Federalist papers #62, 63, and 69

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #3

Glenn Booker  10/30/2012


Federalist Paper #62 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was probably written by James Madison to discuss the Senate in nine specific areas.  Four areas are discussed in #62, two more in Federalist Paper #63.

#1 Qualifications.  A Senator must be at least 30 years old, and a citizen for at least nine years, versus 25 years and seven years for members of the House.  The Senate requires the ability to handle more trust than the House, hence the higher requirements.  Specifically, the Senate requires the ability to handle more information and needs more personal stability, in part to be able to conduct “transactions with foreign nations” (p. 374) soundly.  The longer citizenship requirement is to avoid excess foreign influence by recently adopted citizens.

#2 Appointment.  Senators are appointed by the State governments (as of this paper’s writing), so that a link is formed between the State and Federal governments.  This is clearly a move to get the States to approve the Constitution by giving them clear influence over a superior legislative body.

#3 Equal representation.  Equal representation in the Senate by all States is part of the balance achieved by having one body based on proportional share in government (the House) and the other body based on equal share (the Senate), making up the compound republic of the United States.  Madison acknowledges that the compound compromise is based not on theory, but out of necessity as an indispensable concession to balance the wishes of the larger States against those of the smaller States.  He describes it as the ‘lesser evil’ (p. 376) needed to recognize the residuary sovereignty of each State.

This structure for the Senate also provides another layer of checks and balances, since all Federal legislation must meet approval of the people (via the House) and the States (via the Senate).

#4 Number and term of Senators.  The Senate differs from the House in as many ways as possible to make it harder for the usurpation of power to occur. The smaller size and longer term of the Senate are to avoid seduction by factious leaders.  The longer term also helps Senators develop due acquaintance with the legislative processes.  Good government stays true to the happiness of the people, and has the means to achieve that.  The Constitution focuses a lot on the latter, in order to help secure the former.

The House changes membership 50% with each election, so the Senate is in contrast to that to avoid a government which is too unstable and too mutable.  A government too unstable is not respected by other countries.  Internal instability also reduces liberty, if the people can’t tell what the laws are today, or understand them, or they change tomorrow anyway; and it favors the rich who can manipulate the laws to favor themselves.  Unstable government also reduces free enterprise, since people won’t take business risks when they can’t count on their government. Finally, the government needs to be stable and orderly to capture the hearts of the people, and to earn their respect.

Federalist Paper #63, also probably by James Madison, continues discussion of the Senate.

#5 National character.  The Senate should define the national character of the US to the rest of the world through consistent, enlightened, wise, honorable, and unbiased policy.  The small and consistent Senate membership should help achieve these lofty goals.

#6 Responsibility.  The government should be responsible to the people for both short term measures as well as vision of the longer term chain of measures that will influence the direction of the country.  The Senate should also provide a “defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.” (p. 382)  Madison seems quite aware that the people can experience violent passions or support unjust measures which would be harmful to the country, and the Senate’s job is to defend against those misplaced passions and measures.

The Senates of Sparta and Rome had life membership, hence the precedent for that being considered in the United States.  While we don’t want to imitate those ancient governments, we still want a way to blend stability with liberty.  Madison repeats the theme that the bicameral legislature is designed to protect the people from being betrayed by their representatives.  In Greek democracies, the executive function was by elected officers, such as the Athenian Archons who later acquired legislative powers.  Sparta, Rome, and Crete had bodies elected by the people annually with varying powers.  American government keeps people from participation directly, and allows representatives to do that on their behalf.  In order for the American government to become corrupted, the Senate, State legislatures, House, and the people would all have to become corrupted, in that order.  The Maryland Senate has similar structure, and has not shown signs of corruption.  We learned from the British example, whose Senate is composed of hereditary nobles.  In Sparta their annual representatives took power from the lifelong Senate; and similar stories from Rome’s Tribunes and Carthage all show that this proposed structure for the Senate will keep it from becoming disproportionately powerful.

Federalist Paper #69 by Alexander Hamilton discusses the character of the executive branch by comparison to the king of Great Britain and state governors.

The President is elected every four years, unlike the king of Great Britain who is a hereditary monarch for life.  The President can be impeached or tried for crimes, unlike the king who is inviolable.  The President can return a bill to Congress for reconsideration (a ‘qualified negative’, p. 415); the king can veto any act of both houses of Parliament.  The President is commander-in-chief of the military, and can grant pardons and reprieves.  In the former role, he gives direction to the army and navy, whereas the king raises and regulates fleets and armies.  In some cases, State governors have more military and pardon authority than the President.  The president can only adjourn congress when they can’t decide when to do so.  The king can suspend or dissolve the Parliament.  The president needs the senate to make treaties; the king has sole authority to do so, with possibly implementation help from Parliament.  The President nominates ambassadors, judges, and various officers, whereas the king can appoint and create offices at will.  And finally, the king is the head of the national church, a title the President certainly can’t claim!  Other than treaties, the President has more or less power than the governor of New York, and far less than the king of Great Britain.


In summary, we see in Federalist Papers #62 and #63 clear arguments why Senators need to be older and more established citizens than House Representatives, that Senators are appointed to give a stronger connection between Federal and State governments, the contrasts between the House and Senate (proportional versus equal shares, few number of Senators and longer term of service) provide checks and balances on each others’ power and help ensure that the Senate is not easily swayed by nefarious powers.   The Senate defines the long term character of the country, protects us from short term foolishness by the people, and based on historical examples will keep from getting too powerful.

Federalist paper #69 gives detailed comparisons among the President of the United States, the king of Great Britain, and often the governor of various states (often New York).  Madison shows that the President in more cases may have more or less power than a state governor, and has far less power than the king.

I find the Senate an odd legislative body.  I don’t think the founding fathers would have expected such a huge disparity in the sizes of States over time.  California now has over 66 times the population of Wyoming[1], yet each State gets two Senators. In contrast in the 1790 census[2], the ratio of Virginia’s population to Delaware was only a factor of about 12 (747,610/59,096).  Would Madison have designed the Senate differently if he anticipated such large differences among the States?

The mutability of the US Government is a major international issue.  I heard Chancellor Schmidt of Germany discuss the European view of the US, and he indicated that they were very frustrated by the massive changes in US foreign policy every 4 or 8 years; and in the case of the Ford administration, even within his own administration!




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