The Federalist Papers Summary No 51: Madison
February 6, 1788
The conclusion from the last few papers is that the only means of maintaining in practice the partitioning of powers among the branches is through means built-in to the structure of government. This paper provides a few general observations intended to inform as to the reasons the government is formed as it is in the Constitution.
It is desired that each department should “have a will of its own” and should not have its members appointed by another department but should be chosen “from the fountain of authority” by the people. But this cannot apply to the judiciary because judges must be chosen for their qualifications and they will be chosen for a permanent tenure, thus they should be chosen by the mode that selects the best candidates. The permanence of their tenure insures that there will be no long term dependence on the authority selecting them. It is also evident that compensations for the executive and judiciary departments should not depend on the legislative or independence “would be merely nominal”.
The next thought in the paper deals with human nature and how the ambitions of men in the departments of government coupled with constitutional means will be the greatest security against the loss of respective powers. These men must defend their constitutional powers and “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”. But the interest of men must also be for constitutional rights for government is administered by men. If men were angels, no government would be necessary and no internal controls required. Thus the great difficulty for a government of men, “you must first enable the government to control the governed and in the next place oblige it to control itself”.
“But it is not possible to give each department an equal power of self defense.” As mentioned the legislative authority will dominate in a republic thus it is divided into different branches with different means of election, and different responsibilities at least as far as possible given their common dependence on the people. Further the executive is strengthened by the veto which is not absolute however, given it can be overridden by those passing the laws. He concludes these thoughts by observing that if the federal government does not adhere to the principles of separation of powers then the State governments will certainly fail to do so.
The rest of the paper is off this subject but returns to the subject introduced in Federalist No 10 of how a republic protects the rights of the people and minority factions. Even though the people surrender their power to the governments, a double security to their rights results from having a federal republican government divided into separate departments and State governments similarly divided and by having each controlled by the other and at the same time controlled by themselves.
It is a great importance in a republic to protect a minor part of society from a majority united by a common interest. In a republic of a considerable extent “society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens that the rights of individuals or of the minority will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority”. It is the same for civil rights as religious rights. The number of sects or interests if large will prevent a majority interest from dominating. This view argues against small confederacies in favor of the union since majority factions may trample on the rights of minorities in confederacies of limited size. In the United States the exception to the possibility of a majority uniting in a common cause would be for the causes of justice and the common good and thus less danger to a minor faction. Therefore there is no pretext for introducing into government a means to protect the security of the minority not dependent on the will of the majority or in other words “a will independent of the society itself”.
Summary Written by Donald Mellon
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