A dinosaur
a blog by Jarrett Retz

Select Quotes from Federalist Papers 44-85

by Jarrett RetzJanuary 22nd, 2022


It took me over a year to finish reading The Federalist Papers , which is a collection of published articles written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in favor of adopting the Constitution in the late 1780s.

I found it difficult to sit down and commit to reading the papers one after the other. So, to motivate me to finish the articles, I decided to record small notes on each article after Federalist No. 27. I intended to publish all the notes after I finished the book, but they aren't very curated or easy to understand. Instead, I'll publish some of my favorite (or interesting) quotes that I found and recorded.

Again, I didn't start taking notes until more than a third of the way through the articles so the quotes are solely from numbers 44-85. Furthermore, at times I paraphrased notes so these aren't even hand-picked subjects or claims in the papers. They are simply the quotes that made it into my notes in full.

Regardless, that does not diminish their value!

Federalist No. 44

James Madison is defending the right of the Union to make laws and that those laws will be the supreme laws of the land. Objectors to this power think that this will lead to the States, and their citizens being crushed by oppressive federal legislation. He humors the possibility of the reverse, making the federal government subordinate to each of the States' laws before rejecting the idea, explaining:

…it would have seen the authority of the whole society everywhere subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members.

Federalist No. 46

Madison addresses whether the state or federal government will have more support from the people.

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.

Federalist No. 58

In this article, James Madison defends the method for which representatives will be added to the House of Representatives based on population.

Later in the paper, he is discussing the "control of the purse" that is granted to the legislative branch.

…will not the House of Representatives be as much interested as the Senate in maintaining the government in its proper functions, and will they not therefore be unwilling to stake its existence or its reputation on the pliancy of the Senate? Or, if such a trial of firmness between the two branches were hazarded, would not the one be as likely first to yield as the other? These questions will create no difficulty with those who reflect that in all cases the smaller the number, and the more permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever concerns the government.

Federalist No. 59

Alexander Hamilton is writing in defense of the Union's proposed power to regulate the election of its members. He explains that the power is easily defensible because:

…every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation.

Federalist No. 60

Hamilton is writing about the same subject as the previous paper but provides an example of the federal government abusing this power by limiting the districts in which people are allowed to vote. Or, excluding votes by people that live outside of favorable districts. Hamilton says that this kind of restriction would cause an:

...immediate revolt of the great body of the people, headed and directed by the state governments.

The sentiment of the people uniting, behind the state governments, to rally against other oppressive states—or the federal government—during times of power usurpation or un-Constitutional laws is mentioned more than once.

Federalist No. 62

This paper introduces the Senate. And it was one of my favorites.

...the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation.

The existence of the Senate in the government now means that:

No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of States. It must be acknowledged that this complicated check on legislation may in some instances be injurious as well as beneficial;

When discussing the value of a well-constituted Senate:

A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.

Lastly, a rhetorical question:

Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Federalist No. 63

This article continues on about the Senate and its value.

The people can never willfully betray their own interests; but they may possibly be betrayed by the representatives of the people; and the danger will be evidently greater where the whole legislative trust is lodged in the hands of one body of men, than where the concurrence of separate and dissimilar bodies is required in every public act.

Federalist No. 64

Hamilton discusses how the President will be elected and later writes:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.

I think the first time that someone was elected, which Hamilton would have questioned the moral certainty and requisite qualifications, would have been Andrew Jackson in 1829. Reading Gordon S. Wood's, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, it was my interpretation and his claim that the surviving founders were disappointed in the direction of the government after the Virginia Dynasty and into the 1820s.

Federalist No. 70

A plurality of the executive (multiple Presidents, consuls):

…tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility.

A similar argument was made in regard to the Senate's size and elected term. The size and term of the Senators will promote responsibility for their actions.

Federalist No. 73

Alexander Hamilton is writing about the veto power of the President. He is discussing why this power was not given to a council consisting of something like the President, a chancellor, and the judges of the Supreme Court.

...they [the judges of the Supreme Court] might be induced to embark too far in the political views of that magistrate, and thus a dangerous combination might by degrees be cemented between the executive and judiciary departments. It is impossible to keep the judges too distinct from every other avocation than that of expounding the laws. It is peculiarly dangerous to place them in a situation to be either corrupted or influenced by the Executive.

Federalist No. 74

Hamilton is explaining why the President is not restricted from pardoning sedition, insurrection, and treason.

This lack of restraint is defended with:

…in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth: and which, if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterward to recall.

Federalist No. 81

A legislature, without exceeding its province, cannot reverse a determination once made in a particular case; though it may prescribe a new rule for future cases.

Hamilton is elaborating on the power given to the judiciary to overturn unconstitutional laws created by Congress or by state legislatures.

The judiciary must have complete power to rule over a case without the possibility of the legislature "overturning" their decision because they disagree.

Federalist No. 84

Hamilton is addressing the objection to the lack of a Bill of Rights in the proposed Constitution.

The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus, the prohibition of ex-post-facto laws, and of titles of nobility … are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it contains.

Federalist No. 85

In the last of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton is making his final appeal and remarks.

The compacts which are to embrace thirteen distinct States in a common bond of amity and Union, must as necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests and inclinations. How can perfection spring from such materials?

In the above quote, Hamilton is essentially saying, perfection is the enemy of good.

A nation, without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle.

Subscribe to the Retz

Get an email notification when new articles are published.