Study Guide

The Federalist Papers 10 and 51 Analysis

By James Madison

Advertisement - Guide continues below

  • Rhetoric


    Using logic to persuade people? We bet you never saw that coming.

    Madison's arguments lean almost entirely on a coherent, logical argument to analyze the issues it brings up. He's trying to bring you around to his reasoning on the issue.

    For example, note his use of if-then statements in this quote: 

    But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. (51.3)

    By walking through his arguments, Madison's appealing to your rational brain. Fits of passion, he might say, are part of the ills at the heart of the faction problem to begin with. When given a choice between rhyme and reason, Madison takes rhyme.

  • Structure


    Okay, the Federalist Papers were known as a series of essays, so identifying their structure is easy-peasy lemon breezy. But what about their structure makes them essays?

    Well, both Federalist Papers 10 and 51 are informative papers that make one central argument. They both have one sentence in the first paragraph that summarizes what they're going to argue in the rest of the paper—what we in the biz call a thesis statement.

    Each paragraph after that picks out one part of the argument, and explores it in closer detail. Madison in his essays compare a selection of solutions to a particular problem a government might face, and then provides evidence as to why his proposed situation would be the most effective one.

    Every paragraph builds off of the paragraph before it, and the papers conclude by restating the thesis—in this case, Madison's proposition as to how the government should be structured to address the problems it might face, while also ensuring the maximum amount of civil liberties.

    How it Breaks Down

    What's the Problem?

    This is where Madison checks out the faction problem in the United States in Federalist 10, and the need for checks and balances in Federalist 51.

    He sets the stage, defines any terms, and then explains why the United States needs his propositions like a polar bear needs ice floes. By setting up the problem at the beginning, the audience can understand that there's a need for a solution. This is a great example of an intro paragraph: it convinces the audience that there's a problem that this paper is going to swoop in and solve.

    What Are The Solutions To The Problem?

    Madison breaks down the causes and effects of faction activity, to move towards the best ways of stopping it from being a problem. By providing a series of possible solutions, then explaining why they don't work, he funnels us towards his way of thinking.

    Clever girl.

    Federalist paper 51 takes a slightly different approach, because it has to explain how each branch can balance the others, and some of the necessary loopholes regarding the judiciary. Due to necessity, he spends less time talking about hypotheticals and more time detailing his specific plan.
    These did have to fit in newspapers after all, and font can only go so small.

    Why Is My Solution The Bestest?

    He then arrives at his proposition: a Republican form of government. Cue the triumphant trumpet noise.

    He explains various advantages that a Republic has over a true democracy, linking them all back to the faction problem. He also returns to the faction problem at the end of Federalist 51, when he explains how exactly the United States benefits from a three-branch government.

    He closes both essays by celebrating that he didn't have to compromise that whole liberty thing to get a federal government that can function like a well-oiled machine…or at least function like a good government.

  • Writing Style


    James Madison is all about convincing you that this Government is the Grade A+, top-of-the-line, primo, absolutely, positively bestest.

    Both articles bring up a problem that their Government might face, goes over a series of possible solutions, then explains why his solution is the best one. He's thorough. His goal is to convince state legislatures to come around to his and his fellow Federalists' way of thinking. Let's break down one (massive) paragraph in which he does this:

    It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal. But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. (51.3)

    Hoo. That's a big paragraph.

    In the first sentence, he lays out some facts about the division of power between the branches, setting up the conditions that he's working under. Next, he points out a problem that comes out of these conditions; in this case, the danger of one branch trying to grab at too much power. Then he drops his solution to the problem, which is giving branches some powers over the others.

    Finally, he explains why his solution is necessary: because human beings aren't perfect. (Can't argue with that one.)

    See what we mean? He layers observations and analyses in a way that builds up into his argument, then makes sure we know why he picked the solution he did. It's a pretty sharp technique that brings the reader to see things the way he does.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    So these two essays are named according to which number in the series they are. Simple enough, right?

    Not so fast.

    Each essay also has a longer, more descriptive title to go along with it…because these were written in the 18th Century, when the common wisdom was "Longer Titles = More Better." (A famous 18th Century book we now know as Tristram Shandy is actually called The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman…which is just excessive.

    Let's check 'em out.

    The Federalist Paper No. 10

    The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

    The title's picking up where Hamilton's last Federalist paper, Federalist 9, left off. Of course, at the time the readers of both papers wouldn't know the difference, because they were all published under the same fake name.

    The essays were always published with a number, then a quick blurb about what they were going to be about.

