Federalist 52: Defending the People’s Chamber

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What is Federalist 52 about? How does it discuss and defend the powers of the House of Representatives?

Federalist 52 is about the structure of the House. It defends the requirements for Members as appropriate for the functions of the People’s Chamber.

Read more about Federalist 52 and how the qualifications are suitable for the powers of the House of Representatives.

Eligibility According to Federalist 52

Now, let’s turn to the specific branches of government and their components to get a fuller picture of how the system of checks and balances was designed to function. The House of Representatives is the lower house of the national legislature, with members apportioned within each state by population—the higher the state’s population, the more representatives it has.

There are few eligibility requirements for election to the House, described in Federalist 52. A member merely needs to:

  • Be age 25 or older
  • Be a resident of the state they represent
  • Have been a citizen for at least seven years prior to their election
  • Hold no other office during their tenure in the chamber

Beyond these requirements, anyone is eligible to run and serve (although the powers of the House of Representatives includes the right to expel members by a two-thirds vote). 

Because membership was to be determined by population, the larger states would naturally hold sway in the House. That power of the House of Representatives would be checked, however, by the Senate, where the smaller states would dominate. This balance was important according to Federalist 52. The House would tend to have the upper hand, however, because the Constitution mandated that all revenue bills originate from the lower chamber. This gave the House the decisive power of the purse.

Although candidacy for election to the House was open to almost anyone, being a US Representative was still an important public position that ought to be taken seriously. Given the diversity of laws throughout the Union, members of the House needed to be well-acquainted with the laws not only of their own states, but with those of all the other states as well according to Federalist 52. After all, they would be drafting and voting on legislation that would affect the whole Union—and should therefore understand how a piece of legislation might have disparate impacts on the different states.

Representatives should also be versed in foreign affairs and diplomacy. Although the House was not the chamber that would vote on treaties or confirm ambassadors (those functions belonged to the Senate, which we’ll explore later in the chapter), they might nevertheless have to consider passing domestic legislation that resulted from the United States’ relations with other countries.

The People’s Chamber

The House was to be directly elected by the voters of the state, with voters meeting the same eligibility requirements that they did for state legislative elections. It also represented the people, not the states. Federalist 52 points to this as an important feature. Thus, the House was the body of government most directly connected to the sentiments of the people.

Members were to be elected every two years, a shorter term than other federal offices:

  • The president’s term was for four years
  • Senators were to serve for six years
  • Federal judges (including justices of the Supreme Court) would serve for life, provided they maintained good behavior on the bench

By having to run for reelection every two years, members of the House would maintain closer relations with the people they represented. Voters would have frequent opportunity to replace those representatives who failed to acquit themselves well or who had proven themselves to be threats to liberty.

Moreover, the regular, frequent, and fixed time of election would make it difficult for any single faction to gain a foothold in the House for any considerable period of time. Every two years, the entire membership of the lower house could be replaced. Representatives, understanding these political realities, would behave accordingly.

Historical experience had shown that there was no danger in having such a short term of office. In the various state legislatures, members of the lower houses served terms that ranged from between six months to seven years. All of these governments had been broadly successful at maintaining republican liberties. Two-year terms were therefore perfectly compatible with longstanding norms of American governance.

Federalist 52: Defending the People’s Chamber

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