The Same Subject Continued
(Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members)
From the Independent Journal.
Saturday, February 23, 1788.


To the People of the State of New York:

WE HAVE seen, that an uncontrollable power over the elections to the
federal government could not, without hazard, be committed to the State
legislatures. Let us now see, what would be the danger on the other
side; that is, from confiding the ultimate right of regulating its own
elections to the Union itself. It is not pretended, that this right
would ever be used for the exclusion of any State from its share in the
representation. The interest of all would, in this respect at least, be
the security of all. But it is alleged, that it might be employed in
such a manner as to promote the election of some favorite class of men
in exclusion of others, by confining the places of election to
particular districts, and rendering it impracticable to the citizens at
large to partake in the choice. Of all chimerical suppositions, this
seems to be the most chimerical. On the one hand, no rational
calculation of probabilities would lead us to imagine that the
disposition which a conduct so violent and extraordinary would imply,
could ever find its way into the national councils; and on the other, it
may be concluded with certainty, that if so improper a spirit should
ever gain admittance into them, it would display itself in a form
altogether different and far more decisive.

The improbability of the attempt may be satisfactorily inferred from
this single reflection, that it could never be made without causing an
immediate revolt of the great body of the people, headed and directed by
the State governments. It is not difficult to conceive that this
characteristic right of freedom may, in certain turbulent and factious
seasons, be violated, in respect to a particular class of citizens, by a
victorious and overbearing majority; but that so fundamental a
privilege, in a country so situated and enlightened, should be invaded
to the prejudice of the great mass of the people, by the deliberate
policy of the government, without occasioning a popular revolution, is
altogether inconceivable and incredible.

In addition to this general reflection, there are considerations of a
more precise nature, which forbid all apprehension on the subject. The
dissimilarity in the ingredients which will compose the national
government, and �till more in the manner in which they will be brought
into action in its various branches, must form a powerful obstacle to a
concert of views in any partial scheme of elections. There is sufficient
diversity in the state of property, in the genius, manners, and habits
of the people of the different parts of the Union, to occasion a
material diversity of disposition in their representatives towards the
different ranks and conditions in society. And though an intimate
intercourse under the same government will promote a gradual
assimilation in some of these respects, yet there are causes, as well
physical as moral, which may, in a greater or less degree, permanently
nourish different propensities and inclinations in this respect. But the
circumstance which will be likely to have the greatest influence in the
matter, will be the dissimilar modes of constituting the several
component parts of the government. The House of Representatives being to
be elected immediately by the people, the Senate by the State
legislatures, the President by electors chosen for that purpose by the
people, there would be little probability of a common interest to cement
these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of

As to the Senate, it is impossible that any regulation of "time and
manner," which is all that is proposed to be submitted to the national
government in respect to that body, can affect the spirit which will
direct the choice of its members. The collective sense of the State
legislatures can never be influenced by extraneous circumstances of that
sort; a consideration which alone ought to satisfy us that the
discrimination apprehended would never be attempted. For what inducement
could the Senate have to concur in a preference in which itself would
not be included? Or to what purpose would it be established, in
reference to one branch of the legislature, if it could not be extended
to the other? The composition of the one would in this case counteract
that of the other. And we can never suppose that it would embrace the
appointments to the Senate, unless we can at the same time suppose the
voluntary co-operation of the State legislatures. If we make the latter
supposition, it then becomes immaterial where the power in question is
placed -- whether in their hands or in those of the Union.

But what is to be the object of this capricious partiality in the
national councils? Is it to be exercised in a discrimination between the
different departments of industry, or between the different kinds of
property, or between the different degrees of property? Will it lean in
favor of the landed interest, or the moneyed interest, or the mercantile
interest, or the manufacturing interest? Or, to speak in the fashionable
language of the adversaries to the Constitution, will it court the
elevation of "the wealthy and the well-born," to the exclusion and
debasement of all the rest of the society?

If this partiality is to be exerted in favor of those who are concerned
in any particular description of industry or property, I presume it will
readily be admitted, that the competition for it will lie between landed
men and merchants. And I scruple not to affirm, that it is infinitely
less likely that either of them should gain an ascendant in the national
councils, than that the one or the other of them should predominate in
all the local councils. The inference will be, that a conduct tending to
give an undue preference to either is much less to be dreaded from the
former than from the latter.

The several States are in various degrees addicted to agriculture and
commerce. In most, if not all of them, agriculture is predominant. In a
few of them, however, commerce nearly divides its empire, and in most of
them has a considerable share of influence. In proportion as either
prevails, it will be conveyed into the national representation; and for
the very reason, that this will be an emanation from a greater variety
of interests, and in much more various proportions, than are to be found
in any single State, it will be much less apt to espouse either of them
with a decided partiality, than the representation of any single State.

