Federalist 51

The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments

by James Madison

(The full text of Federalist #51)

In this essay, Madison lays out how in order to preserve Liberty – the ability to choose – by establishing that each branch of government should be as independent from the members in other branches as possible. The intent is that elected representatives derive their power only from the people. The Judiciary being somewhat vulnerable in this independence as the average citizen is not aware of those qualities required by responsibility to the study of the law, so members of the Senate may be called upon to provide a list of potential judges. However, a judge’s lifetime appointment should overcome personal or group loyalty.

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigorously adhered to, it would require that all the appointments for the supreme executive, legislative, and judiciary magistracies should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels having no communication whatever with one another. Perhaps such a plan of constructing the several departments would be less difficult in practice than it may in contemplation appear. Some difficulties, however, and some additional expense would attend the execution of it. Some deviations, therefore, from the principle must be admitted. In the constitution of the judiciary department in particular, it might be inexpedient to insist rigorously on the principle: first, because peculiar qualifications being essential in the members, the primary consideration ought to be to select that mode of choice which best secures these qualifications; secondly, because the permanent tenure by which the appointments are held in that department, must soon destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.”

However, Madison then discusses the need to prevent  “a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.”

His method is to employ man’s inherent Human Nature and the very requirement for government.

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Using our own human nature to thwart those that would deprive us of our liberty is readily practiced in business as it is always a prevalent concern of man to tell others – “You aren’t the boss of me.” However, our culture has been inculcated with the Post Modernism lie that there is no such thing as Human Nature as Man is nothing more than “molecules in motion” needing only a central planner to decide how/where/ and what we are to do. Or Post Modernism  ascribes to Rouseau’s principle that only by going against the constraints of Human Nature or traditional thought can Man be free. These ideas are patently false, but readily accepted by the majority pop culture.

Absolute Truth dictates that the only individual or force a man can control is himself. All men are endowed by their Creator with Life, Liberty – the ability to choose – and the pursuit of happiness.Therefore, in reacquainting ourselves with these First Principles, we must appreciate how radical – or getting to the root of the matter – this recognition of Human Nature by our Founding Fathers truly was and how this knowledge applied directly to our pop culture will be like a chalk line snap back to reality. The distinction is that we are not talking about mere values, which in Post Modernism can be whatever you want them to be, we are discussing absolute truth.

Just thinking of absolute truth makes us all handle it more reverently. Values, like pop culture, change with the wind as quickly as yesterday’s bell bottomed striped jeans. Absolute Truth simply is. No deviation is permissible. No millennial reduction caused by slowing electrons occurs. This is the understanding of man as created by God upon which our Founding Fathers staked their sacred honor and trust. This is what we in the Tea Party Movement are about – reacquainting ourselves with these absolute truths and then staking our sacred honor and trust in re-establishing these First Principles throughout our nation.

As Madison wrote: 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.

Madison goes on to explain that there are two criteria to judge such a test for the security of the people’s liberty.

First. 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.

In other words, our State government must zealously tell the Federal Government in regards to those things withheld from the power of the federal government, “You’re not the boss of us!” Just as we tell our government in those areas in which they have no power, “You’re not the boss of me!” Those familiar with evangelical theology know that the powers of the earth may burn the body, but they have no control over your faith or relationship with God.

Second. 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.

Faction – “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” (# 10)

Two Methods of Control

a) “one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority”

b) “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.

Note: all Bible-based sects believe the inherent truth of Scripture, but differ on interpretation. Therefore, no American citizen or group should differ with the Constitution, only its interpretation. There is no freedom to undermine the Constitution, that would be defined as treason .

Justice is the sought after end of government.

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.


It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself.

It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the republican cause, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the federal principle.


  1. You do realize that the Honorable Mr. Madison nowhere in the Federalist No. 51 makes reference or allusion to a “God” or “Creator”?

    • Mr. T. Paine,

      In order to properly understand both the sublime simplicity and depth of the peculiar nation we refer to as The United States of America we must view our three founding documents – The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, and The Constitution as a unified trinity to embody the unique character of this nation.

      In declaring this nation’s independence the case is made that our founding philosophy is one that recognizes man as a created being endowed with certain unalienable rights by this Creator. The document then goes on to list certain grievances as examples of our former sovereign’s failure to acknowledge these Creator endowed rights. The Revolution was about citizens separating themselves from a Monarch/government who in their paternalism neglected to see American colonials as fellow creations of the same God that both created and would equally judge them all.

      The Federalist Papers were written to explain our new constitution and originally appeared as eagerly anticipated letters to the editor in newspapers first in New York and then throughout the colonies. Since the Constitution determines civil order, the subject of these articles is human nature. The reality of human nature is determined only by recognition of the Declaration’s assertion of man as a created being endowed by that Creator with certain unalienable rights.

      It is a dichotomy that the greatest threat to our Creator endowed rights is our own human nature. Our Founders appreciated the fact that ignoring the reality of human nature would pose the greatest threat to our own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

      Since the purpose of The Constitution is to ensure civil continuity, the Federalist Papers were written to identify our own human nature as the primary threat to creating and maintaining civil order and then explains how the Constitution provides proper recourse when elected officials over reach authority or neglect to protect their constituent’s liberty.

      Each of these documents are necessary to understanding and appreciating the republican spirit of The United States of America. One document alone does not represent the nation and we should be cautious about taking these documents out of context of the others.

      In addressing your personal skepticism, it is important to appreciate the transcendence of the concept of liberty – of free-will choice. Like your fore bearer namesake, you are endowed with the Liberty to acknowledge or reject the endowing Creator. I personally have discovered the fallacy of that argument, but will defend to the death your own liberty to choose rejection. The sublime transcendence of Liberty has determined my own course as I can conceive of only God to be capable of such a point of logic.

      I have observed in our culture an absolutist ideology that entices our own natural bent for destruction in such a way as to consider ourselves more intelligent the less time we contemplate God. As a former teacher, I know all to well that we all suffer as reluctant learners. Imagine the complacency of a culture believing itself more intelligent the less study we apply. I find this to be an apt analysis of our current pop culture that not only celebrates ignorance, but defends it as a necessary right. That this is exactly the culture predicted should a nation reject God, causes me to be renewed in my faith. Only God, Supreme Being, Transcendent and beyond our understanding while capable of being known would provide us with the opportunity to reject the very essence of a needful requirement for a life of Liberty. We reject Him at our own personal expense.

      p.s. I encourage you to read the notes for Federalist 55.

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