Federalist 45: A Retrospective

Hey, Mr Madison, what went wrong? The co-author of the famous Federalist Papers, James Madison, was also the Founding Father who was the Secretary of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and who is often referred to as “the architect” of the United States Constitution. In Federalist Paper #45, he tells us that the federal government will be small relative to the governments of the States:

The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States. There will consequently be less of personal influence on the side of the former than of the latter. The members of the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments of thirteen and more States, the justices of peace, officers of militia, ministerial officers of justice, with all the county, corporation, and town officers, for three millions and more of people, intermixed, and having particular acquaintance with every class and circle of people, must exceed, beyond all proportion, both in number and influence, those of every description who will be employed in the administration of the federal system.

In addition, Mr Madison also tells us that the powers of the federal government will be “few and defined” compared to the residual powers of the States:

The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government.

Ironically, Mr Madison was wrong on both counts. At last count, there are now about two million federal employees, and today there are no real limits on the power of Congress to regulate the economy. (By comparison, here is a compilation of the total number of State employees.) So, why was Madison so wrong! (While you consider this question, below is a poorly-edited but entertaining audio montage of every James Madison intervention in the hit musical Hamilton.)

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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