The Federalist [Numbers 15, 31, 47, 51, 68-71]

The Federalist

Federalist No.15 – The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union by Alexander Hamilton 12/1/1787

  • Both the opponents and friends of the constitution agree that the present confederation is insufficient to preserve the union. Something must be done to save us from impending anarchy.
  • America is afflicted with national disorder, poverty, and insignificance.
  • While the opponents of the constitution admit that the current government is destitute of energy, they contend against conferring the requisite powers to the federal government which are requisite to supply that energy.
  • Currently, the government can make requisitions for men and money, but they have no authority to enforce the compliance of the states with these requests. The requisitions amount to nothing more than suggestions which the States may choose to observe or disregard.
  • It is extraordinary that there are still men who object to the constitution because it deviates from the old principle of legislation which has been determined to be a bane to the union’s existence.
  • The recent history of Europe has proven that alliances between nations and confederacies are scarcely formed before they are broken. Europe, despite its efforts to form alliances, was cast into perpetual war. If America wishes to avoid similar circumstances, the federal government must possess authority over the citizens of every state.
  • Why has government been instituted? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. And bodies of men are less likely to act with rectitude than individual men because regard to reputation has less influence when the infamy of a bad act is to be divided among many.

Federalist No.15 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton discusses the imperfections of the current government, and why it is insufficient to preserve the union. In its current state, the federal government has no authority over the individual states. Its dictates are mere suggestions. The federal government may make requisitions for men and money, but the states can choose to observe or disregard these requests. This form of government has reduced America to a state of disorder, poverty, and insignificance. Hamilton asserts that it is extraordinary that the opponents of the constitution oppose measures which would cure this disease by investing the requisite powers in the federal government to sustain the union. As in the previous papers written by Hamilton, he uses vitriolic language, and seems to genuinely hold the opponents of the constitution in sever contempt. His papers are much more entertaining to read than the papers written by Jay and Madison, but less edifying about politics.

Federalist No.31 – Concerning the General Power of Taxation by Alexander Hamilton 1/1/1788

  • A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, free from every control except a regard for the public good.
  • As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article must necessarily be comprehended in the power of providing for those exigencies.
  • The federal government must therefore be invested with an unqualified power of taxation because of the unlimited and unknown extent of national exigencies.
  • Opponents contend that revenue is as requisite to the objects of the state as to the objects of the federal government; and the former are at least of equal importance to the happiness of the people as the latter. Therefore, the state should possess the power of taxation too. If, however, an indefinite power of taxation is invested in the federal government, then the federal might deprive the state of the means of providing for its own exigencies.
  • This mode of reasoning seems to turn upon the supposition of usurpation in the national government. One can easily imagine a train of dangers, but when we create such direful phantoms, we put ourselves out of reach of all reasoning. Furthermore, the state governments are currently invested with complete sovereignty, and the citizens trust that their representatives will execute their offices according to the public good. Thus, the fear of usurpation of the federal government, by the same reasoning, would apply to the current structure of state governments.

Federalist No.31 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton supports the argument that the federal government should possess a general power of taxation. He begins his argument with the axiom that a government ought to contain within itself all the powers requisite to accomplish the goals committed to its care by the people, free from every control except the public good. Revenue is essential to answer national exigencies, and these exigencies are indeterminable, perhaps unlimited. Thus, the federal government ought to possess a general power of taxation, limited only by the perpetual observation of the public good.

Opponents of investing the federal government with the power of general taxation assert that the states have goals too, and these goals are of no less importance to the happiness of the people. If the federal government possessed the sole power of taxation, then it might usurp the right of the state to raise revenue. Hamilton counters this argument by stating that one can let imagination create hideous phantoms and monsters to fright oneself, but this reverie puts one far out of the reach of reason. The federal government ought to fear the states usurping the federal power rather than the contrary; for the power is always in the hands of the people, and the people are closer to the interests and circumstances of the individual states than the federal concerns.

