Federalist No. 47

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James Madison, author of Federalist No. 47

Federalist No. 47 is the forty-seventh paper from The Federalist Papers. It was published on 30 January 1788 under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published. James Madison was its actual author. This paper examines the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government under the proposed United States Constitution. It is titled "The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts."


Like the other Federalist Papers, No. 47 advocated the ratification of the United States Constitution. In No. 47, Madison believed the U.S Constitution balanced the government well with the separation of powers among the executive, judiciary, and legislature. Madison acknowledged that the three branches intertwined but asserted that the blending did not violate the principle of separation of powers. To support his argument, Madison referred to the writings of Montesquieu. Madison attributes the widespread support of a separation of powers to Montesquieu. According to Montesquieu, tyranny results when one branch of government simultaneously holds the powers of another branch. However, Madison argues that Montesquieu "did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over, the acts of each other."[1]

Madison's interpretation of Montesquieu supported a system of checks and balances quite similar to checks and balances the former thirteen colonies had created in their state constitutions. Madison tried to enlist the support of the young states by analyzing their individual constitutions. He finds that "there is not a single instance in which the several departments of power have been kept absolutely separate and distinct."[2] For example, the New Hampshire Constitution allowed its senate to serve as a judicial tribunal for impeachments. The United States Constitution similarly granted the powers of impeachment to the legislature. Madison said that if the states did not think their constitutions violated the separation of powers, the new national Constitution did not violate the separation of powers either.

Although each branch has its distinctive powers, it cannot stand alone without the check and balance system of the other two branches. Madison viewed the separation of power as essential because without it only one power would rule the country, which could easily lead to abusive ruling.


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