Federalist 57 – Madison

Madison picks up where he left last time in Federalist 57 to defend the makeup of the House against charges it would elevate the few at the expense of the many. He offers up a five-fold argument, but first I wanted to examine this paragraph.

The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust. The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government. The means relied on in this form of government for preventing their degeneracy are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is such a limitation of the term of appointments as will maintain a proper responsibility to the people.

This sums up as well as anything Madison’s philosophy of governance. What undergirded Madison’s faith in the constitution and in the republic – likely even moreso than even Hamilton – was the expectation that virtuous citizens would generally be at the helm. These individuals would be not be motivated by self-interest, and would take a wide-ranging view of the common good. The constitution, he thought, was the best structural mechanism by which to ensure such individuals would be placed in positions of power. This assumption is a core one for Madison, and informs most of his work.

Now he’s not a naif. Federalist 51 aptly demonstrates his non-idealistic view of human nature. Enlightened statesman will not always be at the helm. This constitution places checks and balances to mange the ill effects of those circumstances. That said, Madison does have faith that, in the main, representatives will not be guided by ulterior motives.

Now let’s quickly examine Madison’s five main points. (more…)

Federalist 56 – Madison

The previous paper covered in this series – and I’m sure you all remember back four years ago when I discussed Federalist 55 – dealt with the size of the House of Representatives. Madison continued on the theme in the 56th Federalist Paper. Once again Madison was at pains to strike a careful balance, arguing that the House was large enough to accomodate representatives who would have adequate knowledge of their constituency, but not so large as to become an over-crowded mess, unable to accomplish anything ofg substance.

At the time of the Constitution’s ratification, a House district was designed to encompass approximately 30,000 people. Madison thinks this is a suitable size for a representative to understand the complexities of the district he represents. As he puts it:

It is a sound and important principle that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents. But this principle can extend no further than to those circumstances and interests to which the authority and care of the representative relate. An ignorance of a variety of minute and particular objects, which do not lie within the compass of legislation, is consistent with every attribute necessary to a due performance of the legislative trust. In determining the extent of information required in the exercise of a particular authority, recourse then must be had to the objects within the purview of that authority.

The implicit argument is the purview of the federal government will be quite limited, therefore a representative need only acquite expertise in subject matters that will directly impact his constituents. The representative did not need to be on a first-name basis with each of his constituents, nor did he need to be aware of every little bit of minutiae affecting them. He had to attain a general knowledge of those matters, and only those matters in which the federal government might have a say over the lives of the people he represents. Therefore he would not be spread too thin according to the original constitutional design.

So what are the areas of particular interest?

What are to be the objects of federal legislation? Those which are of most importance, and which seem most to require local knowledge, are commerce, taxation, and the militia.

A good representative will have to have some particular insight when it comes to regulation and taxation, but Madison did not think this required each state to have more than a handful of representatives, depending of course on the size of the state.

As far as it may consist of internal collections, a more diffusive knowledge of the circumstances of the State may be necessary. But will not this also be possessed in sufficient degree by a very few intelligent men, diffusively elected within the State? Divide the largest State into ten or twelve districts, and it will be found that there will be no peculiar local interests in either, which will not be within the knowledge of the representative of the district. Besides this source of information, the laws of the State, framed by representatives from every part of it, will be almost of themselves a sufficient guide. In every State there have been made, and must continue to be made, regulations on this subject which will, in many cases, leave little more to be done by the federal legislature, than to review the different laws, and reduce them in one general act. A skillful individual in his closet with all the local codes before him, might compile a law on some subjects of taxation for the whole union, without any aid from oral information, and it may be expected that whenever internal taxes may be necessary, and particularly in cases requiring uniformity throughout the States, the more simple objects will be preferred. To be fully sensible of the facility which will be given to this branch of federal legislation by the assistance of the State codes, we need only suppose for a moment that this or any other State were divided into a number of parts, each having and exercising within itself a power of local legislation. Is it not evident that a degree of local information and preparatory labor would be found in the several volumes of their proceedings, which would very much shorten the labors of the general legislature, and render a much smaller number of members sufficient for it?

Madison adds that the national legislature will include a number of individuals who will have already served as state legislators, and therefore they will be able to convey local information into national debates over legislation. As for the militia, differences in discipline may differ from state-to-state, but will not differ within each state, so a representative does need to possess a specialized understanding of local circumstances on this subject.

