The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 54


Madison defends the constitution’s system for apportioning representatives among the States according to population. He also discusses the decision to count slaves as three-fifths of a person. He gives several reasons for the compromise: that the laws regard slaves as both property and persons; that southern states would consider it unfair to include slaves in calculating tax burdens but not for the number of representatives apportioned to the states; and that it would take into account the different levels of wealth of the states. Madison admits that this reasoning is somewhat of a stretch; however, it asserts that it was a “compromising expedient” necessary to pass a constitution acceptable to all states.

Finally, Madison suggests that by basing both taxes and number of representatives on population, the Constitution ensures states do not have an incentive to manipulate the numbers. If states claim too small a population, they will benefit in terms of taxes, but suffer in terms of the number of representatives they are allotted.


This paper deals with what is often considered one of the great moral failures of the Constitution: the three-fifths compromise. Madison’s discomfort with this compromise is palpable. In explaining the reasoning behind the compromise, he assumes the voice of his “Southern Brethren” rather than accept full responsibility for the arguments himself: “Such is the reasoning which an advocate from the southern interests might employ on this subject.”

The question of how to count slaves for the purposes of taxes and apportionment of representatives was deeply controversial and split the northern and southern states. Madison’s treatment of this topic illustrates his personal discomfort with the existence of slavery in the United States. At various points in the paper, Madison refers to slavery as a degrading to human dignity and a great misfortune.