The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 40

Summary

Madison responds to the claim that the constitutional convention was authorized to frame and propose an entirely new form of government. Anti-Federalists charged that the convention had been formed to merely amend the Articles, not throw them out entirely in favor of the proposed constitution.

Madison argues that Congress had clearly authorized the convention to form a “a national and adequate government.” Although it had only been explicitly instructed to accomplish this through “alterations and provisions in the articles of confederation,” Madison argues that “alterations and provisions” alone would not be sufficient to achieve a “national and adequate government.” Therefore, the convention rightly decided that it was more important to create the proper form of government than to limit itself to merely amending the Articles.

Madison argues further than the “great principles of the constitution proposed by the convention” are really just “the expansion of principles which are found in the articles of confederation.” The problem with the Articles is that the principles were too “feeble and confined.” All the Constitution does is empower the government to govern effectively on these principles.

Finally, Madison points to the fact that the Articles themselves were formed by a convention that was not explicitly authorized to do so. What matters ultimately, according to Madison, is whether the plans offered are good advice. The proposed constitution ought to be judged on its merits, not on the mere technicality of whether the convention was authorized to propose it.

Analysis

One of the many objections of the Anti-Federalists was that the Constitutional Convention had gone far beyond the authority granted to it by the states to amend the Articles. Madison is essentially dismissing this criticism as a technicality.

He acknowledges that the convention was not explicitly authorized to create an entirely new form of government, but asserts that the convention nevertheless acted in the best interests of the American people. Madison’s argument, like most arguments contained in the Federalist Papers, is an appeal to pragmatism, common sense, and the greater good of the people, and a rejection of the mere technicalities and overzealous ideological quibbles on which the Anti-Federalists’ arguments were based.