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The Federalist Papers: No. 52

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 52 is published. Publius is ready to begin an examination of each part of government. In this paper, he starts with the House of Representatives.

What are the proper qualifications and terms for Congressmen? And who should get to vote for them? “[T]he right of suffrage,” Publius begins, “is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government.” For this reason, Publius believes that certain matters were properly defined in the Constitution, as opposed to being left open for congressional or even state regulation. The Convention wanted to ensure that the House was dependent on “the people,” not the “State governments.” The House, after all, represents the people.

Thus, the Constitution provides that “the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” In other words, if you are entitled to vote for your state representative, then you are also entitled to vote for your congressman. The rule avoids any dissatisfaction created by reducing the “States to one uniform rule.” However, it also prevents the state legislatures from constantly regulating in this area. These rules are “fixed by the State constitutions” and “it cannot be feared that the people of the States will alter this part of their constitutions in such a manner as to abridge the rights secured to them by the federal Constitution.”

Next, Publius notes that the qualifications for Congressmen, themselves, are “reasonable limitations” (minimum age, inhabitant of state, etc.). For the most part, any candidate, “whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith” can run for office.

Finally, Publius addresses the decision of the Convention to hold congressional elections once every two years. The goal was to ensure that the government has a “common interest with the people.” This goal is served by holding frequent elections. These elections create “an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.” But what is the appropriate level of “frequent”? Elections held either too often or not often enough can endanger the people’s liberty.

As is so often the case with Publius, he defends his position by consulting “experience, the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found.” What have other countries done and how have they been served? He spends several paragraphs conducting a review of the process in other countries (and even in one American colony, Virginia). His review leads him to conclude that congressional elections once every two years will serve Americans well.

Logistical note for those who care:

As with the last essay, the authorship of this paper is disputed, and it is included in both the Hamilton and the Madison papers. However, the editors of the Hamilton papers write that “Madison’s claim to the authorship of this essay outweighs” Hamilton’s claim. Thus, I have gone with Madison as the author in the attached picture.



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