Why Does The Constitution Have Checks And Balances? - Federalist #48

Why Does The Constitution Have Checks And Balances? - Federalist #48

In Federalist #48 James Madison discusses how power is allotted between branches of the US government.

Following up on his overview of Separation of Powers, he reviews why a bit of overlap between departments is necessary and alludes to how checks and balances will help resist tyranny.


Federalist #48

February 1, 1788

James Madison

In Federalist #48 James Madison continues his discussion from previous Papers regarding the powers granted to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United State Government in the Constitution. 

After discussing the idea of Separation of Powers in Paper #47, Madison reminds us that the responsibilities of each branch cannot remain too separate or it might leave the nation susceptible to tyranny.

In this Federalist, James discusses the importance of another republican value...checks and balances.


Checks and Balances

According to Madison, all three branches of the government has the opportunity to take over the country if left to its own devices.

That is why, while the powers were separated, each branch has some form of control over the others.

Therefore, we were given a certain amount of checks and balances.


Fearing the Legislature

Surprisingly, Madison claims that the part of the Government under the Constitution which has the most opportunity to turn despotic is the legislature.

Traditionally, with the executive and judicial branches held in the hands of a monarch, those were the expected places to take over a nation.

But, according to Madison, the Congress would have the easiest time transitioning to tyranny. 


Referencing Jefferson

Madison defends the Constitution’s ability to limit the possibility of the dictatorship, from any branch.

Interestingly, he quotes his old friend Thomas Jefferson and parts of his writings from the Notes on the State of Virginia.

This is fascinating as Jefferson was still in France, having missed the Constitutional Convention and learning of the new Government while in a foreign land.

Additionally, Jefferson’s rivalry with Alexander Hamilton would not begin until a year later when they both found themselves in the Washington Administration.


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