Federalist No.47 – The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts by James Madison 1/30/1788

  • The legislative, executive, and judiciary departments of government ought to be separate and distinct. Opponents of the proposed constitution argue that the constitution mixes these powers, and does not adhere to this political maxim and safeguard against tyranny. Madison contends that this charge is unsupportable and mistaken. Madison consults and cites Montesquieu, who viewed the constitution of England as the standard or mirror of political liberty.
  • The legislative, executive, and judiciary branches are not separate and distinct under the constitution of Britain. The executive forms an integral part of the legislative; he alone has the prerogative of making treaties with foreign nations, which have the force of legislative acts. All the members of the judiciary are appointed by him. The legislative holds the sole judicial power in cases of impeachment. The judiciary often attend and participate in legislative deliberations, but do not have a vote. Montesquieu did not mean that the three department of federal government ought not to have partial agency or control over the acts of each other. He means that when the whole power of one branch is in the same hands which possess the whole power of another, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.
  • Madison proceeds to analyze the current constitutions of the states. Although most of the states explicitly state that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments shall be separate and distinct, so that neither exercises the powers properly belonging to another, the states still mix the powers through investing the power of electing executives to the legislative, appointing judges to the executive, etc.

Federalist No.47 is written by James Madison. In this paper, Madison discusses the separation of powers in the proposed structure of federal government. A political maxim accepted by intelligent men is that the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of the federal government ought to be separate and distinct. Opponents of the proposed constitution maintain that the constitution mixes the powers, and does not observe the political maxim of separation of federal powers. Madison argues that these men are mistaken in their opinion.

Madison cites the noted political writer, Montesquieu, who might possibly be the author of the maxim under consideration. Montesquieu considers the British Constitution to be the standard or mirror of political government; yet the constitution allows for a mixing of the three federal powers. The executive has the sole power of making treaties with foreign sovereigns, which can have the effect of law under certain circumstances. He also has the power of appointing judges to the judiciary branch. The legislative alone has the judicial power in cases of impeachment, and heavily influences the policy and council of the executive. The judiciary often attends and participates in legislative deliberations, though they do not possess a legislative vote. All this demonstrates that Montesquieu did not mean that the federal powers ought not to have a partial agency or control over the acts of the other powers.

Madison also considers the current State constitutions, almost all of which explicitly state that the legislative, executive, and judiciary ought to remain separate and distinct, so that neither exercises the powers properly belonging to another. If the citizens accept that their state constitutions do not violate this fundamental political maxim, then the proposed constitution does not violate the principle either. When one person or body of people possess the entire power of more than one of these branches, then tyranny is inevitable.

Federalist No.51 – The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments by James Madison 2/6/1788

  • In order to lay a foundation for the separation and distinction of federal powers essential to liberty, the members of each should have as little agency in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigidly adhered to, then all the appointments would be drawn from the authority of the people. Some difficulties and additional expenses would attend such a policy. In the constitution of the judiciary it might be inexpedient to insist rigorously on this principle; for the primary consideration ought to be to select the mode of choice which best secures the peculiar qualifications essential in the members of this branch, and the permanent tenure of those members destroys the sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.
  • The members of each department ought to be as little dependent as possible on those of others for the emoluments (payments) annexed to their offices. Were they not independent in this respect, then their independence in every other way would be nominal.
  • The greatest security against encroachment from other departments is to give those who administer each department the constitutional means and personal motives to resist the encroachment of others.
  • You must enable the government to control the governed; and then oblige the government to control itself.
  • A dependence on the people is the primary control on the government.
  • In a republican government the legislative is necessarily predominate. The remedy for this inconvenience is to divide it into separate branches. The weakness of the executive may require it to be fortified. The power of veto is a natural defense, with which the executive ought to be armed. But this might not be altogether safe; for it may not be employed with the requisite firmness, or might be perfidiously abused. Therefore, there must be some qualifying power placed in the hands of the legislative to counterbalance this power of veto (two thirds of the legislative can override the veto).
  • The federal system provides an additional safeguard to liberty because the power it renders to the government is first divided into federal and state governments, and then into three separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, while at the same time each will be controlled by itself.
  • It is necessary to guard the people from tyranny of the government, but also the tyranny of one part of society. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. To safeguard against factions, there ought to be many factions, so that no one group can become so powerful that they can execute tyrannical schemes against other members of the society. In the federal republic of America, there will be so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens that the rights of a minority will be in little danger from the interests of a majority.
  • The security of civil rights depends upon a multiplicity of civil interests. The security of religious rights depends upon a multiplicity of religious sects. The degree of security depends upon the number of interests and sects.
  • When the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, then anarchy may truly be said to reign as in the state of nature.

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.

