The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles
For the Independent Journal.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

THE last paper having concluded the observations which were meant to introduce a candid survey of the plan of government reported by the convention, we now proceed to the execution of that part of our undertaking.

The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.

What, then, are the distinctive characters of the republican form? Were an answer to this question to be sought, not by recurring to principles, but in the application of the term by political writers, to the constitution of different States, no satisfactory one would ever be found. Holland, in which no particle of the supreme authority is derived from the people, has passed almost universally under the denomination of a republic. The same title has been bestowed on Venice, where absolute power over the great body of the people is exercised, in the most absolute manner, by a small body of hereditary nobles. Poland, which is a mixture of aristocracy and of monarchy in their worst forms, has been dignified with the same appellation. The government of England, which has one republican branch only, combined with an hereditary aristocracy and monarchy, has, with equal impropriety, been frequently placed on the list of republics. These examples, which are nearly as dissimilar to each other as to a genuine republic, show the extreme inaccuracy with which the term has been used in political disquisitions.

If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic. It is SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people; and that they hold their appointments by either of the tenures just specified; otherwise every government in the United States, as well as every other popular government that has been or can be well organized or well executed, would be degraded from the republican character. According to the constitution of every State in the Union, some or other of the officers of government are appointed indirectly only by the people. According to most of them, the chief magistrate himself is so appointed. And according to one, this mode of appointment is extended to one of the co-ordinate branches of the legislature. According to all the constitutions, also, the tenure of the highest offices is extended to a definite period, and in many instances, both within the legislative and executive departments, to a period of years. According to the provisions of most of the constitutions, again, as well as according to the most respectable and received opinions on the subject, the members of the judiciary department are to retain their offices by the firm tenure of good behavior.

On comparing the Constitution planned by the convention with the standard here fixed, we perceive at once that it is, in the most rigid sense, conformable to it. The House of Representatives, like that of one branch at least of all the State legislatures, is elected immediately by the great body of the people. The Senate, like the present Congress, and the Senate of Maryland, derives its appointment indirectly from the people. The President is indirectly derived from the choice of the people, according to the example in most of the States. Even the judges, with all other officers of the Union, will, as in the several States, be the choice, though a remote choice, of the people themselves, the duration of the appointments is equally conformable to the republican standard, and to the model of State constitutions The House of Representatives is periodically elective, as in all the States; and for the period of two years, as in the State of South Carolina. The Senate is elective, for the period of six years; which is but one year more than the period of the Senate of Maryland, and but two more than that of the Senates of New York and Virginia. The President is to continue in office for the period of four years; as in New York and Delaware, the chief magistrate is elected for three years, and in South Carolina for two years. In the other States the election is annual. In several of the States, however, no constitutional provision is made for the impeachment of the chief magistrate. And in Delaware and Virginia he is not impeachable till out of office. The President of the United States is impeachable at any time during his continuance in office. The tenure by which the judges are to hold their places, is, as it unquestionably ought to be, that of good behavior. The tenure of the ministerial offices generally, will be a subject of legal regulation, conformably to the reason of the case and the example of the State constitutions.

Could any further proof be required of the republican complexion of this system, the most decisive one might be found in its absolute prohibition of titles of nobility, both under the federal and the State governments; and in its express guaranty of the republican form to each of the latter.

“But it was not sufficient,” say the adversaries of the proposed Constitution, “for the convention to adhere to the republican form. They ought, with equal care, to have preserved the FEDERAL form, which regards the Union as a CONFEDERACY of sovereign states; instead of which, they have framed a NATIONAL government, which regards the Union as a CONSOLIDATION of the States.” And it is asked by what authority this bold and radical innovation was undertaken? The handle which has been made of this objection requires that it should be examined with some precision.

Without inquiring into the accuracy of the distinction on which the objection is founded, it will be necessary to a just estimate of its force, first, to ascertain the real character of the government in question; secondly, to inquire how far the convention were authorized to propose such a government; and thirdly, how far the duty they owed to their country could supply any defect of regular authority.

First. In order to ascertain the real character of the government, it may be considered in relation to the foundation on which it is to be established; to the sources from which its ordinary powers are to be drawn; to the operation of those powers; to the extent of them; and to the authority by which future changes in the government are to be introduced.

On examining the first relation, it appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a NATIONAL, but a FEDERAL act.

