Federalist No.57

The Alleged Tendency Of The New Plan To Elevate The Few At The Expense Of The Many Considered In Connection With Representation

Tuesday, February 19, 1788

James Madison


In Federalist No.55 Madison raised four criticisms against the makeup of the House of Representatives which he intended to address:

  1. That so few representatives would be less trustworthy than a larger body;
  2. They would not have a good knowledge of the local concerns of their constituents;
  3. That they would be from a class of citizens out of touch with the concerns of the many and more likely concerned with their own power;
  4. That the House would become less representative over time as the population increased.

This paper addresses the third of those criticisms.


Madison in fact asserts that some critics believe the House would be un-representational, favouring the few at the expense of the many, and even uses the word ruin to describe the potential fate of the many at the hands of the few, according to the anti-Federalist position.


Madison says that the aim of any constitution is to find leaders with a set of ideal characteristics: wisdom; virtue; a desire for the common good of society. The role of the constitution in doing this is to provide a process to select these leaders as well as to prevent their corruption.


Madison points out that all American’s are eligible to vote. Voting is not restricted to wealth or property classes, as it was in England at the time, nor by birth, faith or profession. No one class can control voting or representation.


He also considers human nature as a factor. Since representatives must be elected by their fellow citizens, he argues that candidates would need to possess qualities that appeal to the majority of voters. Added to this, a candidate elected to the House would be aware of the honour, favour, esteem and confidence bestowed by their election. It is human nature to want to live up to the expectations placed upon us, he is basically arguing. This same individual would wish to be associated with a government that gives him a share in its honors and distinctions.


Another factor of human nature is that the laws passed in the House affect everyone the representative knows, including themselves. This may prevent them passing laws which are ruinous to the many and the system, balanced as it is, along with the anticipation of the next election, would prevent representatives passing laws favourable to a certain classes or interests. Are they not the identical means on which every State government in the Union relies for the attainment of these important ends? Madison argues.


In the second half of the paper Madison addresses the question of whether State representation isn’t more inherently trustworthy and representative, given that the number of electors tends to be smaller than for the Federal House of Representatives. He argues against this under three key points: by reason, by consequence and through facts.


First, he points out that reason dictates that the greater number of voters in the Federal system means it is more difficult to corrupt the system through bribery, and that a large number of voters would likely choose a suitable candidate.


He argues that the logical consequence of the criticism made against the Federal system would be to limit the representation where populations exceeds five or six hundred citizens (the number approximating the election of state representatives). In other words, would segments of the population be disenfranchised if they were to be judged as supernumerary to the voting quota for each representative? For example, if there were 800 voters for one candidate, would 200 be disenfranchised. This seems a crazy notion, and given Madison’s wording I hope I have it right. But if it’s crazy, I assume that is the point Madison is making.


Third, he turns to facts by once again referring to the English system as he did in Federalist 56. He says that the English system of that period limited representation and suffrage to wealth and property classes, unlike the American model. Despite this, he asserts it cannot be said that the representatives of the nation have elevated the few on the ruins of the many.


Added to this, there is a large difference between the populations of different States in America, but Madison asserts there has been no demonstratable disposition to sacrifice the many to the few in the larger of the American states.

1 November 2019