and federalism.

Pacificus (Alexander Hamilton) — Used to defend President George Washington's Neutrality Proclamation of 1793 (declared the U.S. neutral in the conflict between France and Great Britain). “Making peace” in Latin.

Helvidius (James Madison) — Written in response to Pacificus (Hamilton), these essays defended the constitutional authority of Congress in foreign affairs. Helvidius Priscus was a Roman senator known for his defense of republicanism and freedom of speech.

Americanus (John Jay, John Stevens, Jr.) — Federalists essays.

Candidus (Benjamin Franklin) — Writings advocating for various causes, including opposition to oppressive British policies.

Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin) — A fictitious widow created by Franklin to offer social commentary.

Richard Saunders “Poor Richard” (Benjamin Franklin) — Used to publish Poor Richard’s Almanack. The name comes from a popular London almanac, Rider’s British Merlin.

“Common Sense” — Thomas Paine’s pamphlet advocating for American independence was initially published anonymously.

Cincinnatus (Arthur Lee) — Anti-federalist papers.

A Farmer (John Dickinson) — Essays titled "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania," which argued against the Townshend Acts imposed by the British.

Cato (George Clinton) — Anti-federalist essays around the time of the ratification of the Constitution. Attributed to George Clinton, but not confirmed. Cato the Younger was a Roman statesman known for his staunch republicanism and opposition to Julius Caesar.

Brutus (Robert Yates) — An ally of George Clinton’s who wrote more anti-federalist essays. Marcus Junius Brutus was a Roman senator famous for his role in the assassination of Julius Caesar, symbolizing resistance to tyranny.

Centinel (Samuel Bryan) — A series of anti-federalist essays critical of the proposed U.S. Constitution's centralizing tendencies.

Americanus (John Stevens, Jr.) — Essays written to support the Federalist cause and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Poplicola (John Adams) — Essays defending the British constitution and criticizing the Stamp Act. The same Publius Valerius Poplicola used by Hamilton.

Novanglus (John Adams) — A series of essays written in response to Massachusettensis, defending colonial rights. Latinization of “New Englander”.

A Citizen of New York (Martin Van Buren) — political essays.