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Federalism Essays by James Madison Between 1787 and 1788: The Defense of Federalism

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Topic: Federalist 39 and 10

Two essays were written between the years 1787 and 1788 by Federalist James Madison and printed in New York City newspapers. They were distributed in the defense of Federalism and the ratification of the Constitution in contrast to the Anti-Federalist columns. Madison thoroughly and competently explains his defense in these essays and brings to light the practicality of this new form of government.

In his first essay, titled The Federalist 39, Madison begins by questioning the nature and form of the Constitution’s proposed government: will it be strictly Republican or not? It is “evident”; he states, that it must be because no other form is compatible which upholds the principles of freedom and self-government. And if it is not, it must immediately be discarded and re-considered.

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He then lists the distinctive characteristics of the republican form, while refraining from mentioning the unclear definitions given by other political writers. He also reminds the reader that the republican form is unique and cannot be compared to other, foreign forms. For example, Holland, Venice, Poland, and England are sometimes referred to as ‘Republican’, but this is a false notion. Their supreme authority is not derived from the people, they only have one, supposed Republican branch, and they combine it with hereditary aristocracy and monarchy. So putting those aside, the actual criteria for a republican form according to Madison are: derivation of power directly/or indirectly from the mass public and administration by appointed persons holding office under certain restrictions. This first, he states, is essential, while the second is merely sufficient.

Next, Madison compares the actual Constitution to the two previously mentioned criteria. The criterion states the importance of the power of the people. So in regards to this, how does the Constitution comply? It abides in unison because the House of Representatives elected by the people every two years, the Senate is appointed by the people indirectly every six years, the President similarly, and the judges as well (with duration depending on their behavior). So not only does the Constitution abide by the first criteria, it also conforms in terms of duration. Plus, in power-holding positions, no titles of nobility are allowed which tempers the egotistical.

Even considering all that he asserted until now, Madison’s opponents were not convinced that it would be enough to preserve the republican form. In retaliation to these doubts, he investigated the real character of the government, its foundation, source of power and extent, and authority in regards to future changes. He found these answers and listed them as summarized below.

The foundation of the Constitution is a federal act based upon the unanimous consent and ratification of people from each, independent state.

Its source of ordinary powers differs from each division. The House of Representatives derives its power from the represented people of each state. The Senate derives its power from the states. Executive power is a compound of both national and federal characters because (1) the President is immediately elected by the states, (2) votes are allotted in a compound ratio and partly as unequal members of the same society, and (3) the President is eventually elected by the Hose, but the House acts only as individual delegates. Therefore, the proposed republican government is, in terms of source of power, of mixed character: partly federal and partly national.

Furthermore, while the operation of the government is national, its extent of the government is federal. This federalism is proven by the indefinite supremacy over all persons and things as the object of lawful government, its extended jurisdiction to only certain, counted objects, and the general power of the government to establish a tribunal impartially.

Madison’s last point was the distinction of the authority of the Constitution by which future amendments are made. The Constitution, in regard to its authority, is a mixed character: not completely federal or national. For example, its foundation is purely national, but its extent of power is purely federal. This goes for all of the different sects listed above, they are all a mix of national and federal characters. Thus in conclusion, the Constitution is neither national nor federal, but a combination of both.

In The Federalist 10, Madison briefly explains how the vastness of the whole country and union is not a problem, like Anti-Federalists claim, but rather a distinct advantage. A small society has fewer, distinct parties and concerns dictating it and that makes up for a more widespread majority found in the same party. This results in easier execution of any laid out plans. And if you expand, and consider the greater variety of parties, it is less likely that the majority will have any motive at all to invade the rights of other citizens. It would be too difficult multiple groups to gather their strength and act in unison together; rather, they would more likely drift back to their own parties.

To conclude, Madison’s arguments in defense of Federalism and the Constitution stand firm against the most common Anti-federalist’s. The constitution fulfills the criteria of a true Republican form and the real character of the American Government is thoroughly shown. Considering all that’s been stated, the Constitution and proposed form of Government is not only practical, but clearly the best route to take. And indeed it was, as we see today. The fear that too much power would be left in the hands of the government was debunked by the defenses that Madison listed. So, in the end, the Constitution is feasible as well as the best idea for this country.

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