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FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Federalist #61
A Publius/Billthedrill Essay | 11 November 2010 | Publius & Billthedrill

Posted on 11/11/2010 8:12:38 AM PST by Publius

Hamilton Addresses the Timing of Elections

Should federal election be held at the same time for all states? Is there merit in leaving this to the customs of each state? Hamilton lays out the argument for uniformity.

Federalist #61

The Regulation of Elections (Part 3 of 3)

Alexander Hamilton, 26 February 1788

1 To the People of the State of New York:


2 The more candid [opponents] 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.

3 This, say they, was a necessary precaution against an abuse of the power.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.


7 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.

8 A review of their situation in this particular would tend greatly to remove any ill impressions which may remain in regard to this matter.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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?

13 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?

14 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.

15 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.

16 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.

17 A similar comparison would lead to the same conclusion in respect to the constitutions of most of the other states.


18 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 caviling refinements of a predetermined opposition than the well founded inferences of a candid research after truth.

19 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?

20 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 200,000 people who are destitute of that advantage.

21 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.


22 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.

23 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.

24 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.

25 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.

26 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.

27 The consequence of this diversity would be that there could never happen a total dissolution or renovation of the body at one time.

28 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.

29 The mass would be likely to remain nearly the same, assimilating constantly to itself its gradual accretions.

30 There is a contagion in example which few men have sufficient force of mind to resist.

31 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.


32 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.


33 It may be asked: Why, then, could not a time have been fixed in the Constitution?

34 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?

35 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.

36 The same answer may be given to the question put on the other side.

37 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.

Hamilton’s Critique

Hamilton offers a coda to his previous pair of essays defending the provision in Article I that empowers the federal government to declare the places and times of elections. It is a short piece and reminds the reader that the strictures of the newspapers of the day occasionally resulted in rather abrupt breaks in both the logical and rhetorical flow of the unified essays.

A minor point to be cleaned up was the suggestion by certain critics that at least the federal government should declare that the polls reside in counties in which the electors reside. Harmless but useless, says Hamilton (4, 5). It is the only remaining objection on the topic he cares directly to address. The entire thing is overblown, in his opinion, and is not likely to become a threat to liberty, at least not from the federal government.

6if 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.

He reasons that it has not heretofore constituted a threat from the state governments, who possess a similar power in some states and identical in others. As an example he offers his own state of New York, where the legislature could indeed have effected such a manipulation but has not, Hamilton’s conclusion being that inasmuch as it has not found it desirable to sway the election in that state to a “particular class of electors”, that it would be less likely even that the Federal Legislature should desire to do so (21).

The tactic itself would likely have worked, at least as far as limiting the desire of the voters to participate, he states with what appears to be a touch of irritation at the “alarming indifference” of the voter to the exercise of his right and the defense of his liberty (14). Hamilton’s argument is that the tactic doesn’t scale up from state to federal, from twenty to twenty thousand miles, because it is already sufficiently effective at twenty (15). This is, as well, the timeless lament of a person obsessed with politics that others might not share his obsession. It is a regular feature of the commentary of the modern political classes of all parties and persuasions.

Nevertheless, his point is simply that because the states have not found it advantageous to manipulate elections in this manner, neither would the federal government, a point validated in the inverse by the historical fact that the states would be the first to gerrymander, and later and to a lesser degree, the federal government, this to a degree cautiously held under the threshold of open voter revolt. Redistricting by population is a perfectly constitutional process under Article I, Section 2. By demographics, whether by party, race, or class, it is disturbingly reminiscent of the tactic against which Brutus has warned, intended to favor any of the social classes Hamilton has identified in the course of the previous two essays. That it is an established fact of American political life shows how far both state and federal governments have felt it safe to bend the rules.

Hamilton shifts his focus from a defense against criticism to the positive effect of the provision in question (22). It is uniformity over diversity, with the result that the turnover of the House will be simultaneous across the states, ensuring that the voter has a direct control undiluted by the gradual infusion of new members into an established body that would result from different election dates. It is a guard against any “improper spirit” (28) being able to take root and proliferate itself through the pressures of the group (30). It is also effective for electoral discipline of the Senate (32) and, last of all, it allows the Federal Legislature to meet on regular dates without the interruption of electoral contests for its members.

With this flourish Hamilton concludes the three essays. Brutus has succeeded in focusing the discussion on the possibility of abuse by the federal government of a power the state governments have not, retorts Hamilton, found it feasible to abuse. The history of two centuries has rendered a partial verdict in favor of each man: to Hamilton, the point that the literal activity proposed by Brutus has not been essayed; to Brutus, the point that something akin to it has been carefully and partially advanced by both state and federal governments.

