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The Federalist Papers: No. 45

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 45 is published. James Madison spent the past few essays defending each power transferred to the new national government. Now he asks whether the accumulation of all these powers (“the whole mass of them”) could be “dangerous to the portion of authority left in the several States.”

Madison still believes that the states retain the bulk of power in the new Constitution. If anything, he thinks the national government is likely to be “too obsequious” (too obedient) to the states, rather than “too overbearing” toward them.

Oh, if only that were so!?!

“The State governments,” Madison observes, “may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former.” After all, the President of the United States cannot be elected “[w]ithout the intervention of the State legislatures.” Similarly, Senators are elected by state legislatures. (We undermined this dynamic when we passed the 17th Amendment.) In the meantime, Madison continues, the states can freely elect their own officers without relying upon the national government at all.

In short, the states are more independent.

Madison also envisions a relatively small national government. He explains: “The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States. . . . [Local officers] must exceed, beyond all proportion, both in number and influence, those of every description who will be employed in the administration of the federal system.” Similarly, the national “collectors of revenue,” he says, “will be principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous.” By contrast, the states’ collectors will “be spread over the face of the country, and will be very numerous.”

Hmmm. Madison clearly did not anticipate the modern-day IRS.

The difference, of course, is that Madison knew that the Constitution creates a national government of only limited power. Modern Americans have long since forgotten that fact.

Madison concludes: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce . . . The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, HERE).



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