In the next paragraph, Madison asserts that the intra-state similarities justify a smaller number of representatives. Districts will not vary significantly. Over time states will diversify, growing larger in population and in the types of people occupying it. The constitution addresses this by granting an increase in the number of representatives as the population grows and becomes more diffuse.

Whether Madison’s logic still holds 238 years later considering the manifold increase in both the issues over which the federal government claims dominion and in the population, where average district sizes are now over 20 times greater than at the time of ratification, is a subject worthy of debate. In a sense the logic still holds, even if the federal government oversees many more matters of interest, and even if the districts are much larger. Districts may be larger in population size, but a representative’s ability to gather information is also dramatically improved. And though we lament the decline in the number of “swing” districts, it does mean a representative is likely reflecting the will of most of his or her constituents, if nothing else.

-Paul

 

Federalist 55 – Madison

If you were to ask people to name their favorite Federalist Paper, or even what they considered to be the most famous or important, most would indicate either Federalist 10 or 51. Others might name number 68, or perhaps 9 or 14. To me, Federalist 55 is not only one of the most important of the essays penned by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, it  is one of the foundational texts of modern political thought.

This essay is concerned with the number of representatives in the House of Representatives, particularly the concerns that the Constitution allowed for far too few representatives. To begin with, Madison examined the state legislative assemblies and the wide variation in how they apportioned legislators. Some states had huge legislative assemblies, allotting one representative for every thousand or so citizens. Yet certain states, such as Pennsylvania, had relatively small legislatures, and thereby each elected legislator represented far more people. In the end, no precise formula was perfect.

Another general remark to be made is, that the ratio between the representatives and the people ought not to be the same where the latter are very numerous as where they are very few. Were the representatives in Virginia to be regulated by the standard in Rhode Island, they would, at this time, amount to between four and five hundred; and twenty or thirty years hence, to a thousand. On the other hand, the ratio of Pennsylvania, if applied to the State of Delaware, would reduce the representative assembly of the latter to seven or eight members. Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles. Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed.

What follows is a critical passage. (more…)

Published in: on August 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 55 – Madison  

DC During the Civil War

The Daily Mail has a collection of beautifully shot pictures taken in Washington, DC during the Civil War. As someone whose office overlooks a statue of General McClellan (right next to the hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot), it’s amazing to get a glimpse of what life was like in our nation’s capital during the Civil War. Even more amazing is that some of the shots – including the one of the Chain Bridge – look like they could have been taken today.

-Paul

Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 9:53 am  Comments (1)  

Federalist 54 – Madison

If there is one Federalist Paper that would cause modern readers to cringe, it is probably Federalist 54. In this essay. Madison discussed the apportionment of members of the House of Representative, in particular the notion that apportionment should be based on population. Most of the paper is focused specifically on the three-fifths clause. Madison defended the compromise, though he wrote not in his own voice but rather as “one of our Southern brethren.” This signals how uncomfortable Madison was with the topic of the compromise and with slavery in general. Frankly, it’s a bit uncomfortable reading some of the tortured logic.

We should probably back up a bit and discuss the three-fifths clause, because it has largely been misrepresented. It is a result of a compromise between northern and southern delegates. Southerners wanted slaves to count fully because it would increase the number of representatives allotted to slave-holding states. On the other hand, northern delegates wanted the slaves not to count at all. As they saw it, slaves were not free citizens, and considered as mere property by their masters. Why should this “property” count towards population and therefore benefit the slave states? The three-fifths compromise was therefore an attempt to split the difference between the two sides. It does not indicate that slaves were actually considered to be 3/5 of a human being.

Madison, speaking as the southern brethren, rebutted the idea that slaves should not be counted for apportionment purposes because they were ineligible to vote. Madison pointed out that franchise requirements were different in the various states; therefore this criticism doesn’t hold much weight.

“This objection is repelled by a single abservation. It is a fundamental principle of the proposed Constitution, that as the aggregate number of representatives allotted to the several States is to be determined by a federal rule, founded on the aggregate number of inhabitants, so the right of choosing this allotted number in each State is to be exercised by such part of the inhabitants as the State itself may designate. The qualifications on which the right of suffrage depend are not, perhaps, the same in any two States. In some of the States the difference is very material. In every State, a certain proportion of inhabitants are deprived of this right by the constitution of the State, who will be included in the census by which the federal Constitution apportions the representatives. In this point of view the Southern States might retort the complaint, by insisting that the principle laid down by the convention required that no regard should be had to the policy of particular States towards their own inhabitants; and consequently, that the slaves, as inhabitants, should have been admitted into the census according to their full number, in like manner with other inhabitants, who, by the policy of other States, are not admitted to all the rights of citizens. A rigorous adherence, however, to this principle, is waived by those who would be gainers by it. All that they ask is that equal moderation be shown on the other side. Let the case of the slaves be considered, as it is in truth, a peculiar one. Let the compromising expedient of the Constitution be mutually adopted, which regards them as inhabitants, but as debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants, which regards the slave as divested of two fifths of the man.

