The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 52

Summary

Madison explains the Constitution’s provisions for electing members of the House of Representatives. He discusses the importance of a constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote and details the qualifications candidates must have to be elected.

Madison devotes the majority of the paper to a discussion of the “safety” of biennial elections. By safety, Madison means the protection of liberty from a tyrannical government. Madison uses examples from British, Irish, and American history to defend the prudence of electing representatives every two years. He asserts that such a system will guarantee that the representatives remain beholden to the American people, first and foremost.

Analysis

The frequency of congressional elections was an important part of the debate over the proposed Constitution. Some Americans felt that elections ought to be held on a yearly basis in order to ensure that representatives remain under the control of their constituents. Others argued that elections should be held less frequently in order to improve the stability and efficiency of government. Biennial elections represent a compromise between these two positions.

Madison’s approach to this discussion is somewhat imprecise. He does not offer any specific evidence guaranteeing that biennial elections are the best protection against a tyrannical legislature. Rather, he deduces from historical examples that they must be safe. For example, he suggests that if British liberty could be secured with triennial elections, surely American elections would be secured by even more frequent elections.