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The Federalist Papers: No. 62

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 62 is published. Publius has wrapped up his discussion of the House. Now he moves on to the Senate. He hits several points in quick succession.


First, he addresses the fact that Senators must be older than House members, and they must be citizens for a longer period of time prior to their elections. Publius deems this unremarkable. The “nature of the senatorial trust” requires “greater extent of information and ability of character.” Remember, the founding generation expected the Senate to be a more deliberative body than we seem to expect today.

Second, Publius also finds it unremarkable that the senators are appointed by state legislatures. Such a system gives the “State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.” In other words, the process gives the states themselves a voice in the national government. The founders appreciated that advantage, although we’ve since wiped it out by adopting the 17th Amendment.


Third, Publius discusses the fact that the Senate gives every state an equal voice. It was a compromise between the large and small states, of course. “[I]n a compound republic, partaking both of the national and federal character,” Publius writes, “the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation.” The House is selected according to “proportional representation” (one person, one vote) and the Senate is selected according to “equal representation” (one state, one vote). Such equal representation of the states recognizes that states retain a portion of their own sovereignty. Large and small states alike benefit from that dynamic! Finally, a law cannot be passed without achieving approval from the majority of the states, as represented in the Senate. This provides extra protection against “improper acts of legislation.”


Fourth, Publius defends the smaller number of senators and their longer term in office. The Senate is meant to be a check on the House. But any such assembly can “yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions.” Thus, the Senate must take extra precautions: After all, a “body which is to correct this infirmity ought itself to be free from it.” Fewer numbers and longer tenure was thought to help in this regard. The long terms for Senators helps in another way: The Senators will have more experience and thus can have a better “acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation” than will the House members, with their shorter 2-year terms. Senators provide stability to the institution and to the government. Publius goes on at length about the dangers of a mutable or unstable government (as you can see from the attached quote).


The long and short of all this? The two branches of our legislature balance each other in many ways: We get the benefits of short term legislators in one branch and the benefits of long term legislators in the other. One branch represents the states (or, at least, it used to) and does so equally; the other branch represents the people and does so proportionally. One branch provides stability and more long-term knowledge in public councils; the other branch provides legislators who are closer to the people and can bring that perspective in on a more frequently changing basis.


Logistical note for those who care:

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 “essay 62 probably was written by Madison.” Thus, I have gone with Madison as the author in the attached picture.

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