Federalist No.61

The Same Subject Continued

(Concerning The Power Of Congress To Regulate The Election Of Members)

Tuesday, February 26, 1788

Alexander Hamilton


This Paper is the third and final by Hamilton on the subject of the power of Congress to determine the time and place of elections to the House of Representatives. In this Paper Hamilton addresses concerns from those who may support the provision, yet criticise the Convention for not declaring specifics, such as a set date and place for elections.


Hamilton claims such declarations would, in fact, have afforded little or no additional security against the danger apprehended. But Hamilton does not limit his response to the practicalities of arrangements in the Constitution. By referring to State constitutions, most particularly that of New York, and by pointing out that the States have, on the whole, not made these provisions themselves, and that concern has not been raised over this, Hamilton is able to assert two things.


First, that if it is not a concern for the States, then it should be of less concern for Federal elections. His reasoning is that it would be easier for a faction in one State in order to maintain its superiority, incline to a preference of a particular class of electors, than a similar spirit should take possession of the representatives of thirteen States. In addition to this, such a conspiracy would be stymied by the same problems of diversity and regional interests, as covered in the previous Paper.


Second, Hamilton argues that by ignoring this reality, the concerns of detractors of the constitution reveal themselves to be nothing more than the cavilling refinements of a predetermined opposition, than the well-founded inferences of a candid research after truth.


Instead, Hamilton encourages his reader to consider the advantages of Congress holding the power to set elections. There would be uniformity in the time elections were held for the House of Representatives. He argues this would allow less opportunity for nefarious factions to become entrenched within the House. He imagines a scenario in which the House has new candidates from time to time, their appointments determined by the whims of each State government in setting elections. This would allow factional unrest to grow in the House, as new representatives would potentially be persuaded by more experienced representatives: There is a contagion in example which few men have sufficient force of mind to resist.. A common election, however, would result in the dissolution of the House, and the formation of a new House after each election. Of course, this does not address the possibility that representatives will serve more than one term, but that is Hamilton’s argument.


Hamilton finishes by addressing the issue of a specific date for elections. He points out that State constitutions do not fix dates. He believes it is a matter that can be entrusted to legislative discretion. He also makes the point that a specific date may be found to be inconvenient. For instance, some State governments might find it convenient to hold State and Federal elections concurrently, which a fixed date may make difficult. I can imagine other inconveniences, but Hamilton does not say anything further.

23 November 2019