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The Federalist Papers: No. 80

At about this time in 1788, Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. Publius) was writing Federalist Paper No. 80. His essay would later appear in a bound volume with other Federalist essays (see below). This paper continues Hamilton’s examination of the judiciary.

Hamilton begins by noting that there “ought always to be a constitutional method of giving efficacy to constitutional provisions.” What good does it do to impose constitutional restrictions if you have no “constitutional mode of enforcing the observance of them?” When it comes to the restrictions on the states (i.e. do not emit paper money), the Constitutional Convention had two options: Give the Congress a “direct negative on the State laws” or let the courts judge. The latter method seems preferable.


Obviously, a national tribune is most appropriate for constitutional questions. Otherwise, each state will come to different answers on the same topic. He explains: “Thirteen independent courts of final jurisdiction over the same causes, arising upon the same laws, is a hydra in government, from which nothing but contradiction and confusion can proceed.”


Clearly, Hamilton notes, questions arising “between the United States and foreign nations” or “between the States themselves” should be handled by a national court. After all, the “peace of the WHOLE ought not to be left at the disposal of a PART.” Too often, “an unjust sentence against a foreigner” could be considered “an aggression upon his sovereign.” It is better to leave such questions to national courts. Similar justifications dictate that the national courts should mediate conflict when the cause arises between two states. After all, state courts could not be “supposed to be impartial” when the state is one of the parties to a case.


Finally, one of the bases of the Constitution is that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States.” The national government must have the “MEANS OF EXECUTING ITS OWN PROVISIONS BY ITS OWN AUTHORITY.” Thus, it makes sense to let national courts judge in cases between the citizens of different states.


Hamilton then addresses each grant of authority to the judiciary, in turn. Do these grants comply with the principles outlined above? He believes that they do. Moreover the legislature retains the authority to make exceptions to the courts’ authority. It can thus deal with any inconveniences that arise.


Logistical note for those who care:

As I noted in the last essay, Federalists 78 through 85 all appeared for the first time in a bound volume published on May 28. I can’t post 8 summaries of the last 8 Federalist Papers all on May 28, so I am going to do one a week from now until then. More information on these publication logistics is available on my Federalist No. 77 summary (posted April 2).

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