In a country consisting chiefly of the cultivators of land, where the
rules of an equal representation obtain, the landed interest must, upon
the whole, preponderate in the government. As long as this interest
prevails in most of the State legislatures, so long it must maintain a
correspondent superiority in the national Senate, which will generally
be a faithful copy of the majorities of those assemblies. It cannot
therefore be presumed, that a sacrifice of the landed to the mercantile
class will ever be a favorite object of this branch of the federal
legislature. In applying thus particularly to the Senate a general
observation suggested by the situation of the country, I am governed by
the consideration, that the credulous votaries of State power cannot,
upon their own principles, suspect, that the State legislatures would be
warped from their duty by any external influence. But in reality the
same situation must have the same effect, in the primative composition
at least of the federal House of Representatives: an improper bias
towards the mercantile class is as little to be expected from this
quarter as from the other.

In order, perhaps, to give countenance to the objection at any rate, it
may be asked, is there not danger of an opposite bias in the national
government, which may dispose it to endeavor to secure a monopoly of the
federal administration to the landed class? As there is little
likelihood that the supposition of such a bias will have any terrors for
those who would be immediately injured by it, a labored answer to this
question will be dispensed with. It will be sufficient to remark, first,
that for the reasons elsewhere assigned, it is less likely that any
decided partiality should prevail in the councils of the Union than in
those of any of its members. Secondly, that there would be no temptation
to violate the Constitution in favor of the landed class, because that
class would, in the natural course of things, enjoy as great a
preponderancy as itself could desire. And thirdly, that men accustomed
to investigate the sources of public prosperity upon a large scale, must
be too well convinced of the utility of commerce, to be inclined to
inflict upon it so deep a wound as would result from the entire
exclusion of those who would best understand its interest from a share
in the management of them. The importance of commerce, in the view of
revenue alone, must effectually guard it against the enmity of a body
which would be continually importuned in its favor, by the urgent calls
of public necessity.

I the rather consult brevity in discussing the probability of a
preference founded upon a discrimination between the different kinds of
industry and property, because, as far as I understand the meaning of
the objectors, they contemplate a discrimination of another kind. They
appear to have in view, as the objects of the preference with which they
endeavor to alarm us, those whom they designate by the description of
"the wealthy and the well-born." These, it seems, are to be exalted to
an odious pre-eminence over the rest of their fellow-citizens. At one
time, however, their elevation is to be a necessary consequence of the
smallness of the representative body; at another time it is to be
effected by depriving the people at large of the opportunity of
exercising their right of suffrage in the choice of that body.

But upon what principle is the discrimination of the places of election
to be made, in order to answer the purpose of the meditated preference?
Are "the wealthy and the well-born," as they are called, confined to
particular spots in the several States? Have they, by some miraculous
instinct or foresight, set apart in each of them a common place of
residence? Are they only to be met with in the towns or cities? Or are
they, on the contrary, scattered over the face of the country as avarice
or chance may have happened to cast their own lot or that of their
predecessors? If the latter is the case, (as every intelligent man knows
it to be,[1]) is it not evident that the policy of confining the places
of election to particular districts would be as subversive of its own
aim as it would be exceptionable on every other account? The truth is,
that there is no method of securing to the rich the preference
apprehended, but by prescribing qualifications of property either for
those who may elect or be elected. But this forms no part of the power
to be conferred upon the national government. Its authority would be
expressly restricted to the regulation of the TIMES, the PLACES, the
MANNER of elections. The qualifications of the persons who may choose or
be chosen, as has been remarked upon other occasions, are defined and
fixed in the Constitution, and are unalterable by the legislature.

Let it, however, be admitted, for argument sake, that the expedient
suggested might be successful; and let it at the same time be equally
taken for granted that all the scruples which a sense of duty or an
apprehension of the danger of the experiment might inspire, were
overcome in the breasts of the national rulers, still I imagine it will
hardly be pretended that they could ever hope to carry such an
enterprise into execution without the aid of a military force sufficient
to subdue the resistance of the great body of the people. The
improbability of the existence of a force equal to that object has been
discussed and demonstrated in different parts of these papers; but that
the futility of the objection under consideration may appear in the
strongest light, it shall be conceded for a moment that such a force
might exist, and the national government shall be supposed to be in the
actual possession of it. What will be the conclusion? With a disposition
to invade the essential rights of the community, and with the means of
gratifying that disposition, is it presumable that the persons who were
actuated by it would amuse themselves in the ridiculous task of
fabricating election laws for securing a preference to a favorite class
of men? Would they not be likely to prefer a conduct better adapted to
their own immediate aggrandizement? Would they not rather boldly resolve
to perpetuate themselves in office by one decisive act of usurpation,
than to trust to precarious expedients which, in spite of all the
precautions that might accompany them, might terminate in the
dismission, disgrace, and ruin of their authors? Would they not fear
that citizens, not less tenacious than conscious of their rights, would
flock from the remote extremes of their respective States to the places
of election, to voerthrow their tyrants, and to substitute men who would
be disposed to avenge the violated majesty of the people?


1. Particularly in the Southern States and in this State.