Federalist No. 39

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James Madison, author of Federalist No. 39

Federalist No. 39 is an essay by James Madison. It is the thirty-ninth of the Federalist Papers, entitled "The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles." Like all the Federalist Papers, it was published under the pseudonym Publius. It was published on January 18, 1788.

In No. 39, Madison attempts to describe the nature of the United States government as proposed by the Constitution. Rather than a strictly national or federal constitution, Publius argues, the government will be a hybrid of both. Initially, he states that past as well as contemporary history provides no examples of a true republic, despite the history of the Roman Republic among others, and that the republicanism in itself which is being attempted by America in the proposed constitution is a totally new idea. Then he begins by redefining the term "republic," stating three principles that must be present for a true republic to exist:

  1. The power to govern must be derived from the consent of the people.
  2. Representatives elected from the people are the administrators of the government.
  3. The terms of service of the Representatives must be limited by time, good behavior, or as long as the favor of the people is maintained (as would be the case in impeachment).

The consent of the people can be given either directly, as when citizens vote directly for members of the House of Representatives, or indirectly, as when the state legislatures elect U.S. Senators. During the time of the founding, Senators were not directly elected by the people, though this was changed in 1913 by the Seventeenth Amendment.

Publius goes on to describe several aspects of the proposed government. He uses examples such as how the various branches derive their power, the operation and extent of the government, the authority from whence constitutional amendments are made, and the ratifying of the constitution itself to show that the new government will be national in some aspects and federal in others, with a balance as the result. In the end, Publius is arguing for a democratic republic in which the principles are republican but the legitimacy is democratic.