It is a fascinating exchange of blows by two men who knew one another well, assuming that Brutus was, as most historians have concluded, Robert Yates. Both men were nominated to the Convention at which this point was debated, both aware of the arguments of the other, and both willing to display the points of debate before an electorate that was soon to render a judgment on the Constitution that resulted.

Discussion Topic

That gerrymandering is an abuse of the legitimate process of redistricting is beyond question. Is it the abuse predicted by Brutus or something different? Is redistricting on the basis of anything other than raw population count unconstitutional? Does the state retain a right to do that which might be denied to the federal government under the Constitution in this area?

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Free Republic
KEYWORDS: federalistpapers; freeperbookclub

1 posted on 11/11/2010 8:12:46 AM PST by Publius
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To: 14themunny; 21stCenturion; 300magnum; A Strict Constructionist; abigail2; AdvisorB; Aggie Mama; ...
Ping! The thread has been posted.

Earlier threads:

FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
5 Oct 1787, Centinel #1
6 Oct 1787, James Wilson’s Speech at the State House
8 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #1
9 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #2
18 Oct 1787, Brutus #1
22 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #1
27 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #2
27 Oct 1787, Federalist #1
31 Oct 1787, Federalist #2
3 Nov 1787, Federalist #3
5 Nov 1787, John DeWitt #3
7 Nov 1787, Federalist #4
10 Nov 1787, Federalist #5
14 Nov 1787, Federalist #6
15 Nov 1787, Federalist #7
20 Nov 1787, Federalist #8
21 Nov 1787, Federalist #9
23 Nov 1787, Federalist #10
24 Nov 1787, Federalist #11
27 Nov 1787, Federalist #12
27 Nov 1787, Cato #5
28 Nov 1787, Federalist #13
29 Nov 1787, Brutus #4
30 Nov 1787, Federalist #14
1 Dec 1787, Federalist #15
4 Dec 1787, Federalist #16
5 Dec 1787, Federalist #17
7 Dec 1787, Federalist #18
8 Dec 1787, Federalist #19
11 Dec 1787, Federalist #20
12 Dec 1787, Federalist #21
14 Dec 1787, Federalist #22
18 Dec 1787, Federalist #23
18 Dec 1787, Address of the Pennsylvania Minority
19 Dec 1787, Federalist #24
21 Dec 1787, Federalist #25
22 Dec 1787, Federalist #26
25 Dec 1787, Federalist #27
26 Dec 1787, Federalist #28
27 Dec 1787, Brutus #6
28 Dec 1787, Federalist #30
1 Jan 1788, Federalist #31
3 Jan 1788, Federalist #32
3 Jan 1788, Federalist #33
3 Jan 1788, Cato #7
4 Jan 1788, Federalist #34
5 Jan 1788, Federalist #35
8 Jan 1788, Federalist #36
10 Jan 1788, Federalist #29
11 Jan 1788, Federalist #37
15 Jan 1788, Federalist #38
16 Jan 1788, Federalist #39
18 Jan 1788, Federalist #40
19 Jan 1788, Federalist #41
22 Jan 1788, Federalist #42
23 Jan 1788, Federalist #43
24 Jan 1788, Brutus #10
25 Jan 1788, Federalist #44
26 Jan 1788, Federalist #45
29 Jan 1788, Federalist #46
31 Jan 1788, Brutus #11
1 Feb 1788, Federalist #47
1 Feb 1788, Federalist #48
5 Feb 1788, Federalist #49
5 Feb 1788, Federalist #50
7 Feb 1788, Brutus #12, Part 1
8 Feb 1788, Federalist #51
8 Feb 1788, Federalist #52
12 Feb 1788, Federalist #53
12 Feb 1788, Federalist #54
14 Feb 1788, Brutus #12, Part 2
15 Feb 1788, Federalist #55
19 Feb 1788, Federalist #56
19 Feb 1788, Federalist #57
20 Feb 1788, Federalist #58
22 Feb 1788, Federalist #59
26 Feb 1788, Federalist #60

2 posted on 11/11/2010 8:15:19 AM PST by Publius (The government only knows how to turn gold into lead.)
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To: Publius

Do you have a ping list? Would this qualify?

Recommended Reading: VS Naipaul on Muslim Takeovers of Countries.

Two have to read books about the Muslim takeover of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia.

The first book “Among the Believers” is about the takeover in the seventies.

The second book “Beyond Belief” looks at the takeover 20 years later when he returns to the countries and continues his interviews.

If heed is not taken, it will be the story of the future of the west as Muslims use the same tactics today in Euroope and the United States.

Worth the read.

3 posted on 11/11/2010 2:36:41 PM PST by Chickensoup
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