Item of the Day: The Federalist: Addressed to the People of the State of New-York -–Number 51 (1788)

Full Title: The Federalist: a Collection of Essays Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. Vol. II. New-York: Printed and sold by J. and A. Mclean, 1788.

[From October 27, 1787 through August 16, 1788 a series of articles, commonly known as the Federalist Papers, appeared in New York newspapers to rally support for the ratification of the Constitution. This controversial new plan of government, drafted in secrecy, was made public on September 17, 1787 when it was sent to the states for ratification. The articles were later published in newspapers in other states and then bound, thanks to the efforts of Alexander Hamilton, as a two volumes called The Federalist. These essays were the brain child of Hamilton who recruited James Madison and John Jay as anonymous collaborators in his effort to both explain the Constitution and to rally the support of New Yorkers for its ratification. It is generally agreed fifty-two of the essays were written by Hamilton, twenty-eight by Madison and five by Jay. Written under the pseudonym “Publius,”—called “the nation’s first significant fictional character” by Robert A. Ferguson —the eighty-five essays had a significant impact on the vote in New York, which was one of the last states to ratify the Constitution by the narrow margin of 30 to 27 votes. The power of persuasion of the written word and its use in the politics of the eighteenth century cannot be underestimated, especially during the era of the American revolution and in the formation of the new republic. The following text is an excerpt from essay Number LI, by James Madison as it appeared in the 1788 Mclean bound edition.]


Number LI. The same Subject continued with the same View, and concluded.To what expedient then shall we finally resort for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the effect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government, as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. Without presuming to undertake a full developement [sic] of this important idea, I will hazard a few general observations, which may perhaps place it in a clearer light, and enable us to forma more correct judgment of the principles and structure of the government planned by the convention.

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent, is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigorously adhered to, it would require that all the appointments for magistrates should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels, having no communication whatever with one another. Perhaps such a plan of constructing the several departments would be less difficult in practice than it may in contemplation appear. Some difficulties however, and some additional expence [sic], would attend the execution of it. Some deviations therefore from the principle must be admitted. In the constitution of the judiciary department in particular, it might be inexpedient to insist rigorously on the principle; first, because peculiar qualifications being essential in the members, the primary consideration ought to be to select that mode of choice, which best secures these qualifications; secondly, because the permanent tenure by which the appointments are held in that department, must soon destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.

It is equally evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other, would be merely nominal.

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence [sic] must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of al reflections on human nature: If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angles were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

. . . Publius

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Filed under 1780's, Journal, Legal, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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