Blogging the Federalist Papers – #47 (Madison)

By , January 19, 2011 10:18 am

I’m reading the Federalist Papers for a class I’m teaching. I won’t write about them in chronological order because I’m teaching them as they relate to what we’re studying at the time. For example, this week we’re studying the three branches of government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Thus, we’ve read Numbers 47, 48, 70, and 78.

In #47, Madison discusses the separation of powers and spends much of his time addressing his opponents’s argument that, he writes, the proposed Constitution violates

the political maxim, that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it
is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in
favor of liberty.

Madison acknowledges the truth upon which “the objection is founded,” but argues, of course, that the charge is ill founded and wrong, appealing first to Montesquieu, then to the constitutions of each of the 13 colonies to prove his point. He ends by writing,

I am fully aware that among the many excellent principles which they exemplify, they carry strong marks of the haste, and still stronger of the inexperience, under which they were framed. It is but too obvious that in some instances the fundamental principle under consideration has been violated by too great a mixture, and even an actual consolidation, of the different powers; and that in no instance has a competent provision been made for maintaining in practice the separation delineated on paper. (emphasis supplied)

In #48, Madison says he will show why the same doesn’t apply to the document he helped create.

Key quote from #47: “where the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.”

One Response to “Blogging the Federalist Papers – #47 (Madison)”

  1. […] my undergraduate class, American Government and Society. At the time, I had assigned #’s 10, 47, 48, 51, 70, and 78. In the rush of the time, I was only able to blog on #47. Things have settled […]

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