Federalist Papers – Essay #39

In Essay #38, The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles, the scholarly James Madison’s purpose is to show how the proposed government fits the concept of a republican form – a form that Madison contends is the only one suitable to the particular genius of the American people.

In this essay, the differences between a “Federal” form of government and a “National” form of government are addressed. While not included in Essay #39, here is a short description of both the “National” and “Federal” forms of government. It’s important to know the difference!

A “National” government is the highest level of governance, it consists of people who are put in very prominent, powerful, influential, and high positions like the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Monarch, or other people that function as representatives or as head of state. The national government also includes the lawmaking body as well as the judiciary and other branches of a particular country’s government.

A “Federal” government, on the other hand, is a particular system of government characterized by having a central (or national) government, and is composed of lower governments or units, particularly the state government.

In this type of government, the state and national governments SHARE some powers while other powers are reserved for one or the other. Both governments can remain independent of each other depending on the scope of the issue or concern. Simply put, in a federal government, the national government is the highest component level.


Regarding the concept of “Federal” vs “National” governments, Hamilton and Madison had different views – Madison leaning strongly to Federal and Hamilton leaning to National.

What the new Constitution creates is consistent with the principles fought for in the revolution – and it is possible and practical.

A “republican” form of government, Madison writes, is one which “derives its powers either directly or indirectly from the people and is administered by persons who hold public office for a limited period of time or during good behavior.”

No government can be called republican that derives its power from a few people or from a favored or wealthy class.

Madison contends that the proposed government is both national and federal. In the operation of its powers, it is national; in the extent of its power, it is federal.

Like Hamilton, Madison doesn’t ask whether popular government should take the place of monarchy as their predecessors had done. That question was resolved by the revolutionary war.

Credit for the summary and analysis of Essay #39 is given to Brittany Nelson and Christopher Higgins (second revision 09/15/2011). Weinbloom, Elizabeth ed. “The Federalist Papers Essay #39 Summary and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 30 December 2011 Web. 30 January 2019.

The explanations about the difference between a Federal and National government come from the website, www.differencebetween.net. You can access that website for greater detail by clicking HERE.

You can read the summary and analysis of Essay #39 by clicking HERE.

You can read the entire text of Essay #39 by clicking HERE.

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