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The Federalist Papers: No. 61

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 61 is published. Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) continues to address concerns about election of House members. Should the Constitution have provided that “all elections should be had in the counties where the electors resided”?

Publius thinks such an addition would have been “harmless,” but it is also unnecessary. He decides to focus on New York as an example.

New York’s constitution does not address “LOCALITY of elections” except to provide that “members of the Assembly shall be elected in the COUNTIES; those of the Senate, in the great districts into which the State is or may be divided.” With these provisions, it would be no more difficult for the “legislature of New York to defeat the suffrages of the citizens of New York . . . than for the legislature of the United States to defeat the suffrages of the citizens of the Union.” For instance, the New York legislature could confine elections to a particular city within the county. After all, people in remote parts of the county would be less likely to take the time to travel to the city to vote.

“[W]hen the place of election is at an INCONVENIENT DISTANCE from the elector,” Publius writes, “the effect upon his conduct will be the same whether that distance be twenty miles or twenty thousand miles.”

The state constitutions do not provide protection against such action by the state legislatures, but they have “never been thought chargeable with inattention to the security of liberty.” Why would there be greater danger in an election for a national representative than for a state representative? Is it for some reason “easier to subvert the liberties of three millions of people, with the advantage of local governments to head their opposition”? Or could a “predominant faction in a single State” somehow use this situation to “incline to a preference of a particular class of electors”? The Constitution’s opponents have failed to make these arguments.

One “positive advantage” of the constitutional provision deserves mention: “the circumstance of uniformity in the time of elections for the federal House of Representatives.” Without such uniformity, there could never be an official end to one congressional body and an official beginning to another. Thus, “[i]f an improper spirit of any kind should happen to prevail in it, that spirit would be apt to infuse itself into the new members.” As a practical matter, it seems to also help the idea of “conveniently assembling the legislature at a stated period in each year.”

Publius also deems it unimportant that a particular date is not fixed in the Constitution. It can be “safely be entrusted to legislative discretion,” just as it is in the state constitutions.

In short, in all these areas, why are people criticizing the Constitution for provisions or omissions that also exist in the state constitutions?

Logistical note for those who care:

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



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