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The Federalist No. 51

What Stops One Branch of Government From Becoming Too Powerful?

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What Keeps One Branch of Government From Becoming Too Powerful?
Federalist No. 51
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We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other -- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.

These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.

It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified. An absolute negative on the legislature appears, at first view, to be the natural defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed. But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe nor alone sufficient.

On ordinary occasions it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness, and on extraordinary occasions it might be perfidiously abused. May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the latter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department?

If the principles on which these observations are founded be just, as I persuade myself they are, and they be applied as a criterion to the several State constitutions, and to the federal Constitution it will be found that if the latter does not perfectly correspond with them, the former are infinitely less able to bear such a test.

There are, moreover, two considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America, which place that system in a very interesting point of view.

In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments.

Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens.

If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties.

The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.

It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government.

This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: Justice is the end of government.

It is the end of civil society. Madison February 6, The conclusion from the last few papers is that the only means of maintaining in practice the partitioning of powers among the branches is through means built-in to the structure of government. This paper provides a few general observations intended to inform as to the reasons the government is formed as it is in the Constitution.

But this cannot apply to the judiciary because judges must be chosen for their qualifications and they will be chosen for a permanent tenure, thus they should be chosen by the mode that selects the best candidates.

The permanence of their tenure insures that there will be no long term dependence on the authority selecting them. The next thought in the paper deals with human nature and how the ambitions of men in the departments of government coupled with constitutional means will be the greatest security against the loss of respective powers.

But the interest of men must also be for constitutional rights for government is administered by men. If men were angels, no government would be necessary and no internal controls required. He concludes these thoughts by observing that if the federal government does not adhere to the principles of separation of powers then the State governments will certainly fail to do so. The rest of the paper is off this subject but returns to the subject introduced in Federalist No 10 of how a republic protects the rights of the people and minority factions.


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The Federalist No. 51 The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments Independent Journal.

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Federalist No. 51, titled: "The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments", is an essay by James Madison, the fifty-first of The Federalist khangtran.cf published: 08 Feb,

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The Federalist Papers study guide contains a biography of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full. > Federalist Papers > Federalist No. 51 Print This Page. Core Document Federalist No. Publius (James Madison) February 6, Full Document; Summary; The checks and balances between the branches built into the proposed Constitution, he explained in Federalist 51, are therefore essential to keep those powers properly separated among.

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The Federalist No. 10 | The Federalist No. The Federalist Paper No. 10 The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection. The Federalist Papers Summary No Madison February 6, The conclusion from the last few papers is that the only means of maintaining in practice the partitioning of powers among the branches is through means built-in to the structure of government.