Madison also noted that when it came to direct taxes, slaves would be considered property for purposes of apportioning these taxes. Thus, southerners would be adversely affected by any rule which did fully count slaves. In the end, the three-fifths compromise works out a delicate balance on a very thorny issue that works for all sides.

Madison’s logic was as sharp here as it normally was throughout these essays. That being said, Madison defended the three-fifths clause not merely as a compromise, but as the morally correct way to apportion slaves. As I said, none of the Framers necessarily viewed slaves as merely being three-fifths of a human being, but Madison did come close to making this point here.

But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property. This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live; and it will not be denied, that these are the proper criterion; because it is only under the pretext that the laws have transformed the negroes into subjects of property, that a place is disputed them in the computation of numbers; and it is admitted, that if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.

It is worth repeating that Madison did not state that he believed this to be the case, but rather this is what a southerner might say in defense of the compromise. Then again, Madison was a southern slaveholder himself, so perhaps the above paragraph is not really supposition at all. Whatever the case may be, Madison offered up a logical defense of the three-fifths clause positing that it was inherently justified on its own merits, not because it was merely a good compromise. It was certainly not Madison’s finest moment.

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 4:12 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 54 – Madison  

Federalists 52 and 53

Some days I feel like John Jay. My apologies for the excessive lay-off.

Federalist 52 and 53 dealt with the House of Representatives and in particular the length of terms for Representatives. In Federalist 52*, Madison explored the history of British and Irish parliamentary terms, noting that the length of terms could be anywhere between three and seven years in Great Britain. The House of Commons was constitutionally required to sit more frequently, but the duration of terms was actually quite long. Closer to home in Virginia, before the war elections were septennial.

Here Madison laid the groundwork justifying the two-year length of terms for representatives, a duration considered too long by many opponents of the proposed Constitution. Madison addressed this concern more directly in the next essay, but first he wanted to provide historical context for his audience.

He concluded the essay thusly: (more…)

Published in: on July 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Federalists 52 and 53  

Rewriting Jefferson

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. It’s almost like my friend, knowing my academic interest in Thomas Jefferson, cast some bait in my direction. And two months later, I took it.

I can honestly say that I went into it with an open mind. Even if Barton misinterpreted Jefferson, maybe he would do so in at least a semi-convincing way. After all, it’s possible for individuals to have high opinions of Thomas Jefferson without being historical hacks. I have tremendous respect for David Mayer, for example, and his opinion of Jefferson is completely different than mine.

Sadly, my low expectations were met. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm  Comments Off on Rewriting Jefferson  

Andrew Jackson Petitions Congress

The National Archives is really a great treasure, and it’s fantastic to have such a valuable resource so close to where I live and work.  Of course I’ve set foot in the place twice in ten years, so I haven’t exactly utilized the institution as much as I should have.  Then again, the first time was me and my wife’s first date, so at least it has served a useful purpose in the limited number of times I’ve used it.

Last week I had the opportunity see some of the documents that they don’t have on display.  These are real treasures to behold.  One such item was a petition sent to Congress in 1803 by a Tennessee farmer.  This individual submitted a claim for a tax refund for taxes paid on his stills after a fire destroyed much of his supply.  The petitioner: Andrew Jackson.  Here is the text of that letter:

The Honourable the Senate, and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled.

