Federalist No. 68

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Alexander Hamilton, author of Federalist No. 68

Federalist No. 68 (Federalist Number 68), the sixty-eighth essay of The Federalist Papers, was probably written by Alexander Hamilton and published on March 12, 1788 under the pseudonym Publius—the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published. Since all were written under this one pseudonym, we can never be certain of the authorships. Entitled "The Mode of Electing the President," it describes Hamilton's view of the process for selecting the Chief Executive of the United States of America. Hamilton sought to influence the Constitutional Convention that was drafting what would become the United States Constitution. Federalist Number 68 is the second in a series of eleven essays discussing the powers and limitations of the Executive branch.

Background[edit]

Constitutional Debates[edit]

Throughout its proceedings, the Constitutional Convention debated the method for selecting the President, trying to find a way that would be agreeable to the bodies represented at the convention.

Different plans were proposed, including:

  • The Virginia Plan: from Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph (or possibly James Madison), it called for the selection of the Executive from the National Legislature[1]
  • Elbridge Gerry: proposed selection by the state executives (governors)[2]
  • The New Jersey plan was similar to the Randolph/Virginia plan, but called instead for the possibility of a plural executive.
  • Hamilton initially supported a lifetime appointment for an executive, in addition to one branch of the legislature potentially doing the same.[3]

Federalist 68 Outlined[edit]

Hamilton's Understanding of the Electoral College[edit]

Federalist No. 68 is the continuation of Hamilton's analysis of the Presidency, in this case concerned with the mode of selecting the United States President. He argues for our modern conception of the Electoral College, though in the case of a tie, the power would be given to the House of Representatives to vote on the election of the President.

In justifying the use of the Electoral College, Hamilton focuses on a few arguments dealing with why the college is used, as opposed to direct election. First, in explaining the role of the general populace in the election of the President, Hamilton argues that the "sense of the people", through the election of the electors to the college, should have a part of the process. The final say, however, lies with the electors, who Hamilton notes are

"Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice."

Therefore, the direct election of the President is left up to those who have been selected by the voters to become the electors. The indirect election is justified by Hamilton because while a republic is still served, the system allows for only a certain type of person to be elected President, preventing individuals who are unfit for a variety of reasons to be in the position of chief executive of the country.

This is reflected in his later fears about the types of people who could potentially become President. He worries that corrupted individuals could potentially be elected president, particularly those who are either more directly associated with a foreign state, or individuals who do not have the capacity to run the country. The former is covered by Article II, Section 1, v of the United States Constitution, while the latter is covered by Hamilton in Federalist 68, noting that the person who will become President will have to be a person who contains the faculties necessary to become President, stating that,

"Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States"

Hamilton, while discussing the safeguards, is not concerned with the possibility of an unfit individual becoming President, instead noting,

It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

Rules on the Electors[edit]

Hamilton references specific rules for the electors, which include:

  • The electors meet only within their own specific states to select the President.
  • No individuals who have "too great devotion of the President in office"
  • No individuals who currently hold elected positions within the government may serve as electors.

All of these are justified by Hamilton as devices to keep the people involved within the process, through removing different obstacles to the final goal of an uncorrupted electorate.

Selection of the Vice-President[edit]

Hamilton notes that the selection of the Vice President should follow the same form as that of the President, through selection by the Electoral College, though the Senate is to deal with the voting in the case of an electoral tie. Hamilton also answers criticism that the Senate should have been given the power to select the Vice President instead of the Electoral College. Hamilton notes that there are two major arguments against that point. First, that the Vice President's power as President of the Senate would mean that the tiebreaker of the Senate would be beholden to the Senate for its power, and therefore would be unable to make the necessary decisions as a tiebreaker without fear of removal or reprisal. Second, the possibility of the Vice President becoming President means that this individual should be elected by the people and the college, because all of the powers vested in the President must be assumed could fall into the hands of the Vice President.

Works Referenced in Federalist 68[edit]

[4]

  • The most plausible of these, who appear in print references the work of the Federal Farmer (likely Richard Henry Lee). On the electoral college, the Federal Farmer accepts the concept of the electoral college, finding that The election of this officer (the vice president), as well as of the President of the United States seems to be properly secured.[5]
  • The passage For forms of government let fools contest, That which is best administered is best, is a paraphrase of Alexander Pope's An Essay On Man, which Hamilton uses to talk about the Presidential selection process as a model for producing good administration. In Pope, That which is replaced by Whatever.

Reactions to Federalist No. 68[edit]

The Anti-Federalist Papers[edit]

In Anti Federalist Papers 72, the anonymous Republicus argues that the issues with the electoral college deal with the ability of electors, rather than the people, to elect the President. In his eyes, it removes the ability of the people to select their leader and instead delegates that right to a smaller amount of individuals.

Republicus further speculates if is it not probable, at least possible, that the president who is to be vested with all this demiomnipotence — who is not chosen by the community; and who consequently, as to them, is irresponsible and independent-that he, I say, by a few artful and dependent emissaries in Congress, may not only perpetuate his own personal administration, but also make it hereditary?[6] Republicus's fears are of a hypothetical stronger executive whom he compared to Britain's George III.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Madison. June 13, 1787. p. 115 in Ohio U. Press edition
  2. ^ Madison. June 9, 1787. p. 93
  3. ^ Madison. June 18, 1787. p. 136
  4. ^ The following works referenced came from Charles Kesler's notes in Rossiter, Clinton ed. The Federalist Papers. Signet Classic. 2003. p. 622-623.
  5. ^ Storing (2.8.29)
  6. ^ from Anti-Federalist 72

References[edit]

  • Madison, James. Notes in the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. (version used is from Ohio University Press. Athens, OH. 1961.)
  • Rossiter, Clinton ed. The Federalist Papers. Signet Classic. 2003.
  • Storing, Herbert J ed., with Murray Dry. The Complete Anti-Federalist. University of Chicago Press. 1981.

External links[edit]