Why Branches of Government Cannot Call for a Constitutional Convention - Federalist #49

Why Branches of Government Cannot Call for a Constitutional Convention - Federalist #49

In Federalist #49 James Madison analyses the chance that two branches of the Government might unite against the third to take control of the Republic.

Federalist #49

February 5, 1788

James Madison

In Federalist #49 James Madison discusses the possibility of two branches of the Federal Government uniting to overtake the third and suppress the people. 

Although this might sound crazy to our modern sensibilities, it was a true fear in the 18th century. 

Madison reveals that the Constitution, in his estimation, is fully prepared to eliminate the chance of this happening.


Disagreeing with Jefferson

Madison begins by once again referencing Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.

Madison is obviously a fan of the work, but takes exception with one particular part...that two branches of government should have the ability to call for a constitutional convention.

He fears that an idea like this might lead to two branches overthrowing the third for simple reasons.

As governments are in their nature constantly in a state of turmoil, this would be taken advantage of frequently.


No Provision is Better

Instead, Madison is satisfied that there is no provision for constitutional conventions in the new government.

Since the Legislative Branch is the largest, the Executive and Judicial would have to gain the support of the people to take overpower the government.

However, popular support, according to Madison, would be nearly impossible for the Executive and Judicial to gain. This is because they are less well known and more distant from the citizens.

The Legislative, he believed, also could not take control of the government as they were responsible directly to the people. Therefore, they could easily be removed from office.

Having a provision which could lead to a constitutional convention could more easily be abused than a system with no provision at all.


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There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of biographies about James Madison.

Personally, I love everything Richard Brookhiser rights, so if you wanted to learn more about the 4th President I highly recommend his book.

If you’d like a copy you can get it through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

James Madison
By Richard Brookhiser

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