The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 58–60 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 58: Objection That the Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands

In this paper, Madison deals with apprehensions that political maneuvering will short-circuit the Constitution's orderly plan for reapportionment of representation in the House. Larger states enjoy their greatest legislative power in that body, while smaller states have more power in the Senate, with its equal allotment of two members to one state, regardless of its size. Madison proceeds to analyze the objection that the number of House members may not be properly increased, in accordance with the census. Critics have even suggested the Senate might become involved in such maneuvering.

The most effective safety valve, maintains Madison, is the power of the purse held by the House of Representatives. According to the new Constitution, all money bills must originate in that body. This means the largest states, which have the most powerful voice in the House, will also possess the countervailing power necessary to avert any improper failures of augmentation.

Essay 59: Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members

In this paper, Hamilton discusses the constitutional provision for regulation of House elections. In contrast to Senate elections, which are conducted by state legislatures, House elections are solely the province of the federal government. Hamilton defends this arrangement, arguing that a transfer of authority to the states in this area might seriously disable the House of Representatives as an institution. Senate elections, by contrast, are less prone to manipulation or delay, since they are held only once every six years (as opposed to every two years for the House), and each election involves only a one-third fraction of the Senate's total membership.

Essay 60: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members)

In this paper, which also deals with elections to the House, Hamilton discusses objections that national control of these contests might skew the results by establishing election venues only in areas populated or frequented by wealthy citizens. Hamilton responds that the geographic distribution of the wealthy throughout the states makes such an arrangement highly unlikely. He adds the separation of powers and the different character of the branches of government—House, Senate, and presidency—also make such an outcome improbable. Perhaps most important, the American people would never tolerate such behavior by the national government.

Analysis

The worries expressed by Madison and Hamilton in these papers about political maneuvering might seem somewhat arcane today, but both statesmen were keenly aware that reapportionment and election arrangements might be exploited for political advantage. To illustrate how realistic such apprehensions were, readers can do no better than consider the history of gerrymandering in the United States—the practice of redistricting that favors one political party. This practice is not named in these essays of The Federalist Papers, but it furnishes a relevant background for their consideration.

Named after Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), who signed the Declaration of Independence, attended the Constitutional Convention, and also served as governor of Massachusetts and as vice president, gerrymandering appeared as a political tool as early as 1788, when Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists attempted unsuccessfully to exclude James Madison from election to the House from Virginia. Since then, gerrymandering has played an important role in racial issues and has figured in a number of Supreme Court cases.

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