Guest Essayist: James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn

Federalist 59-61 address the federal power to regulate the election of senators and representatives. The clause being defended by Hamilton reads: “The times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may, at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing senators.”

Vox Populi, in Anti-federalist 59, argued against the national congress regulating the election of senators and representatives. This was viewed as an infringement on state sovereignty and a possible tool of national tyranny.

In Federalist 59, Hamilton defended this clause by saying that every government must have the means to defend itself. The safety of the national government depended on its authority to override state rules that were harmful to the election of its own members.

In Federalist 60, Hamilton again argues against unfettered state authority over the election of members of the United States Congress. A national override of election laws is less pertinent than the arguments used by Hamilton. He defends the clause by stressing that safety from oppressive laws comes from the careful distribution of power and divergent methods of selecting each component of the national government.

He says, “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 electors.”

One is struck by the recurrence of the checks and balances theme—in Madison’s convention notes, the Constitution itself, the Federalist Papers, and the minutes of the ratification conventions. There can be no doubt that the Founders believed that liberty depended on one part of the government acting as an effective check on all other parts of the government, and that meant between the national branches and between the states and the national government. The Founders abhorred concentrated power. They believed that only through judiciously balanced power—constituted by dissimilar modes—could liberty survive the natural tendency of man to dictate the habits of other men.

Hamilton made another interesting argument. If elected officials violated the Constitution to usurp power, “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 overthrow their tyrants, and to substitute men who would be disposed to avenge the violated majesty of the people?”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

James D. Best is an author who writes historical novels and contemporary novels with a strong historical theme. Tempest at Dawn is a dramatization of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.


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