Federalist No.62

The Senate

Wednesday, February 27, 1788

James Madison


Unlike many of the Federalist Papers, Madison’s purpose here is not primarily defence but of explanation. Madison’s discussion is organised into five points:

  1. The qualifications of senators;
  2. The appointment of Senators by the State legislatures;
  3. The equality of representation in the Senate;
  4. The number of Senators and their terms;
  5. The powers vested in the Senate.

The qualifications of Senators


Senators must be at least 30 years old (25 for House of Representatives) and must have been a citizen 9 years (7 for House of Representatives). These stipulations are justified, he says, to ensure a greater maturity in Senators and a commitment to the country.

The appointment of Senators by the State legislatures


Madison says this arrangement has been well received by the public. He explains that it helps secure the authority of State legislatures and helps maintain a link between the State and Federal system. (The power of State legislatures to appoint Senate members was altered by the 17th Amendment, 1913, which placed the responsibility with State voters to elect Senators.)

The equality of representation in the Senate


The point here is that equal representation of States in the Senate is not really equality, because it would appear to give a disproportionate power to smaller States. Madison acknowledges this but says it is a compromise and the advice of prudence must be to embrace the lesser evil. This is because the Constitution was yet to be ratified by the States, and the smaller States were unlikely to ratify a constitution that left them with little representation in both houses of Congress. Madison appeals to the best in human nature - a spirit of amity, and that of mutual deference - and appeals to the need that America finds itself, to unify. Madison adds that the composition of the Senate also recognises the sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and that the Senate compromise is better than devolving the individual States into one simple republic. Madison points out that larger States still had the advantage of proportional representation in the House of Representatives, and as a final stop to unreasonable use of Senate power by smaller States, the House of Representatives had control over the government purse, a point previously made by Hamilton.


Madison also points out the advantage of the Senate: that it will help protect America from improper legislation proposed by the House of Representatives.

The number of Senators and their terms;


Madison reviews the problems a republican government might face and how the Senate might help to ameliorate them.


First, is the possibility that Representatives may prove unfaithful to their important trust. Madison points out that the Senate is a check on poor laws, and sinister intent; that it was unlikely that both houses of Congress would be likely to pass laws not in harmony with the people’s interests.


Second, Madison argues that the Senate will be less likely to be overtaken by factions or succumb to passions. Hamilton has already argued in a previous paper that larger bodies are more easily led by passions and more prone to factions. Madison suggests that the fewer number of senators and the longer tenure of their office might help avoid this.


Third, the greater age of Senators and their longer tenure should allow more experience and knowledge to be accumulated within the Senate. Madison is critical of the need to repeal, explain or amend laws, which he sees as a sign of inexperience and poor formulation of laws. The Senate’s oversight offers the opportunity to help reduce this problem.


Fourth, the longer tenure of the Senate, and its greater stability – it is not ever completely dissolved like the House of Representatives, but is rotated every two years by one third of its members – offers greater stability in government and a longer-term view of the objectives of the government and the interests of the country. Madison argues that this is particularly important when dealing with other nations, since America would lose credibility with inconsistent foreign policies. Besides this, America needs consistent laws to progress and prosper. Without consistent laws, Madison argues, average citizens could be taken advantage of by the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few who had the capacity to keep pace with changing legislation and exploit it to the detriment of the industrious and uninformed mass of the people. In short, Madison points out that inconsistent, unpredictable laws discourage investment.

23 November 2019

Revised and updated 26 June 2022