Federalist papers #39 and 59

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #5

Glenn Booker  11/18/2012



Federalist Paper #39 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by James Madison to discuss how well the proposed Constitution conforms to strictly republican principles.  A republic is defined as a government which derives all of its power directly or indirectly from the people (not just a favored class), and is run by people who hold office for a limited time.  The House is elected directly by the people, the Senate, President, and judges are chosen indirectly.  The term of judges is limited only by their “good behavior,” which seems a stretch of the concept of a limited term.  Further evidence of republican principles is the prohibition of titles of nobility.

A major issue distinguishes between the federal form, in which the states are sovereign, versus a national government, in which the states are consolidated into one sovereign body.  The Constitution is ratified by the people of each State, therefore that points to it being federal, not national.  Furthermore unanimous ratification is needed, which further strengthens its federal character.  Were it national, then a simple majority of the people would be needed for ratification.

The House is based on the population of each state, so that is a national power, but the Senate is equal among all states, so it is federal in nature.  The election of the President contains both federal and national characteristics, since the number of electoral college members per state is based on house and senate representatives.

The operation of the government could have federal and national characteristics.  Federal characteristics are addressed by governing the states, whereas national traits govern the behavior of individuals.  In this measure, the Constitution is federal, not national, until the bill of rights are added.  But most of the government actions are against people, not the states, so in that way it is a national government.

The extent of government powers in the national sense extends to individual citizens and all persons and things that government can pertain to.  The national legislature has these national powers, but municipal legislature has these powers at the community level.  In this way the proposed government is not national, since its power extends only to specific controls over the states, and they have sovereignty over municipal level actions.  Even though disputes between federal and state government is resolved through the supreme court, the decisions made should still be impartial, and prevent hostile action from being needed to resolve the dispute.

Finally the way the constitution is to be amended is neither federal nor national.  If it were national, then a majority of the people would simply be needed for an amendment to take place.  If it were truly federal, then all states would have to ratify amendments.  Since ratification is done by the states it is somewhat federal, but since all states don’t have to agree, it’s somewhat national.

Therefore the constitution is a composition of both federal and national.  Its foundation is federal, its powers are drawn from both federal and national sources, and in the operation of powers it is national, but the extent of powers is federal, and the method for making amendments is both federal and national.

Federalist Paper #59 by Alexander Hamilton discusses the power of congress to regulate the election of its members.  The constitution says that the time place and manner of elections for senators and representatives is defined by each state’s legislature, but Congress can change such rules except for their location.  This clause is based on the assumption that “every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation.” (page 360)

It wasn’t feasible to put election laws directly in the constitution, so the rules for doing so have to exist somewhere.  The laws for elections could have come from the national legislature, state legislatures, or mainly in the state legislature but somewhat in the national one.  The last of these options is recommended by the constitutional convention.

Leaving the national elections completely up to the states would make the national government vulnerable to annihilation by the states.  No matter how likely to occur, it’s far too great a risk to allow.  Conversely, no one would have allowed the Constitution for the federal government to control elections within the states.

It is conceivable that state legislatures could refuse to appoint their own senators, and thereby harm the federal government.  However since senators are elected in three cycles two years apart, it is unlikely that such a plan could be maintained in the face of public outrage.  The House is much more vulnerable to such a plan, since all house representatives are elected every two years.  So if the state legislatures had complete control over representative elections, several key states working together could bring down the federal government.


In conclusion, Federalist Paper #39 explains how the government created by the proposed Constitution has both national (people-based) and federal (state-based) characteristics.  Federalist Paper #59 explains why the federal government is not kept at the mercy of the states for election of senators and representatives.


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