The Same Subject Continued
(Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members)
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, February 26, 1788.


To the People of the State of New York:

THE more candid opposers of the provision respecting elections,
contained in the plan of the convention, when pressed in argument, will
sometimes concede the propriety of that provision; with this
qualification, however, that it ought to have been accompanied with a
declaration, that all elections should be had in the counties where the
electors resided. This, say they, was a necessary precaution against an
abuse of the power. A declaration of this nature would certainly have
been harmless; so far as it would have had the effect of quieting
apprehensions, it might not have been undesirable. But it would, in
fact, have afforded little or no additional security against the danger
apprehended; and the want of it will never be considered, by an
impartial and judicious examiner, as a serious, still less as an
insuperable, objection to the plan. The different views taken of the
subject in the two preceding papers must be sufficient to satisfy all
dispassionate and discerning men, that if the public liberty should ever
be the victim of the ambition of the national rulers, the power under
examination, at least, will be guiltless of the sacrifice.

If those who are inclined to consult their jealousy only, would exercise
it in a careful inspection of the several State constitutions, they
would find little less room for disquietude and alarm, from the latitude
which most of them allow in respect to elections, than from the latitude
which is proposed to be allowed to the national government in the same
respect. A review of their situation, in this particular, would tend
greatly to remove any ill impressions which may remain in regard to this
matter. But as that view would lead into long and tedious details, I
shall content myself with the single example of the State in which I
write. The constitution of New York makes no other provision for
LOCALITY of elections, than that the members of the Assembly shall be
elected in the COUNTIES; those of the Senate, in the great districts
into which the State is or may be divided: these at present are four in
number, and comprehend each from two to six counties. It may readily be
perceived that it would not be more difficult to the legislature of New
York to defeat the suffrages of the citizens of New York, by confining
elections to particular places, than for the legislature of the United
States to defeat the suffrages of the citizens of the Union, by the like
expedient. Suppose, for instance, the city of Albany was to be appointed
the sole place of election for the county and district of which it is a
part, would not the inhabitants of that city speedily become the only
electors of the members both of the Senate and Assembly for that county
and district? Can we imagine that the electors who reside in the remote
subdivisions of the counties of Albany, Saratoga, Cambridge, etc., or in
any part of the county of Montgomery, would take the trouble to come to
the city of Albany, to give their votes for members of the Assembly or
Senate, sooner than they would repair to the city of New York, to
participate in the choice of the members of the federal House of
Representatives? The alarming indifference discoverable in the exercise
of so invaluable a privilege under the existing laws, which afford every
facility to it, furnishes a ready answer to this question. And,
abstracted from any experience on the subject, we can be at no loss to
determine, that when the place of election is at an INCONVENIENT
DISTANCE from the elector, the effect upon his conduct will be the same
whether that distance be twenty miles or twenty thousand miles. Hence it
must appear, that objections to the particular modification of the
federal power of regulating elections will, in substance, apply with
equal force to the modification of the like power in the constitution of
this State; and for this reason it will be impossible to acquit the one,
and to condemn the other. A similar comparison would lead to the same
conclusion in respect to the constitutions of most of the other States.

If it should be said that defects in the State constitutions furnish no
apology for those which are to be found in the plan proposed, I answer,
that as the former have never been thought chargeable with inattention
to the security of liberty, where the imputations thrown on the latter
can be shown to be applicable to them also, the presumption is that they
are rather the cavilling refinements of a predetermined opposition, than
the well-founded inferences of a candid research after truth. To those
who are disposed to consider, as innocent omissions in the State
constitutions, what they regard as unpardonable blemishes in the plan of
the convention, nothing can be said; or at most, they can only be asked
to assign some substantial reason why the representatives of the people
in a single State should be more impregnable to the lust of power, or
other sinister motives, than the representatives of the people of the
United States? If they cannot do this, they ought at least to prove to
us that it is easier to subvert the liberties of three millions of
people, with the advantage of local governments to head their
opposition, than of two hundred thousand people who are destitute of
that advantage. And in relation to the point immediately under
consideration, they ought to convince us that it is less probable that a
predominant faction in a single State should, in order to maintain its
superiority, incline to a preference of a particular class of electors,
than that a similar spirit should take possession of the representatives
of thirteen States, spread over a vast region, and in several respects
distinguishable from each other by a diversity of local circumstances,
prejudices, and interests.

Hitherto my observations have only aimed at a vindication of the
provision in question, on the ground of theoretic propriety, on that of
the danger of placing the power elsewhere, and on that of the safety of
placing it in the manner proposed. But there remains to be mentioned a
positive advantage which will result from this disposition, and which
could not as well have been obtained from any other: I allude to the
circumstance of uniformity in the time of elections for the federal
House of Representatives. It is more than possible that this uniformity
may be found by experience to be of great importance to the public
welfare, both as a security against the perpetuation of the same spirit
in the body, and as a cure for the diseases of faction. If each State
may choose its own time of election, it is possible there may be at
least as many different periods as there are months in the year. The
times of election in the several States, as they are now established for
local purposes, vary between extremes as wide as March and November. The consequence of this diversity would be that there could never happen a
total dissolution or renovation of the body at one time. If an improper
spirit of any kind should happen to prevail in it, that spirit would be
apt to infuse itself into the new members, as they come forward in
succession. The mass would be likely to remain nearly the same,
assimilating constantly to itself its gradual accretions. There is a
contagion in example which few men have sufficient force of mind to
resist. I am inclined to think that treble the duration in office, with
the condition of a total dissolution of the body at the same time, might
be less formidable to liberty than one third of that duration subject to
gradual and successive alterations.

Uniformity in the time of elections seems not less requisite for
executing the idea of a regular rotation in the Senate, and for
conveniently assembling the legislature at a stated period in each year.

It may be asked, Why, then, could not a time have been fixed in the
Constitution? As the most zealous adversaries of the plan of the
convention in this State are, in general, not less zealous admirers of
the constitution of the State, the question may be retorted, and it may
be asked, Why was not a time for the like purpose fixed in the
constitution of this State? No better answer can be given than that it
was a matter which might safely be entrusted to legislative discretion;
and that if a time had been appointed, it might, upon experiment, have
been found less convenient than some other time. The same answer may be
given to the question put on the other side. And it may be added that
the supposed danger of a gradual change being merely speculative, it
would have been hardly advisable upon that speculation to establish, as
a fundamental point, what would deprive several States of the
convenience of having the elections for their own governments and for
the national government at the same epochs.