In Essay #49, Method of Guarding Against the Encroachments of Any One Department of Government by Appealing to the People Through a Convention, Madison “gets philosophical” and presents arguments that lay out his philosophy on free government.
To begin, Madison references the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson who was, at that time, serving as ambassador to France. Jefferson had written the “Notes on the State of Virginia” and had added a draft of a constitution that he hoped would be adopted in the convention held in 1783.
Jefferson, it should be noted, was neither a Federalist or Anti-Federalist, but leaned toward being a Federalist so long as the Constitution contained provisions guaranteeing the rights of individuals. Jefferson was worried about one branch of government becoming too powerful – and recommended that a constitutional convention be held whenever two branches of the government, by a two-thirds vote, desired to change the Constitution or correct any violation of it.
Madison argues that in a republican form of government, it seems logical that the people should be consulted whenever one branch becomes too powerful or whenever there is a constitutional crisis.
But this poses problems:
- The people cannot prevent the possibility of two branches combining their strength and power against the third branch; and,
- Frequent appeals to the people suggest a serious defect in government.
There are two different theories of government – one of which was generally adopted at the time the essays were written:
- Compact Theory – (preferred by Madison) holds that the country was formed through a compact agreed upon by all the states, and that the federal government is thus a creation of the states;
- Organic Theory – As old as political thought itself, the organic theory describes government as a biological conception describing the State in terms of “natural science. It views the individuals which compose it as analogous to the cells of a plant or animal, and postulates a relation of interdependence between them and society such as exists between the organs and parts of a biological organism and the whole structure.
Madison concedes that the country has been successful in revising its form of government – but warns that too much experimentation can be dangerous.
In summary, Madison believed that the individuals, motivated by self-interest, leave the state of nature in order to live under justice in a free government that, primarily, protects their lives, liberty, and property and, to the degree compatible with the security of these rights, permit people to participate in government under a constitution.
Credit for the summary and analysis of Essay #49 is given to Brittany Nelson and Christopher Higgins (second revision 09/15/2011). Weinbloom, Elizabeth ed. “The Federalist Papers Essay #49 Summary and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 30 December 2011 Web. 5 February 2019.