John Parillo Explains Federalist 58

James Madison: Public Domain

Another objection to the construct of the House of Representatives is that it gives too much power to smaller states. Remember that the representation in the Senate is equal for all states. In the house, four of the original thirteen states would have more representatives, by virtue of their denser populations, than the rest combined. This is not a new issue in our republic. Our founders were discussing it before the Constitution was ratified.

Madison answers this charge in several ways. The first is that the various states, like the proposed federal government, allow for the increase in representatives when populations change. The census is specified to be conducted every ten years precisely to ensure that this allocation is done properly. Additionally, the power to legislate is divided in such a way that all states have equal representation in the Senate where any bill to change proportional representation in favor of smaller states would presumably be killed by the larger less populated states.

And remember that while the house is chosen by direct election, the senate was chosen by the state legislatures and would, presumably, have the best interest of the individual states in mind. Madison reiterates that it is the house alone that “can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government.”[1] And further that this power of the purse is “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

In a seemingly unrelated passage, Madison points out that “in all cases the smaller the number, and the more permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever concerns the government.” That is because small groups of powerful and permanent people will naturally tend to have their own interests in mind rather than those of the country. In yet another passage that he could have written after watching any recent legislative session, Madison points out “that in all legislative assemblies the greater the number composing them may be, the fewer will be the men who will in fact direct their proceedings.” And that greater numbers of people ensures the “ascendency of passion over reason.” Further, in another argument against a large legislative body, the “larger the number, the greater will be the proportion of members of limited information and of weak capacities.”

As dangerous as a government of the few may be, a government of large groups can be equally dangerous. “The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic. The machine will be enlarged, but the fewer, and often the more secret, will be the springs by which its motions are directed.”


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1 thought on “John Parillo Explains Federalist 58”

  1. Independent of size of the legislative body, I think the spine that keeps the legislative body from going outside its bounds is more important than the size, don’t you? The spine being the fixed rules that the leadership of a group always has, as it’s play pen. A lot has been played with, lately, concerning rules, and the threat of changing the rules to accommodate the tyrant has been the greatest I have ever seen it, in my lifetime, which tells me the rules are now for pikers. Something that needs to be stamped in the foreheads of those who wish to further corrupt our congress.

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