That it will be a federal and not a national act, as these terms are understood by the objectors; the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a MAJORITY of the people of the Union, nor from that of a MAJORITY of the States. It must result from the UNANIMOUS assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority, in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the majority of the States as evidence of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Neither of these rules have been adopted. Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.

The next relation is, to the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived. The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not NATIONAL. The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many FEDERAL as NATIONAL features.

The difference between a federal and national government, as it relates to the OPERATION OF THE GOVERNMENT, is supposed to consist in this, that in the former the powers operate on the political bodies composing the Confederacy, in their political capacities; in the latter, on the individual citizens composing the nation, in their individual capacities. On trying the Constitution by this criterion, it falls under the NATIONAL, not the FEDERAL character; though perhaps not so completely as has been understood. In several cases, and particularly in the trial of controversies to which States may be parties, they must be viewed and proceeded against in their collective and political capacities only. So far the national countenance of the government on this side seems to be disfigured by a few federal features. But this blemish is perhaps unavoidable in any plan; and the operation of the government on the people, in their individual capacities, in its ordinary and most essential proceedings, may, on the whole, designate it, in this relation, a NATIONAL government.

But if the government be national with regard to the OPERATION of its powers, it changes its aspect again when we contemplate it in relation to the EXTENT of its powers. The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature. Among communities united for particular purposes, it is vested partly in the general and partly in the municipal legislatures. In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the latter, the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere. In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a NATIONAL one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects. It is true that in controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under the general government. But this does not change the principle of the case. The decision is to be impartially made, according to the rules of the Constitution; and all the usual and most effectual precautions are taken to secure this impartiality. Some such tribunal is clearly essential to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the compact; and that it ought to be established under the general rather than under the local governments, or, to speak more properly, that it could be safely established under the first alone, is a position not likely to be combated.

If we try the Constitution by its last relation to the authority by which amendments are to be made, we find it neither wholly NATIONAL nor wholly FEDERAL. Were it wholly national, the supreme and ultimate authority would reside in the MAJORITY of the people of the Union; and this authority would be competent at all times, like that of a majority of every national society, to alter or abolish its established government. Were it wholly federal, on the other hand, the concurrence of each State in the Union would be essential to every alteration that would be binding on all. The mode provided by the plan of the convention is not founded on either of these principles. In requiring more than a majority, and principles. In requiring more than a majority, and particularly in computing the proportion by STATES, not by CITIZENS, it departs from the NATIONAL and advances towards the FEDERAL character; in rendering the concurrence of less than the whole number of States sufficient, it loses again the FEDERAL and partakes of the NATIONAL character.

The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.


Howdy from Texas!  We are home, after a whirlwind trip Constituting America, up and down the east coast – the birthplace of our country. I was still Constituting America today though – in the grocery store check out line. The woman behind me had two children and I told her all about our Contest!

I want to thank our Constitutional scholar, Professor John S. Baker, for his insightful essay today and for all of you who are blogging with us. Isn’t this an amazing and insightful journey?

Federalist Paper N0. 39 is stimulating. I am, once again, intrigued by Publius’ knowledge of history. James Madison’s detailed description of other republics compared to the one they constituted in the Constitution was a treasure to read. It is powerful to ponder upon the dichotomy of the roadmap our founding fathers constructed for us, as well as how it differed from other countries who claimed to be republics.

Our Constituting founding fathers truly experienced a profound profusion of ideas and their compromise, their willingness to see the bigger picture, proved revolutionary in an intellectual and spiritual way. Their
“balance of powers” were delicate, yet firmly planted upon the bedrock of the “genius of the American people.”

Their virtue, insightfulness, valor, willingness, foresight, bravery and determination have a reach upon the American spiritual landscape like a long branch of a Live Oak tree. Sturdy and protective and evergreen was their love for the country and their roots were immersed in the waters of wisdom.

I do believe, for those of you reading this who are of faith, that we should pray for these attributes to guide our leaders, representatives and “genius of the American people” today. If you are reading this and not of faith, then a meditative thought picturing a people who rise to meet our country’s challenges with dignity and grace will be powerful. It will meet with the prayers and lift America into a realm of enlightenment.

