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The Federalist Papers: No. 60

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 60 is published. Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) continues to address the provisions for electing House members.


The Constitution gives the authority “primarily” to the states, but “ultimately” to the national government. Paper 59 discussed why the power could not be left entirely with the states. But is there a danger from giving the “ultimate right of regulating its own elections to the Union itself”?

Will the national government use its power to “promote the election of some favorite class of men”? Will the national government render it “impracticable” for the “citizens at large to partake in the choice”?


No. Publius believes that such an attempt could “never be made without causing an immediate revolt of the great body of the people, headed and directed by the State governments.” Moreover, it is difficult to figure out exactly how the national government would accomplish this goal, practically speaking.


For one thing, each branch of government is elected differently: “The House of Representatives being to be elected immediately by the people, the Senate by the State legislatures, the President by electors chosen for that purpose by the people.” Given these differences, “there would be little probability of a common interest to cement these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of electors.”


For another, what would the bias be, exactly? In favor of an industry? In favor of property? In favor of “the landed interest, or the moneyed interest, or the mercantile interest, or the manufacturing interest”? In favor of the “‘wealthy and the well-born’”? The objectors to the Constitution seem to be most concerned about this latter category.


How, exactly, would the national government be able to show a preference to the “‘wealthy and the well-born’” when all it can do is regulate the times, places, and manner of elections? The “‘wealthy and the well-born’” do not have a “common place of residence.” They do not live only in towns or cities. To the country, they are “scattered over the face of the country as avarice or chance may have happened to cast their own lot or that of their predecessors.” Thus, “confining the places of election to particular districts” would be useless. And there is no other way for Congress to create such a bias in favor of the “‘wealthy and the well-born,’” since the qualifications of electors and candidates are “defined and fixed in the Constitution, and are unalterable by the legislature.”


Logistical note for those who care:

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

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