The remonstrance of Andrew Jackson, of the State of Tennessee, sheweth that on the first day of December, Seventeen hundred and Ninety nine, your remonstrant, obtaind liscence, to work Two Stills, for the space of One year, from the said first day of December, One Still Capacity One Hundred & Twenty Seven Gallons, the other Seventy Gallons, that on the night of the first Monday of June Eighteen Hundred, the Still House of your remonstrant, was Consumd with fire, with upward of three Hundred Gallons of whiskey, and the said Stills rendered entirely unfit for use, and of no value, and were never made use off after in the distillery of your remonstrant, your remonstrant paid up the Tax due to the first monday in June, which was about six months, and was of opinion (and that founded on reason and Justice) that the duties would cease to exist, at the period, of time, the Stills were rendered unfit for Service, these Ideas, Corresponded, with those of John Overton Esqre, Supervisor for the District of Tennessee, thro whom your remonstrant applyd for relief, furnishing him with due proof of the distillery, being burnt, and the Stills rendered unfit for Service, (which proof is hereto annexd, and transmited) having no doubt but the Secretary of Treasury, would direct, the Account to be Credited, for the Tax becoming due, after the said first monday of June, as the Supervisor had examind the proof, and allowd a proportionate, deduction, which will appeas by the Supervisors endorsement, on the back of the (Duplicate) Affidavits, your remonstrant had no doubt, but a power to grant relief, in such Cases, was lodgd in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury or in some other department, of the Government, he could not believe that the United States would draw Money, from the misfortunes, of her Citizens, and neglect to lodge that Necessary power in the hands of Some officer, of  Government, to grant relief, where Justice required it, with these impressions, your remonstrant, rested satisfied, that the Secretary of Treasury, upon a view, of the proof, would exercise the power, which Justice so imperiously required, and have directed, a Credit as before Stated, But now So it is, that the Collector has Calld for the Tax accrued, after the first monday of June as aforesaid, with threats of distress,— your remonstrant Compelld to pay the sum demanded, which is inconsistant with Strict honesty, and Justice, and now prays that a General law, may be passd, granting relief to all persons situated as your remonstrant by Compelling the Collectors to refund, when they have Collected the duties accruing, on Stills after they have been rendered unfit for use in manner aforesaid; and your remonstrant as in duty bound, Shall &c. &c.

His petition was denied.

This letter, by the way, was found by pure happenstance.  The archives hold just about every available document sent to Congress, and there are tons of letters that nobody has ever seen, and there are potentially more letters like this sent by people who would go on to great fame.  After all, nobody knew at the time that Andrew Jackson would one day achieve national fame.  Another letter, this one kept on display, was sent by a nine-year old Cuban boy who wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt.  Among other things, the boy asked the president to send him a ten dollar bill for he had never seen one.  That boy was Fidel Castro.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 10:11 am  Comments Off on Andrew Jackson Petitions Congress  
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Longest Surviving Ex-Presidents

Here’s a bit of trivia fun that I created on Sporcle: name, in order, the ex-presidents that have survived the longest after leaving office.  Interesting to note that if the number two guy on the list lives for another year, he’ll have had an historically long ex-presidency.  Seems fitting, somehow.

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 10:44 am  Comments (1)  

Wait, Who Founded the Republican Party?

As Ed Morrissey suggests, it’s a dangerous thing when President Obama goes off teleprompter.

We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party.

Not exactly, Mr. President.  As Ed points out, Abe wasn’t even the first presidential nominee in Republican party history – that honor went to John Fremont, who lost the 1856 presidential election to Buchanan.  Moreover, not only was Lincoln not a founder of the party, he was one of the last individuals to desert the rotting corpse of the Whig party.  When just about most Whigs, north and south, had abandoned the party in droves, Lincoln tenaciously clung to the Whig designation until he eventually bowed to political realities.  Lincoln joined the Republicans in large part due to his distaste of the nativism of other emerging major party: the Know Nothings.  Lincoln abhorred their anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic platform and so decided that the Republicans were the most palatable of the “anti-Nebraska” (those opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska act and the extension of slavery) parties emerging in the United States.

Lincoln’s letter to Joshua Speed, dated August 24, 1855, explains his reluctance to leave the Whigs and to adopt the Republican moniker.  It’s a very important letter in that it also demonstrates Lincoln’s revulsion towards slavery.  It’s an impassioned critique of the Douglas Democrats and of those that claimed to not care about the course of slavery.  For purposes of Lincoln’s political designation, here is the key passage:

You inquire where I now stand. That is a disputed point — I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was in Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].

This was written well into 1855, so even at this point Lincoln still considered himself a Whig.  It would a while longer before he fully adopted the Republican label.  Whatever can be said of Lincoln, founder of the Republican party is not one of them.

That’s not to say, of course, that Lincoln is not representative of the original GOP.  It’s often been suggested that Lincoln would not fit into today’s GOP, but that is an erroneous assumption.  But that is a discussion for another time.

Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 9:56 am  Comments (2)  
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