It begins with prayers and thoughts, and resonates with action. Awareness, Acceptance, Action. We are aware of the greatness that birthed our country, has kept it thriving and holds the seeds of hope. We accept the mission put in front of us – the mission to hold our representatives accountable to the “genius of the American people” and to fight to maintain a Republican America for our children – a Republic that holds the values, the rights and the structure of free enterprise we enjoy today. We take action by spreading the word about the United States Constitution because it is the glue that holds our freedoms together.

When the President and Congressmen and women take office, they swear to uphold the United States Constitution. They swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. I marvel that it does not say preserve, protect and defend “the people.” I now know that it states, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” because it is the Constitution that protects the people.

Without the preservation of the Constitution, without the respect of the Constitution, without the awareness and utilization of the Constitution, “We the People,” lay vulnerable to the dangers of tyranny, socialism, and being stripped of our rights. Without representatives that respect our Constitution, without a people who are informed about the Constitution – we are not protected.

Spread the word.

God Bless,

Janine Turner
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010


There are still two weeks left for young people to enter the We The People 9.17 Contest!

How is the Constitution Relevant Today?

Entries due July 4th!

High School Students: We need more short film, PSA and song entries!! We are accepting essays from high school students as well.  Prizes including $2,000 per category; trip to Philadelphia; possible TV appearance!!

Middle School students: write a cool song, or an essay! Prizes include gift cards, and national exposure!

Elementary School students: draw a picture, or write a poem!  Prizes include gift cards and national exposure!

Details and exact topics for each category on this link:

Now for Federalist No. 39:

Thomas Jefferson called the Federalist Papers “the best commentary on the principles of government … ever written.”  Federalist No. 39 certainly lives up to this quote!

This paper reads like a textbook, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were a part of our childrens’ textbooks! I am betting it is not often included.

First the definition of a Republic:

“a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior,”

Next, a careful analysis of the national vs. federal qualities of the components that make up the “real character of the government”:

(1)” the foundation on which it is to be established” – (ratification is a federal act)

(2) “the sources from which its ordinary powers are to be drawn” – the sources of power are national (U.S. House); federal (U.S. Senate); and a combination of national and federal (Executive Branch/Election of the President).

(3) “the operation of those powers” (national)

(4) “to the extent of them” (federal)

(5)  “the authority by which future changes in the government are to be introduced” (neither “wholly national nor wholly federal”)

Federalist 39 makes clear the depth and breadth of the system of checks and balances the founders so carefully constructed.  The three branches of government, and the enumerated powers of the national government are some of the more obvious checks and balances of our Republic. But the fact that the elements which make up the character of our government (foundation; sources, operation and extent of power; and authority by which changes are made) are so well balanced between federal and national qualities is amazing!  It is like cutting into a beautifully decorated cake, and finding intricate designs within, and on the various layers.

It is the depth with which these checks and balances are etched into the structure of our government that gives me hope that our Constitution and our Republic will survive. Though we may drift from time to time, there are systems built into the Constitution that allow “we the people” to bring our country back onto the intended path when we stray too far outside the Constitutional framework.

The Constitution is our roadmap.  We must look at it, read it, understand it, and respect it.  It must stay in our national consciousness.  How else will we know when we have taken a wrong turn?

Our liberty hangs in a delicate balance.  When the balance is disrupted, we lose our freedom!

Thank you to all of you who are blogging and adding to the debate, and our collective understanding! And a big thank you to Professor Baker for your enlightening essay!

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy GillespieMonday, June 21st, 2010


Guest Essayist: John S. Baker, Jr., the Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law at Louisiana State University

Federalist 39 answers attacks that the proposed Constitution is not “republican” and not “federal.”  In his response, Publius effectively redefines both terms.

Claiming the proposed government is not “strictly republican” is a serious charge.  Publius recognizes this, saying “no other form would be reconcileable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution; or the honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

The term “republican” ( Latin “res publica,” or “public thing”) had an uncertain meaning.  Common to its various understandings would have been an opposition to an hereditary monarchy and aristocracy. Republicanism referred to self-government, but proponents and opponents of the new Constitution had very different ideas about what that meant.

On the one hand, Publius acknowledged that “If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.” On the other hand, the vision of republicanism offered by The Federalist was quite different from that of the opponents.