Federalist No.51 was written by James Madison. In this paper, Madison discusses the various expedients by which the separation of powers essential to the preservation of liberty can be achieved. The members of each branch of federal government ought to have as little agency as possible in the appointment of members of the other branches. Some difficulties and additional expenses would arise if we rigorously adhered to this principle. For example, it would be inexpedient in the appointment of members to the judiciary branch because those members require peculiar qualifications; thus, it is most important to choose the mode of election which would guarantee the appointment of individuals possessing such unique qualifications. Furthermore, the permanent tenure of such members of the judiciary branch acts as a control on the dependence each of these members has on the person or persons conferring the office upon them.

This leads to Madison’s second principle that the members of each branch ought to be as independent as possible for the payments each receives for performing the duties of his office. If no such independence exists with respect to compensation, then all other independence is merely nominal.

Madison also discusses factions. He reiterates one of the points he propounds in Federalist No.10 – that the best safeguard against the mischiefs of factions is a great variety of interests. The greater the number of interests, the greater security against a majority uniting and oppressing a weaker minority interest within the union. He also applies this principle to the preservation of religious rights. He asserts that the greatest defense against encroachments upon religious liberty is a great variety of religious sects. To achieve a great number of religious sects and civil interests, the union must necessarily be large. The larger, the better. As demonstrated in one of the preceding papers, the republican form of government is most suitable to governing large tracts of land and large populations.

Federalist No.68 – The Mode of Electing the President by Alexander Hamilton 3/12/1788

  • The appointment of the president, as outlined in the constitution, has received approbation from friends and opponents of the constitution. If the selection process be not perfect, it is at least excellent.
  • The sense of the people operates in the choice of the president because they elect the people who then elect the president.
  • The small number of persons elected by their fellow citizens will possess the information and discernment required to analyze the qualities of the candidates, and select an appropriate person.
  • The choice of several electors rather than one guards against the mischief of tumult and outrage which might accompany a presidential choice undesirable to the people as a whole.
  • The constitution safeguards against a foreigner with concealed foreign interest from being elected president. Furthermore, no person holding a governmental office can be one of the electors.
  • The executive is independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves.
  • The process of election ensures that the office of the president will never fall to the lot of a man who is not eminently endowed with the requisite qualifications.
  • These advantages are a considerable recommendation of the Constitution; for the true test of government is its aptitude and tendency to produce good administration. Alexander Pope wrote “For forms of government let fools contest, That which is best administered is best.”
  • Some argue that the appointment of a vice president is superfluous. Some allege that it would have been preferable to have authorized the senate to elect out of their own body an officer answering that description. However, this removes a certain vote for one state in the senate, and replaces it with a contingent vote (the vice president only votes in the case of a tiebreaker in the senate). Second, as the vice president may become president, all the reasons which recommended the mode of electing the president applies to the manner of electing a vice president.

Federalist No.68 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton discusses the election process by which the president is chosen. He happily writes that both advocates and opponents of the constitution agree that the process of electing the head magistrate is excellent, if not perfect. The will of the people is honored because they choose the persons who elect the president. Safeguards against unqualified men and men with concealed foreign ties being elected recommend the process even more. This strong method of electing the head of one branch of federal government is a considerable reason to ratify the constitution; for many writers believe that the best administered government is the best government.

Hamilton also discusses the necessity of electing the vice president by the same process because the vice president might assume the powers of the president should unforeseen and contrary circumstances transpire. Thus, the same reasons which recommended the choice of president equally apply to the election of the man who may become president.

Federalist No.69 – The Real Character of the Executive by Alexander Hamilton 3/14/1788

  • The executive authority is to be vested in a single magistrate. The magistrate is to be elected for four years, and eligible to be elected thereafter. Thus, there is a dissimilitude between the president and the king of Britain, who is an hereditary monarch.
  • The president would be liable to be impeached, tried, and removed from office, and would be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of the law. The king of great Britain is sacred and inviolable.
  • If two thirds of the house approves a bill vetoed by the president, then the bill is passed. The king has an absolute authority of veto on all bills passed by parliament.
  • The president is the commander in chief of the army and navy, but does not have the power to declare war and raise and regulate the fleets and army, this power properly belonging to the legislature.
  • The president can only adjourn the legislature when there is a dispute about the time of adjournment. The king may prorogue or dissolve the parliament according to his whim.
  • The president can make treaties provided two thirds of the Senate concurs. The king can make treaties regardless of whether parliament consents.
  • From the following it is obvious that there is no pretense for the parallel which has been attempted between the president and the king of Britain.

