Background to the Constitution
After spending the entire summer behind closed doors in secrecy dealing with several difficult issues, on September 17, 1787, the new Constitution of the United States was completed. Thirty-nine delegates present at the end of the convention signed the Constitution. Three delegates – Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and George Mason of Virginia—refused to sign it. The new Constitution was then sent to the states for ratification.
In the second part of No. 39, Madison examines the “compound republic” created by the Constitution which is what we today call federalism. The Constitution, he points out, has both “national” and “federal” characteristics. The national government will have authority over individuals as national citizens, but in several ways, the new government will be federal in form. For example, he says, federalism is reflected in the method of ratification of the new Constitution where delegates to the state ratifying conventions will vote as citizens of their respective states. The federal form is also reflected, he notes, in the structure of the U. S. Senate where the states will be equally represented by senators chosen by their state legislature. Finally, Madison concludes, the fact that the individual states retain certain important powers is proof of the “federal” nature of the Constitution.
Madison also discusses the way republican government can serve as a check on the power of factions, and the tyranny of the majority. “[I]n the federal republic of the United States… 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.” All of the Constitution’s checks and balances, Madison concludes, serve to preserve liberty by ensuring justice, and “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.”
Though some delegates had called for an executive council, Hamilton defended a single executive as “far more safe” because “wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common…pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion…bitter dissensions are apt to spring. Whenever these happen, they lessen the respectability, weaken the authority.” Hamilton also argued that a single executive would be watched “more narrowly” and vigilantly by the people than a group of people would be.
Brutus was wary of giving the national government too much power. He wrote, “Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.”
Brutus had several specific objections to the proposed new Constitution. He believed it would infringe on the peoples’ liberty and argued that a bill of rights was needed. He thought the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8 gave Congress too much power. He also believed that giving the Supreme Court the power to interpret the Constitution would lead to even greater power for Congress and would infringe upon the powers of the states.