Federalist Papers Summary 55


Federalist Papers Summary No. 55


Federalist Papers Author James Madison
James Madison

Federalist Papers Summary Number 55

The Federalist Papers Summary No 55: Madison
February 13, 1788

This paper deals with how many members there should be in the House of Representatives, a subject that apparently drew considerable attention and argument.  The arguments were four fold; first such a small number will be an unsafe depository of the public's interests, second they will not possess adequate knowledge of the local interests of the numerous constituents, third they will be taken only from the upper class of citizens, and fourth as small as the number is relative to the population this will only get worse as the country grows.  The rest of the paper deals only with the first argument.

He argues there is no numeric formula for fixing the ratio of representatives to population by pointing out that the ratio among the States is wildly different.  The ratio should be large enough to allow free consultation and discussion and to guard against “an easy combination for improper purposes”.  But not too large “in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude”. 

He rephrases the first argument as “that so small a number cannot be safely trusted with so much power”.  Initially there will be sixty five representatives which will grow to one hundred in ten years and two hundred in twenty five years and four hundred in fifty years based on projected population growth rates and the number of one representative per thirty thousand inhabitants.  Even at the current number of sixty five or a hundred he cannot conceive that the American people would elect and and reelect every two years men “who would be disposed to form and pursue a scheme of tyranny and treachery”.  And once more concerning States power he says state legislatures “that posses so many means of counteracting the federal legislature” would detect and defeat a conspiracy against their liberties and constituents.  Where might we ask have these powers gone?

But maybe the danger comes from bribery of foreign gold.  The argument against this is that it would already have happened but it did not so this is not a threat.  During the war when there was more opportunity for foreign gold to influence the government and there were fewer members needed to bribe, there was no treachery.  Maybe the danger is from other branches of government.  If there was a danger it would have to come from the President being able to influence by making appointments to public office.  But the Constitution prohibits representatives from holding any civil office that may be created or whose emoluments have increased during their term.

He concludes that it is human nature to have suspicion and distrust but he believes there is sufficient virtue among men for self-government and that is a basic presupposition for republican government.


Summary Written by Donald Mellon


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