The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 56


This paper answers a second criticism levied against the House: that it is too small to possess adequate knowledge of the interests of the people. Madison responds that the representatives only need to have adequate local knowledge as it pertains to commerce, taxation, and the militia. Other, more minute details, “do not lie within the compass of legislation.” Madison argues that in all three of these areas, Congress will have enough members to make informed decisions on these issues.

Madison argues that congressmen need to be more concerned with adequately understanding issues in other states and making proper legislation as it relates to them. That will be their major task. However, as the country continues to develop, Madison suggests the interests in the states will become relatively similar even as the complexities within the States themselves increase.


This paper echoes the argument Madison makes in the tenth paper, that a relatively small number of representatives will be capable of comprehending national issues since these issues will be general in nature. In taking this approach, Madison reminds his audience that the powers of the national government are not unlimited. They only pertain to certain, general issues affecting the country as a whole. Questions of concern to particular states will in most circumstances be dealt with the state governments, which will presumably have the necessary local knowledge.

This paper’s argument illustrates the important concept of federalism: the sharing of power between national and state governments. Representatives in Congress would not need to have intimate knowledge of local conditions in particular states since their primary responsibility would be to regulate issues that affect all states and the interaction between states. It was left to the state governments to deal with issues relevant only to particular localities.

Madison also advances the hypothesis that, over time, the interests of states will become increasingly the same. History has shown this to have been a very prescient observation. Although present-day American states do at times deal with issues particular to their population, Americans increasingly identify as “Americans” rather than as residents of a particular state. 21st century Americans are much more conscious of their national character than 18th century Americans were. At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, many Americans felt more loyalty to their state than to the union, and economic, cultural, and social differences between the states were much more pronounced than they are today.