What is the summary of Federalist Paper 51?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Federalist Paper No. 51 is titled "The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments." It was written by James Madison , which is appropriate as Madison was responsible for the design of much of the federal government. This treatise lays out three...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Federalist Paper No. 51 is titled "The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments." It was written by James Madison, which is appropriate as Madison was responsible for the design of much of the federal government. This treatise lays out three essential elements of the US Constitution: Federalism, the Separation of Powers and the System of Checks and Balances. This paper explains that these features are safeguards against the accumulation of power in too few hands. Naturally, writing for an audience of Americans who were leery of tyranny after breaking away from the British Empire, Madison sought to assuage fears at the creation of a central government stronger than the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.

"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." This quote refers to the safeguards of federalism and the separation of powers. Federalism is, in effect, the dual nature of the government in the United States with state governments regulating affairs within their own borders and a federal government acting on behalf of the whole nation. The Separation of Powers refers to the organization of the Federal Government into three separate, coequal branches with unique roles.

The legislative branch drafts, debates and passes laws. It is the largest and was designed to be the most powerful branch. For this reason it also the most diffuse branch of government with two separate houses of Congress elected by different means and forced to act in concert. Congress has some of the most important powers such as control of taxation and allocation of funds as well as the power to declare war and conclude peace. The executive branch overseas the enforcement of laws, commands the armed forces and, in the form of the President, acts as head of state. The judicial branch refers to the system of courts meant to decide controversies in terms of how laws should be interpreted.

The System of Checks and Balances refers to the arrangement by which each branch of government has power over the other two (and in turn is constrained by the other two. The President, for example, has the power to veto laws passed be Congress as well as the power to appoint judges to the federal courts and to pardon criminals. Congress has the power to override a veto with a 2/3 majority and can impeach and remove officers from both the executive and judicial branches. Supreme Court justices, while appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, serve for life. Although Madison did not formulate the system of Judicial Review, the Supreme Court has carved out for itself the power to strike down laws or acts of the President it deems to be unconstitutional.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team