The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 62


Madison begins this paper explaining that it will examine four points concerning the Senate; the qualification of the senators, the method by which they are selected; equal representation in the Senate; and the number of senators and the six-year term.

Two differences exist between the qualifications of senators and representatives: senators must be older and must be citizens of the United States longer. Senators serve longer and need a broader knowledge of government affairs, particularly in the area of foreign relations; consequently, the framers thought they should be older. Appointment by the state legislatures, rather than election by the people, is desirable for two reasons: first, this type of appointment assures that the Senate will consist of a select group of men, and the appointment by the states will provide a link between the states and the national government.

The Constitution provides for two senators from each state. This equality of representation is clearly a compromise between the different interests of the large and small states. In a federal system (where power is share between the states and the national government), it would be unfair not to recognize two opposing principles ­ proportional versus equal representation. The principle of proportional representation is recognized in the House; the principle of equal representation is recognized in the Senate. Equal representation in the Senate protects the sovereignty of all the states, thus ensuring that the new government will not abolish the state governments. It also means that a bill, which must be passed by both houses before it becomes a law, will reflect the whishes of the people (represented by the House) and the states (represented by the Senate).

The method of appointing the senators solves another important problem. Frequently, men who hold public office forget their obligation to the people, and therefore, betray the public trust. By dividing the legislative branch into two parts and requiring agreement between them, the liberties of the people will be more secure, and the passage of bad laws will be more difficult. The history of governments all over the world demonstrates that where the legislative body is not divided their partisan leaders often sway the legislators. The senate, which consists of fewer men who will hold their office for six years, reduce this threat. Representatives, elected by the people, serve for only two years; in many cases their private occupations may be more important to them than their public office, and they cannot be expect to devote sufficient time to government or to a study of the laws. Most blunders of our governments to date have been caused by incompetence and a lack of political wisdom.

The Senate will not only provide stability in government, it will reduce the tendency of the House to pass too many laws. Unnecessary legislation produces chaos and favors the wealthy. The people cannot be expected to keep up with too many new laws and regulations; farmers and merchants will be reluctant to start new business ventures if they feel that new regulations will hurt their investments.

The object of good government is the happiness of the people, but good intentions are not enough. Our state and national governments have paid too little attention of statecraft and the art of government. Fortunately, the structure of the government under the Constitution will help to correct this defect. A society cannot progress unless the government is stable and respectable.


There can be little doubt that the designers of the Constitution saw good public policy and stability in the laws as paramount concerns. In Federalist 62, for example, Madison defended the Senate in the proposed bicameral Congress on the grounds, in part, that the Senate could block passage of undesirable polices which a unicameral legislature might approve: "Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the Senate is the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then of a majority of the States." Similarly, "a Senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly distinct from and dividing the power with a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government. It doubles the security to the people by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy, where the ambition or corruption of one would otherwise be sufficient."

One reason that House members could not always be trusted stemmed from their short terms of office. To Madison, this meant that these legislators would be unable to develop the necessary wisdom about public policy. As he remarked about the virtues of a Senate whose members have longer terms, "Another defect to be supplied by a senate lies in a want of due acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation. It is not possible that an assembly of men called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature continued in appointment for a short time and led by no permanent motive to devote the internals of public occupation to a study of the laws, the affairs, and the comprehensive interests of their country, should, if left wholly to themselves, escape a variety of important errors in the exercise of their legislative trust." It was thought that a Senate with a slow turnover and whose members had long terms of office would be able to avoid the unwise polices that a unicameral legislature might be expected to produce.

A bicameral legislature could also be expected to help prevent instability in the laws. There was no doubt in Madison's mind that instability in the laws had great costs: "To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government would fill a volume." These effects were both external and internal. Externally, instability causes the nation to forfeit "the respect and confidence of other nations." Internally, the consequences of instability were even worse ­ "it poisons the blessings of liberty itself." Commerce could also expect to suffer from an unstable government.

In 1785, the Marquis de Condorcet published his Essai, in which he explicitly noted and discussed the particular problem of majority rule instability. While The Federalists do not specifically discuss the problems of majority rule instability, one scholar notes that Madison had read Condorcet's essay and is known to have written a review of it, a review which is now, unfortunately, lost. Although not explicitly, therefore, Madison and the Federalist papers do internally deal with instability, especially within Federalist 62 and the instability of the legislature branch.