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The Federalist Papers: No. 63

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 63 is published. Publius continues his examination of the Senate.

Another factor “illustrating the utility of a senate, is the want of a due sense of national character,” he says. The Senate will help America to obtain the “respect and confidence” of other nations because it is “select and stable.” The Senate has a smaller number of elected officials, who are in office for a longer period of time. A “numerous and changeable body” cannot achieve these objectives.

Next, the long terms given to the Senators gives that body a “due responsibility” to the people. Such a statement appears to be a paradox at first. Didn’t Publius just argue that more frequent elections in the House produces this same responsibility? The Senate, however, is responsible to the people in a different manner. Senators’ long tenures allow them to be responsible for policies that may require “a succession of well-chosen and well-connected measures.”

In other words, not all policies can be completely implemented in one piece of legislation. (Let’s tell that to our officials who seem intent on always creating 1000+ page bills!) Perhaps some policies require 4 or 5 steps taken, in succession. Senators have long enough terms that they can make sure that all 4 or 5 steps are taken—and they can be responsible for the outcome of these steps.

As with so many other aspects of our Constitution, the Founders sought to balance different types of benefits. In the House, we get the benefits of quick elections. In the Senate, we get the benefits of long tenure.

Publius notes that a stable institution like the Senate provides yet another benefit: It is a buffer when the passions of the people temporarily blind them. Publius explains:

“As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought . . . ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?”

To put this into modern terms, you can imagine what kind of emotion grips the country in the wake of an event like 9-11. The Senate was one buffer meant to protect us from rash measures during these periods of high emotion. Publius runs through a series of historical examples to support his point.

The Senate will be a more stable body that can be relied upon to protect the country against the momentary passions of the people. The Senate “must in the first place corrupt itself; must next corrupt the State legislatures; must then corrupt the House of Representatives; and must finally corrupt the people at large.”

In other words, if the state legislatures are not corrupted, then the Senate cannot stay corrupt. The states will elect new Senators and put an end to corruption in the Senate. If the House is not corrupt, then it will balance out the Senate until these senatorial elections can occur. And, finally, the House cannot stay corrupt as long as the people have not been corrupted: Instead, the people will elect new representatives and “speedily restore all things to their pristine order.”

Of course, this statement was made before ratification of the 17th Amendment, which changed the election/accountability process for Senators. AND, of course, here we are again . . . noting that perhaps our real problem in recent years comes back to the people. We are not forcing our elected officials to stay accountable. We just keep electing incumbents, over and over again.

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 “Madison’s claim to the authorship of this essay is superior to that of [Hamilton].” Thus, I have gone with Madison as the author in the attached picture.


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