The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 61–63 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 61: The Same Subject Continued (Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members)

Some critics of the Constitution, writes Hamilton, have objected that elections should be held in the counties where the electors reside, thus preventing the abusive selection of inconvenient locations for the voters. Hamilton replies such a provision would have been harmless but would not have accomplished its objective. In this respect the latitude afforded by the state constitutions is instructive. For example, New York specifies the members of the Assembly shall be elected in the counties, and members of the Senate shall be elected in the four districts into which the state is divided. Hamilton observes it would be equally easy for the state and for the federal government to frustrate the convenience of voters. No one has come forward with such an accusation, however. Therefore, Hamilton concludes, it is inconsistent and captious (tending to emphasize faults and raise objections) to consider an "innocent omission" at the state level as equivalent to an "unpardonable blemish" on the federal level.

In the second part of his paper, Hamilton focuses on a concept he regards as essential: the uniformity in the time of elections for the House of Representatives. Leaving the scheduling of elections up to the states may well result in the "total dissolution or renovation" of the body at any single time.

Essay 62: The Senate

In this paper, Madison shifts the focus of The Federalist Papers to the other body of Congress, the United States Senate. He proposes to concentrate on five topics: the qualifications of senators, the appointment of them by the state legislatures, the equality of representation in the Senate, the number of senators and the duration of their term, and the powers vested in the Senate. (Regarding the second topic, it should be recalled that the Constitution's original provision for the election of U.S. senators by the state legislatures was changed to direct election by the people, codified in the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913.)

Madison proceeds to review the qualifications for senators, contrasting these with the qualifications for members of the House. Senators must be older at the time of election, and they must have been American citizens for a longer period. Madison explains the office of senator requires a "greater extent of information and stability of character."

The assignment of election for the Senate to the state legislatures, says Madison, was intended to give the states more of a voice in the formation of the federal government. The equality of representation in the Senate was the result of compromise at the convention between small and large states. The equal vote allotted to each state amounts to a constitutional recognition of the sovereignty retained by the states. The arrangement provides security against improper legislation, since all laws must be passed by a majority of the people and then by a majority of the states.

In considering the number of senators and the duration of their terms of office, Madison stresses that senators should be less numerous than House members. They should also possess great firmness and hold terms of "considerable duration." The Senate, in short, acts as a counterforce of stability, compensating for the mutability of government. Madison sums up this point by declaring that no government can gain respect without being "truly respectable," and to achieve that goal a government must possess "a certain portion of order and stability."

Essay 63: The Senate Continued

In this essay, Madison continues his discussion and analysis of the Senate as a governmental institution, asserting that this body's utility will involve its role in contributing to a "national character"—an important factor when the United States is evaluated by foreign powers. A senate may also serve as a guarantor of responsibility to the people. In the past, most long-lived republics have had a senate: Madison briefly comments on ancient Sparta, Rome, and Carthage. In the first two, memberships in the senate was for life. On the contemporary scene Madison bestows special attention on the senate in the state of Maryland, where senators are elected for five-year terms. Madison also views favorably the British equivalent of a senate, the House of Lords, which is a hereditary assembly. He concludes the essay with the assurance that the Senate in the United States will never be able to transform itself into an aristocratic body.

Analysis

Hamilton's concise discussion of the place and time of elections in Essay 61 blends a quasi-satirical first half with an urgent second half. In the first three paragraphs, Hamilton characterizes the objections he considers as "the caviling refinements of a predetermined opposition." Hamilton's main idea is that, if the New York state constitution failed to provide specific locations for elections, it is vain to expect the plan for the new national Constitution should do so.

In the paper's final three paragraphs, Hamilton makes a plausible case for the uniformity of election schedules. But the urgency of his appeal is somewhat weakened in the final paragraph, where he dodges the question why a time for elections could not have been fixed in the Constitution, declaring merely that it was deemed wiser to entrust the matter to legislative discretion.

In Essay 62, Madison opens the paper with his typically meticulous attention to structure and organization. His discussions of senators' qualifications, numbers, and terms of office are characteristically lucid. Toward the end of the essay, he waxes philosophical, exploring the tension between stability and mutability in government. For Madison, it seems to be one of the signal virtues of a bicameral legislature (legislature with two bodies or "chambers") that short-term legislators (House members) are balanced by longer-term ones (senators). The effect is that the legislative branch as a whole may gain respectability and have the best of both worlds.

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