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The Federalist Papers: No. 56

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 56 is published. Publius addresses the concern that the number of representatives in the House is too small and thus will not “possess a due knowledge of the interests of its constituents.” In other words, how can so few people represent so many people, particularly given the great “diversity of their interests”?

“It is a sound and important principle,” Publius acknowledges, “that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.” But that representative need have information only on those matters within his authority. Ignorance in other areas is irrelevant. In this case, to represent his constituents, he need to have “local knowledge” about “commerce, taxation, and the militia.”


Please note that Publius did not seem to think that U.S. congressmen would need to know about all other aspects of your life—because those matters would not be within the scope of federal authority, anyway. What on earth would Publius say about a Congress that feels free to regulate your health care, education, or environment (to name just a few)?


A “very few representatives” can carry this local information about commerce and taxation to “the federal councils.” Can not a few intelligent men “diffusively elected within the State” achieve this goal? Many of these men will be former state representatives and will have knowledge about local laws and concerns from their time in the state legislature. Moreover while the interests among states may be diverse, the interests within a state tend to be less so. Publius concludes: “A few men, therefore, will possess all the knowledge requisite for a proper representation of them.”


Finally, Publius notes that freedom is protected in one other way: The Constitution makes provision for an increase in the number of congressmen, as the population gets bigger and as it is needed.


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. Please also note that different publication dates are given for this paper. I’ve gone with the date in the Madison papers.

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