Federalist Papers Summary No. 39

 

Federalist Papers Summary No. 39

 
 

Federalist Papers Author James Madison
James Madison

Federalist Papers Summary Number 39

The Federalist Papers Summary No 39:  Madison
January 16, 1788

Madison begins the “candid survey of the plan of government reported by the Convention” by defining a republican form of government and then answering critics concerning whether the proposed plan is federal or national, that is, a confederacy of States or a consolidation of States.  This important last point is the difference between States maintaining their sovereignty if federal vs. a Union with direct control of the people if a national government.  A definition of republicanism is necessary because history has confused the issue.  A republic is “a government that derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period or during good behavior”.  A comparison of this definition to the individual State Constitutions shows that for the most part States have a form of republican government.

But critics claim that they should also have preserved the federal form of government as in the Article of Confederation.  To determine if the character of the proposed government is federal or national we must look at three objects; what is the foundation of its establishment, what are the sources of its powers and the operation and extent of them, and by what authority are future changes to be made. 

The establishment of the government is through a ratification process where decisions are made at the State level by officials elected by the people for that purpose.  The ratification is made by a single vote from each of the independent sovereign States that desired to be part of the new Union so that is a federal act.  Any State not ratifying the Constitution would not be a member of the Union. If the whole of the people voting a majority to ratify was required that would be a national act but that was not the case thus a federal act. 

The next relation is to the sources from which the government derives its powers.  The house of representatives derives its powers from the people and the people are represented in the same proportion as they are within each State, thus a national position.  The Senate derives its power from the States whose legislatures select the senators with two from each States, which is federal position.  The president’s powers come from a compound source where the State legislatures chose Electors to cast votes equal to the sum of senators and representatives which are counted by the president of the Senate, and if no majority is reached by any candidate the House votes to select the winner.  “From this aspect of the Government, it appears to be of a mixed character presenting at least as many federal as national features.”

The operation of the government is primarily directly on the people thus national.  But the extent of “the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects”.  

The last issue that of amendments is neither wholly national nor wholly federal.  The fact that States votes are required makes it federal but since a unanimous vote is not required that is a national characteristic.  So in summary the proposed Constitution is neither a national nor a federal constitution but a composition of both.  Ratification is federal, sources of power are both, operation is national, extent of powers is federal, and amending authority is both.

 

Summary Written by Donald Mellon

 

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