Those opposing the Constitution, the Anti-federalists, generally believed that a republic could exist only within a small territory where citizens were able to know one another, live a communal life, and directly govern themselves. Their reading of the French political writer Montesquieu and the example of the ancient republics convinced them that liberty was possible only in such republics.  Thus, the Anti-federalists argued that the government to be created by the Constitution would deprive the people of their liberty.

Publius had already argued in Federalist 9 that “the petty republics of Greece and Italy” leave one “feeling sensations of horror and disgust” because “they were perpetually vibrating between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” He also observed that opponents to the Constitution apparently were unaware that the states were already larger than the republics discussed by Montesquieu and that he praised the benefits of a larger “confederate republic.”  Indeed, The Federalist contributes to political theory the idea that liberty is better protected in a large republic, as fully explained in Federalist 10.

Federalist 39 asks “What then are the distinctive characters of the republican form?”  Publius finds that political writers have wrongly applied the term to states that do not deserve to be called republics. Consulting principles of government, Publius says “we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which…”  (emphasis added). In other words, he is giving his own definition of the term republic, one which corresponds to principles embodied in the new Constitution.  Thus, Publius says a republic may be defined as “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure [presidential appointees], for a limited period [members of Congress and the President], or during good behavior [federal judges].”

Finally, Federalist 39 contends that the language in the Constitution explicitly prohibiting titles of nobility and guaranteeing the states will have a republican form of government proves the republicanism of the proposed government.

This large republic was also to be a (con)federal republic. But the Anti-federalists also charged that the Constitution violated the federal form.  Publius did not actually deny this particular charge. Rather, he contended that “a just estimate of [the argument’s] force” requires first ascertaining “the real character of the government.”  Before explaining that the real character is only “partly federal,” he added that the argument’s force also depended on the authority and duty of the Convention.  In the following essay, Publius will argue that the authority of the Convention, as well as its duty to the people, justified creating the form of government proposed by the Constitution.

Given the common understanding of “federal” at the time, the Constitution did violate the federal form. Prior to adoption of the Constitution, the words “federal” and ‘confederal” meant the same thing, just as “flammable” and “inflammable” currently have the same meaning. The Federalist, itself at times, used these terms interchangeably.  Clearly, however, the Constitution proposed to create something different from the existing confederacy.

Federalist 15 had identified the great vice of a confederacy as the attempt by a league of states to legislate for state governments, rather than for individuals.  The Articles of Confederation did not directly govern individuals, but the Constitution would do so – within its limited list of powers. The new government’s ability to reach individuals and the “necessary and proper clause” prompted the Anti-federalist fear that the Constitution would completely consolidate power in a national government.

Publius had to explain that the Constitution would not create a consolidated national government. Federalist 39, therefore, explained the mixture of federal and national elements among five essential aspects of the Constitution: its ratification or foundation [national], the sources of its ordinary powers [partly federal –the Senate; partly national-the House], the operation of its powers on individuals [national], the extent of the powers, i.e., limited [federal], and the method of amendment [neither wholly federal nor national].   Based on this mixture of elements, Publius  concluded: “The proposed constitution, therefore, …is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal constitution; but a composition of both.”

This “compound republic” created by the federal Constitution came to be known as “federalism.” As a result, the “federal” form became distinguished from the “confederal” form  existing under the Articles of Confederation. This new form of federalism involved a residual – rather than complete – sovereignty in the states.  Indeed, as a limited Constitution, neither the federal nor the state governments were “sovereign” in the true sense of the word as a supreme power answerable to no other power.  Rather, under the Constitution, “We the people of the United States” are the political sovereign and the Constitution is “the supreme Law of the Land.”

Some argue that the Anti-federalists correctly predicted the consolidation of power in the national government.  Such an argument, however, overlooks the critical shift of power caused by the Seventeenth Amendment.  That amendment took the election of US senators from state legislatures and gave it to the voters.  As a result, the key federal, i.e. state, protection against the concentration of power was lost.  That is to say, the Seventeenth Amendment deprived the states of their direct representation in the federal government.   As long as the state legislatures elected senators, the states had the ability to pressure enough senators, even if only a minority, to prevent incursions on state power.  State legislatures no longer have that ability.

John S. Baker, Jr., the Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law at Louisiana State University, regularly lectures for The Federalist Society and teaches courses on The Federalist for the Fund for American Studies.

Monday, June 21st, 2010