Federalist No.69 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton compares and contrasts the authority of the president with the power of the King of Britain. The president’s power is exceedingly inferior to that of the British monarch, and Hamilton derides the gravity with which opponents of the constitution have attempted to draw a parallel between the king and president.

Federalist No.70 – The Executive Department Further Considered by Alexander Hamilton 3/15/1788

  • A strong executive is necessary for the protection of the community against foreign attack, for the steady administration of laws, and to the security of liberty against the assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.
  • A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of government. A feeble execution of government is a bad government.
  • The ingredients which constitute energy in the executive are: unity, duration, adequate provisions for its support, and competent powers
  • The ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense are: a due dependence on the people and a due responsibility.
  • Unity is essential to energy. Decision, activity, and dispatch generally characterize the proceedings of one man. As the number of men increases, these qualities decrease proportionally.
  • Roman history affords us several examples of mischiefs arising from dissensions between a plurality of executives.
  • Wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common pursuit, there is always the danger of difference of opinion. There is also the peculiar danger of personal emulation and even animosity. These dissensions lessen the respectability, weaken the authority, and distract from the plans and operations essential to the execution of the government. The dissensions might also split the community into violent factions, which adhere to the different individuals comprising the executive branch.
  • Such inconveniencies are necessary in the formation of the Legislature because, though they may sometimes obstruct salutary plans, often promote deliberation and circumspection. Furthermore, when a resolution is made into law, the opposition in the legislature ends; for it would be against the law to resist it. There is no point at which the opposition ceases in the executive branch if there was a plurality.
  • A plurality of government tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility. It is almost impossible amidst mutual accusations to determine upon whom the blame for pernicious measures ought to fall.
  • Thus, the plurality of the executive deprives the people of two of their greatest securities for the faithful execution of delegated power: the restraints of public opinion and the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of the persons they trust.
  • The British maintain a King’s council because the king is inviolable. If there were no council, there would be no responsibility of the executive. The council of Britain serves as the scapegoat of responsibility.
  • It is safer that there be a single object for the jealousy and watchfulness of the people. All multiplication of the executive is dangerous to liberty.

Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon contrary to their sentiments.

Federalist No.70 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton discusses the question of a plural executive, or of having more than one head of the federal executive power. Hamilton argues that a plural executive is conducive to inconveniences which would render the government feeble and bad. Whenever two or more men engage in a common pursuit or enterprise, there is always the danger of difference of opinion. Men often oppose a plan simply because they had no agency in the making of it. Furthermore, if they were consulted during the planning process, and they disapproved of it, then when the resolution is made, they often hold it as a point of honor to ensure its demise. This type of animosity and personal emulation that a plural executive engenders will enervate the executive power, and render it futile. This is very undesirable because a feeble executive power implies a feeble execution of government, and a feeble execution of government is a bad government.

A plural executive also conceals faults and destroys responsibility. Members of a plural executive can shift the blame from themselves to another party for pernicious measures. The community will find it impossible to determine upon whom to place the blame. The actions of one executive are easier for the community to watch and justly censure when it deserves such rebuke.

Federalist No.71 – The Duration in Office of the Executive by Alexander Hamilton 3/18/1788

  • Duration is another essential characteristic to the energy of the Executive. It promotes a personal firmness in the employment of the executive powers, and enhances the stability of the system of administration which might have been adopted under his leadership. If the president did not possess the office for a sufficient duration, then he would not be inclined to risk censure for a necessary resolution.
  • When the interests of the people are at variation with their inclinations, it is the duty of the elected officials to withstand the delusion until the people have had time for more cool and sedate reflection.
  • The tendency of the legislature to absorb the other powers is widely accepted. The legislative believes itself to be the people and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any quarter; as if the exercise of the Executive and Judiciary rights were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity.
  • A presidential term of short duration would make the president dependent upon the legislature. The powers ought to remain separate and as independent from one another as possible.

Federalist No.71 is written by Alexander Hamilton. In this paper, Hamilton discusses the proposed four year term of the President. He argues that duration is a very important characteristic of a strong executive. Duration provides a sense of stability in the execution of his powers, and also enhances the system of administration which might have been adopted under his leadership. The longer the duration of his term, the more a president will feel confident in making unpopular, but necessary decisions. The people always intend the public good, but are often mistaken about the correct expedients to attain this end. A president who feels well-established in his office, will not hesitate to act according to the interests of the public good when the inclinations of the people are at variance with those interests because he knows that the people will realize their error after being given time for cool and sedate reflection.

The Federalist Papers (Signet Classics)


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