    The Federalist Paper No. 51

    The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments

    Same rules apply as the last one: the titles are there for their utility, not to be catchy or snappy.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Federalist 10

    AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. (10.1)

    Dig that shouting all caps at the beginning. That's how you know he's SERIOUS.

    Right out of the gate, Madison addresses the main issue of the paper by saying that a Union is great at managing the power of faction, and also that factions are a big problem that need a lot of managing.

    Basically, it's a good thing we have a big mop, because there's a big spill on Aisle 8. When he says Union, he means a Union as opposed to a Confederacy, which the United States had been previously.

    The old model's not working, so it's time to sell it on Craigslist and pick up a new one. The paper establishes a problem, to explain why his solution will be the most effective.

    Federalist 51

    TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. (51.1)

    Ugh. Stop SHOUTING at us, James Madison. What did we ever do to you?

    Madison begins by saying the Constitution has established a balance between the powers of the three branches of government: how is it going to maintain that balance?

    We talked the talk, now we're going to at least show you how we're going to walk the walk.

    The lines demonstrate that Madison isn't just concerned with the government as of now, but takes a long view towards how the government will be able to sustain itself when other generations are at the helm. Legacy's also a big theme of the early period of the United States. An old Greek proverb sums up that sentiment nicely: "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    Federalist 10

    In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists. (10.23)

    The last paragraph is a celebration of how the United States plans to address problems that republics face with solutions that aren't tyrannical. Because tyranny is what the British excel at—oooh, burn.

    Instead of being plagued by the same problems that traditional republics have faced, as outlined by Hamilton in Federalist 9, the United States will be able to break with that history precisely because of its strong federal government. The very last sentence is a call-to-arms, urging state legislatures to support the Constitution as the best of solutions to America's ills.

    Federalist 51

    And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE. (51.9)

    There he goes with the all-caps again. Madison gets zero subtlety points for screaming FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

    But shouting aside, Federalist 51 actually ends in the same way that Federalist 10 does: by rejoicing in the fact that America is able to tweak a traditional republic for stability without losing any of its freedoms.

    The repeat of this same sentence underlines the appeal they really needed to get: they needed to assure readers that they weren't trying to undermine US freedoms. Like, really really convince them.

    The point was underlined, capitalized, then thrown into sky-high neon letters. After all, that was exactly what their opposition was accusing them of doing. By ending with the same refrain, they put extra stress on their dedication to preserving civil liberties, because they were definitely feeling the heat.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    Both essays are written in 18th Century-style English, which might make them look a bit hard to digest.

    But, armed with the kind of patience it takes to get through another old block of text (think Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice), you can totally handle it.

    They were still written for an average, non-expert audience—and they do a good job at explaining any terms they introduce. The arguments flow neatly from start to finish, and are pretty effective at breaking down issues into easy to understand chunks. If you can get through the initial dryness of the phrasing, it's a pretty straightforward read.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    "The Union," a.k.a the United States (throughout)
    Factions (throughout)
    The Constitution (10.11, 10.19, 51.1, 51.5)

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    Citation 1: Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264 (1821).
    Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997).

    Pop Culture References

    Citation 1: Lin Manuel Miranda, "Non-Stop" in Hamilton: An American Musical (New York: Atlantic Records, 2015)

  • Trivia

    There were initially only supposed to be 25 Federalist Papers, but John Jay ended up writing 5, James Madison wrote 29, and Alexander Hamilton wrote a whopping 51 essays. We'd need to have ten times the amount of coffee than he even had access to at the time in order to do that. (Source

    Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention spoke for a whopping six hours straight, outlining his vision for the Federal Government. After his ideas, such as his idea that the Presidency should be an immensely powerful life-long office, were met with disapproval, he left the Convention entirely. After that, if delegates at the Constitutional Convention had gripes about the Constitution, they could say, "Hey- At least it wasn't that Hamilton guy's nutso plan." (Source)

    It's not surprising, especially to people living in Washington, that a lot of things got named after the Founding Fathers. Our pal Madison got his name on Madison Square Garden, the huge arena in New York City, among other things. (Mendelsohn, Joyce. "Madison Square." The Encyclopedia of New York City. Ed. Kenneth T. Jackson. First Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. ISBN 0300055366, p. 711–712)

    Hamilton came up for the idea for the Federalist Papers while on a boat ride from Albany to New York City. By the time he landed, he had already drafted an outline for the essay series and the first essay. Note to self—do more work on boats. (Source)

    Publius was actually an old pen name of Hamilton's, which he first used to write an article to slam Samuel Chase. Ironically, Chase would go on to be the first Supreme Court Justice to cite the Federalist Papers in the Supreme Court. Man, can you imagine the look on his face when he saw that signature for the first time? (Source)

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...