The House of Representatives
From the New York Packet.
Friday, February 8, 1788.


To the People of the State of New York:

FROM the more general inquiries pursued in the four last papers, I pass
on to a more particular examination of the several parts of the
government. I shall begin with the House of Representatives.

The first view to be taken of this part of the government relates to the
qualifications of the electors and the elected. Those of the former are
to be the same with those of the electors of the most numerous branch of
the State legislatures. The definition of the right of suffrage is very
justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government. It
was incumbent on the convention, therefore, to define and establish this
right in the Constitution. To have left it open for the occasional
regulation of the Congress, would have been improper for the reason just
mentioned. To have submitted it to the legislative discretion of the
States, would have been improper for the same reason; and for the
additional reason that it would have rendered too dependent on the State
governments that branch of the federal government which ought to be
dependent on the people alone. To have reduced the different
qualifications in the different States to one uniform rule, would
probably have been as dissatisfactory to some of the States as it would
have been difficult to the convention. The provision made by the
convention appears, therefore, to be the best that lay within their
option. It must be satisfactory to every State, because it is
conformable to the standard already established, or which may be
established, by the State itself. It will be safe to the United States,
because, being fixed by the State constitutions, it is not alterable by
the State governments, and it cannot be feared that the people of the
States will alter this part of their constitutions in such a manner as
to abridge the rights secured to them by the federal Constitution.

The qualifications of the elected, being less carefully and properly
defined by the State constitutions, and being at the same time more
susceptible of uniformity, have been very properly considered and
regulated by the convention. A representative of the United States must
be of the age of twenty-five years; must have been seven years a citizen
of the United States; must, at the time of his election, be an
inhabitant of the State he is to represent; and, during the time of his
service, must be in no office under the United States. Under these
reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government
is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive,
whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any
particular profession of religious faith.

The term for which the representatives are to be elected falls under a
second view which may be taken of this branch. In order to decide on the
propriety of this article, two questions must be considered: first,
whether biennial elections will, in this case, be safe; secondly,
whether they be necessary or useful.

First. As it is essential to liberty that the government in general
should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly
essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an
immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.
Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this
dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured. But what particular
degree of frequency may be absolutely necessary for the purpose, does
not appear to be susceptible of any precise calculation, and must depend
on a variety of circumstances with which it may be connected. Let us
consult experience, the guide that ought always to be followed whenever
it can be found.

The scheme of representation, as a substitute for a meeting of the
citizens in person, being at most but very imperfectly known to ancient
polity, it is in more modern times only that we are to expect
instructive examples. And even here, in order to avoid a research too
vague and diffusive, it will be proper to confine ourselves to the few
examples which are best known, and which bear the greatest analogy to
our particular case. The first to which this character ought to be
applied, is the House of Commons in Great Britain. The history of this
branch of the English Constitution, anterior to the date of Magna
Charta, is too obscure to yield instruction. The very existence of it
has been made a question among political antiquaries. The earliest
records of subsequent date prove that parliaments were to SIT only every
year; not that they were to be ELECTED every year. And even these annual
sessions were left so much at the discretion of the monarch, that, under
various pretexts, very long and dangerous intermissions were often
contrived by royal ambition. To remedy this grievance, it was provided
by a statute in the reign of Charles II, that the intermissions should
not be protracted beyond a period of three years. On the accession of
William III, when a revolution took place in the government, the
subject was still more seriously resumed, and it was declared to be
among the fundamental rights of the people that parliaments ought to be
held FREQUENTLY. By another statute, which passed a few years later in
the same reign, the term "frequently," which had alluded to the
triennial period settled in the time of Charles II, is reduced to a
precise meaning, it being expressly enacted that a new parliament shall
be called within three years after the termination of the former. The
last change, from three to seven years, is well known to have been
introduced pretty early in the present century, under on alarm for the
Hanoverian succession. From these facts it appears that the greatest
frequency of elections which has been deemed necessary in that kingdom,
for binding the representatives to their constituents, does not exceed a
triennial return of them. And if we may argue from the degree of liberty
retained even under septennial elections, and all the other vicious
ingredients in the parliamentary constitution, we cannot doubt that a
reduction of the period from seven to three years, with the other
necessary reforms, would so far extend the influence of the people over
their representatives as to satisfy us that biennial elections, under
the federal system, cannot possibly be dangerous to the requisite
dependence of the House of Representatives on their constituents.

Elections in Ireland, till of late, were regulated entirely by the
discretion of the crown, and were seldom repeated, except on the
accession of a new prince, or some other contingent event. The
parliament which commenced with George II. was continued throughout his
whole reign, a period of about thirty-five years. The only dependence of
the representatives on the people consisted in the right of the latter
to supply occasional vacancies by the election of new members, and in
the chance of some event which might produce a general new election. The
ability also of the Irish parliament to maintain the rights of their
constituents, so far as the disposition might exist, was extremely
shackled by the control of the crown over the subjects of their
deliberation. Of late these shackles, if I mistake not, have been
broken; and octennial parliaments have besides been established. What
effect may be produced by this partial reform, must be left to further
experience. The example of Ireland, from this view of it, can throw but
little light on the subject. As far as we can draw any conclusion from
it, it must be that if the people of that country have been able under
all these disadvantages to retain any liberty whatever, the advantage of
biennial elections would secure to them every degree of liberty, which
might depend on a due connection between their representatives and

Let us bring our inquiries nearer home. The example of these States,
when British colonies, claims particular attention, at the same time
that it is so well known as to require little to be said on it. The
principle of representation, in one branch of the legislature at least,
was established in all of them. But the periods of election were
different. They varied from one to seven years. Have we any reason to
infer, from the spirit and conduct of the representatives of the people,
prior to the Revolution, that biennial elections would have been
dangerous to the public liberties? The spirit which everywhere displayed
itself at the commencement of the struggle, and which vanquished the
obstacles to independence, is the best of proofs that a sufficient
portion of liberty had been everywhere enjoyed to inspire both a sense
of its worth and a zeal for its proper enlargement This remark holds
good, as well with regard to the then colonies whose elections were
least frequent, as to those whose elections were most frequent Virginia
was the colony which stood first in resisting the parliamentary
usurpations of Great Britain; it was the first also in espousing, by
public act, the resolution of independence. In Virginia, nevertheless,
if I have not been misinformed, elections under the former government
were septennial. This particular example is brought into view, not as a
proof of any peculiar merit, for the priority in those instances was
probably accidental; and still less of any advantage in SEPTENNIAL
elections, for when compared with a greater frequency they are
inadmissible; but merely as a proof, and I conceive it to be a very
substantial proof, that the liberties of the people can be in no danger
from BIENNIAL elections.

The conclusion resulting from these examples will be not a little
strengthened by recollecting three circumstances. The first is, that the
federal legislature will possess a part only of that supreme legislative
authority which is vested completely in the British Parliament; and
which, with a few exceptions, was exercised by the colonial assemblies
and the Irish legislature. It is a received and well-founded maxim, that
where no other circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is,
the shorter ought to be its duration; and, conversely, the smaller the
power, the more safely may its duration be protracted. In the second
place, it has, on another occasion, been shown that the federal
legislature will not only be restrained by its dependence on its people,
as other legislative bodies are, but that it will be, moreover, watched
and controlled by the several collateral legislatures, which other
legislative bodies are not. And in the third place, no comparison can be
made between the means that will be possessed by the more permanent
branches of the federal government for seducing, if they should be
disposed to seduce, the House of Representatives from their duty to the
people, and the means of influence over the popular branch possessed by
the other branches of the government above cited. With less power,
therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on
one side, and will be doubly watched on the other.