Let’s dig into a couple of the meatier Federalist Papers! One of the most often quoted is Federalist No. 51. Let’s pull that up on The Avalon Project.
The first two paragraphs lay out the ideal situation, then the reason it is not practical. It then establishes why government is necessary. The author states, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” That makes me think of why condo boards are so unwieldy and often imbalanced or out of control! The next paragraph explains that elections and the threat of not being elected the next go around is not enough. There must be other checks and balances, particularly on what was intended to be the most powerful branch, the legislature. This is the reason that it is bicameral, having two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Additionally, the other two branches of government, judicial and executive will be checks on the legislative. “An absolute negative on the legislature appears, at first view, to be the natural defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed. But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe nor alone sufficient. On ordinary occasions it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness, and on extraordinary occasions it might be perfidiously abused.” The latter seems our abuse of choice as of the last few decades.
Next, the “compound republic” regarded as a safeguard is dual federalism, in which the state and federal governments govern simultaneously. That no longer exists. The Civil War reconstruction and later the New Deal and World War II eras changed our structure and thus did away with that safeguard for the people. In particular, the 17th Amendment removed the safeguard of Senators being appointed by state legislatures. They have been elected by popular vote ever since. There is no longer any state representation in the federal government. The effects are numerous and worth taking some time to consider.
Finally, let’s take a look at Federalist No. 57. It focuses on leadership. Paragraph one states, “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.” Hmmm, term limits are the most effective protection of the people. It also states the obvious goal is to have virtuous leaders. A popularity contest with slick ads would be a disappointing result to them, to say the least.
The third paragraph explains that another protection is the fact that each law the legislature enacts binds each individual legislator to obey it. The fourth paragraph states that if the people ever get to the point that they will tolerate a law that is not also applicable to the law makers, they have lost the ability to self-govern. Is there a time in history that has happened? I wonder if the Japanese internment camps would have ever existed is that segment of population has been represented in government leadership?
The fifth paragraph proposes that no better system is humanly possible, or at least allowable as government. The final paragraphs examine the British system and find it comparatively inferior. Then they examine similar state governments that are working well.
Congratulations! You have started a great thing. Try a few more. The more popular ones are 5, 10, 22, 39, 41 and 78. Let me know what you discover. There are many more gems to ponder in the Federalist Papers waiting for chance to be re-discovered.
Next up: Another look at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!
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