The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 83


In this final paper on the judiciary, and the longest paper in the Federalist, Hamilton responds to concerns about the absence of a constitutional provision for trial by jury in civil cases. Although the Constitution explicitly protects the right to trial by jury in criminal cases, it does not offer such a guarantee in civil cases (e.g. law suits). Anti-federalists argued that this omission was a deliberate attempt to deny citizens the right to a jury trial in civil cases.

Hamilton responds that just because the Constitution does not specifically guarantee the right to trial by jury in civil cases does not mean that juries are forbidden in such cases. Rather, the Constitution leaves it to the national legislature to decide whether to allow for juries in civil cases and even to specify in what kinds of civil cases juries may be allowed. Hamilton argues that it was necessary to specifically guarantee the right to trial by jury in criminal cases since judicial malpractice in such cases poses a far greater threat to the liberty of the individual than civil cases. It was widely believed that juries could be trusted more than individual judges to uphold justice. Thus, in cases where the verdict may result in the accused facing prison time or execution, it is essential that juries be allowed.

Civil cases, in contrast, do not threaten the existence of liberty in the same way. Hamilton argues further that civil cases are far more complicated and varied than criminal cases, so much so that they may be beyond the ability of the average citizen serving on a jury to comprehend. In civil cases involving complex financial transactions and business disputes, the minute details may be beyond the ability of average citizens to judge fairly. Other cases, such as those involving disputes with other nations, could also be inappropriate for juries since they may involve highly sensitive issues that, if not handled delicately, might lead to war.

Hamilton concludes, therefore, that it is best left to Congress to determine when juries should be allowed in civil cases. The authors of the Constitution did not intend to abolish trial by jury in civil cases. Rather, they thought it prudent to leave it to the representatives of the people to decide in which types of civil cases juries should be allowed.


This paper illustrates once again the widespread concern in the early days of the American republic about guarding personal liberty against the usurpations of an overly powerful government. Hamilton’s attempts to dismiss concerns over the absence of a specific constitutional provision for trial by jury in civil cases are rooted in one of the core principles of constitutional theory: the general “genius” of government is more effective than “particular provisions.” Using examples from Europe and the several states, Hamilton shows that specifically dictating that juries must be allowed in civil cases would lead to inefficiency and miscarriages of justice due to the wide variety and considerable complexity in civil law. Opponents of the constitution wanted specific guarantees of the right to trial by jury in civil cases; however, Hamilton sees this as better left to the national legislature.

This paper therefore shows the attempts by the founders to give the Constitution as much flexibility as possible. The founders did not want to overly restrict the future actions of the national legislature with constitutional provisions on minute matters. The purpose of the Constitution is to provide a general framework for government in the United States, not a detailed and comprehensive set of laws. Issues such as the mode of trial in civil cases fall into the category of details best decided by the representatives of the people.