The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 80


Hamilton introduces five principles of federal judiciary authority and then demonstrates how the proposed constitution conforms to them. Specifically, the principles describe what kinds of cases federal courts ought to have jurisdiction over. Madison contends that the federal judiciary ought to decide cases that

1) relate federal laws,

2) relate to the US Constitution,

3) involve the US government as a party in the case,

4) affect the “peace of the confederacy,” and

5) involve maritime disputes.

Hamilton defends the need for federal judicial authority over cases involving federal laws by arguing that the laws would not be followed if the government did not have the power to enforce them. He furthermore argues that it is necessary for judicial power to be “coextensive” with the legislature in order to ensure “uniformity in the interpretation of national laws.” If each state had its own court of final jurisdiction, then “nothing but contradiction and confusion can proceed.” Hamilton also argues that the federal judiciary must have jurisdiction over cases that could lead to war since “the peace of the whole ought not to be left at the disposal of a part.” That is, the entire country should not be at risk of war as the result of a decision made by a particular state’s court.

Having established the basic principles guiding the proper extent of judicial authority, Hamilton then shows how the specific provisions of the constitution relating to the judiciary conform to these principles. He responds to objections to the federal judiciary having authority over issues of “equity,” i.e. loans and financial obligations, by arguing that it is very likely for such cases to arise and involve either multiple states or foreigners, thus making necessary federal jurisdiction.


This paper continues The Federalist’s extended discussion of the judiciary by discussing the specific areas in which the federal courts will have final authority. The question of federal court jurisdiction was very contentious during the debate over the constitution. Anti-Federalists feared that national courts would abridge the rights of the states and become a tool of tyrants. These opponents argued that local courts were safer than national ones.

Hamilton buttresses his argument with the example of pre-modern Germany: “History gives us a horrid picture of the dissentions and private wars which distracted and desolated Germany, prior to the institution of the Imperial Chamber by Maximillian, towards the close of the fifteenth century; and informs us, at the same time, of the vast influence of that institution, in appeasing the disorders, and establishing the tranquility of the empire. This was a court invested with authority to decide finally all differences among the members of the Germanic body.” This repeats a common strategy of the Federalist’s authors, the use of historical examples to justify a strong, energetic national government.