The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 38


Madison issues a scathing indictment of the proposed constitution’s critics. He conjectures that ancient civilizations often entrusted the writing of their constitutions to a single man since they were afraid of the “discord and disunion among a number of counselors” more so than the “treachery or incapacity in a single individual.”

Madison systematically lays out several different criticisms of the constitution made by the anti-federalists in order to illustrate the incoherence and inconsistency of the opposition’s views. He asserts that the critics don’t even agree on what is wrong with the proposed constitution and have failed to offer any better solution.

Madison furthermore argues that even if the proposed constitution has some defects, it is certainly better than the present form of government enshrined in the Articles of Confederation. He criticizes the Articles for “declaring certain powers in the federal government to be absolutely necessary” while “at the same time rendering them absolutely nugatory.” That is, the Articles say the government ought to have a wide range responsibilities but has structured government in such a way as to deny the government the power to meet these responsibilities and function effectively. The core difference between the Articles and the proposed constitution are not the functions they are to perform but the powers they are granted to actually perform them.


Madison’s position can basically be summed up in a simple phrase: the means must match the ends. The problem with the Articles is that the government does not have the power to do its job. The Constitution fixes this by granting government that power, or “energy.”

Madison employs the use of an analogy in this paper to illustrate his point. He compares America to a sick patient who seeks out the opinion of respected doctors. Eventually, these doctors come to agree unanimously on the cure, but several other people interject at the last minute that the cure will not work. These people agree the patient is sick, but oppose the cure while failing themselves to offer a viable alternative. The anti-federalists are these people in Madison’s analogy.