Federalist 55

The Total Number of the House of Representatives

by James Madison

(The full text of Federalist #55 here)


Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The original problem that the new Constitution had to overcome was the notion that there would be too few representatives to protect the liberty of the representative’s constituency. Consider that statement for a moment as we reacquaint ourselves with the main purpose of our constitutional government. The people wanted to make sure that first and foremost the liberty of the constituency and area served by a particular elected representative was protected.

“The charges exhibited against it [The Constitution] are,
first, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depository of the public interests;
secondly, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents;
thirdly, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many;
fourthly, that defective as the number will be in the first instance, it will be more and more disproportionate, by the increase of the people, and the obstacles which will prevent a correspondent increase of the representatives.” – #55 (spacing for clarity)

Definition of Liberty: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.

[This is a current definition of Liberty, so I have included some other well-known writing of the period for further explanation.]

Blackstone: On the Absolute Rights of Individuals (1753)

The Forum: The Online Library of Liberty

Sir William Blackstone: Commentaries

Now the rights of persons that are commanded to be observed by the municipal law are of two sorts: first, such as are due from every citizen, which are usually called civil duties; and, secondly, such as belong to him, which is the more popular acceptation of rights or jura. Both may indeed be comprised in this latter division; for, as all social duties are of a relative nature, at the same time that they are due from one man, or set of men, they must also be due to another.

By the absolute rights of individuals, we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. But with regard to the absolute duties, which man is bound to perform considered as a mere individual, it is not to be expected that any human municipal law should at all explain or enforce them. For the end and intent of such laws being only to regulate the behaviour of mankind, as they are members of society, and stand in various relations to each other, they have consequently no concern with any other but social or relative duties. Let a man therefore be ever so abandoned in his principles, or vicious in his practice, provided he keeps his wickedness to himself, and does not offend against the rules of public decency, he is out of the reach of human laws. But if he makes his vices public, though they be such as seem principally to affect himself, (as drunkenness, or the like,) then they become, by the bad example they set, of pernicious effects to society; and therefore it is then the business of human laws to correct them. Here the circumstance of publication is what alters the nature of the case. Public sobriety is a relative duty, and therefore enjoined by our laws; private sobriety is an absolute duty, which, whether it be performed or not, human tribunals can never know; and therefore they can never enforce it by any civil sanction. But, with respect to rights, the case is different Human laws define and enforce as well those rights which belong to a man considered as an individual, as those which belong to him considered as related to others.

Persons also are divided by the law into either natural persons, or artificial. Natural persons are such as the God of nature formed us; artificial are such as are created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government, which are called corporations or bodies politic.

The rights of persons considered in their natural capacities are also of two sorts, absolute and relative. Absolute, which are such as appertain and belong to particular men, merely as individuals or single persons: relative, which are incident to them as members of society, and standing in various relations to each other.

For the principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature, but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals. Such rights as are social and relative result from, and are posterior to, the formation of states and societies: so that to maintain and regulate these is clearly a subsequent consideration. And, therefore, the principal view of human laws is, or ought always to be, to explain, protect, and enforce such rights as are absolute, which in themselves are few and simple: and then such rights as are relative, which, arising from a variety of connections, will be far more numerous and more complicated. These will take up a greater space in any code of laws, and hence may appear to be more attended to—though in reality they are not—than the rights of the former kind. Let us therefore proceed to examine how far all laws ought, and how far the laws of England actually do, take notice of these absolute rights, and provide for their lasting security.

The absolute rights of man, considered as a free agent, endowed with discernment to know good from evil, and with power of choosing those measures which appear to him to be most desirable, are usually summed up in one general appellation, and denominated the natural liberty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature; being a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man at his creation, when he endued him with the faculty of free will. But every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to those laws, which the community has thought proper to establish. And this species of legal obedience and conformity is infinitely more desirable than that wild and savage liberty which is sacrificed to obtain it. For no man that considers a moment would wish to retain the absolute and uncontrolled power of doing whatever he pleases: the consequence of which is, that every other man would also have the same power, and then there would be no security to individuals in any of the enjoyments of life. Political, therefore, or civil liberty, which is that of a member of society, is no other than natural liberty so far restrained by human laws (and no farther) as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public.

Blackstone: On the Absolute Rights of Individuals (1753)

These quotes from Blackstone help us understand the thinking of Madison, Jay, and Hamilton as well as those individuals comprising the Constitutional Committee.

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (Frédéric Bastiat, The Law) 1850.

[Note: Bastiat’s definition codifies – arranges rules and laws (of nature) into a systematic arrangement – the principles that our Founders understood about man as created by God and endowed by certain unalienable rights, then put forward in a revolutionary new form of self-government, whose success as a nation now established these theories as validated scientific law.

This is important to understanding the solid foundation we have in our Constitution. This should be encouraging to us in the Tea Party Movement that the ideas of our Founding Fathers have been established as scientific fact, law. It is the philosophy of Post Modernism that is failing around us – not our Constitution and Founding Documents.

Post Modernists want us to simply accept as scientific law the principle that  man is simply a collection of molecules – a human machine – in need of a central planner to inform us how we are to serve the state. This is the premise of ObamaCare with the denial of the civil liberties endowed in those individuals comprising entire Health Care Industry. ObamaCare is the absolute denial of endowed rights.]

Madison describes how the representatives are to be increased by the census. This is especially important to Texas as Americans are voting with their feet to leave Democratic Party controlled states – suffering from high debt, lower job creation or job loss due to the economic problems systemic with Democratic Party policies – and moving to Republican states with better functioning economies that produce jobs.

Newcomers must appreciate the principles that allow states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah to enjoy a robust economy while Blue States are failing. Texas is gaining Representatives in the Congress, while other states are losing Representatives. This is how the Free Market System self corrects. Blue States are losing electoral votes, while Red States are gaining electoral votes.

Our Future Course:  Deserving Madison’s Faith in the Genius of the American People

The number of Representatives becomes moot if we neglect what Madison refers to as the “genius of the people of America, the spirit which actuates the State legislatures, and the principles which are Incorporated with the political character of every class of citizens...”

“I am unable to conceive that the people of America, in their present temper, or under any circumstances which can speedily happen, will choose, and every second year repeat the choice of [whatever number of Representatives] men capable of recommending themselves to the choice of the people at large, who would either desire or dare, within the short space of two years, to betray the solemn trust committed to them.” [inserted by myself]

It’s not the number of Representatives that threaten our Liberty, it’s that we as citizens have become, not ‘genius’ as described by Madison, but dumbed-down, lazy idiots desirous only of being taken care of by a so-called benevolent state of tyranny. This is simply the result of a world-accepted philosophy that was never based on absolute reality because it attempted to exclude the Creator.

We have failed by:

  • electing/ re-electing men of faction rather than defenders of liberty
  • re-electing men convicted of crimes while in office
  • allowing disgraced Congressmen to continue to act as spokesmen and lobbyists
  • allowing Congress to exempt itself from their own legislation.
We simply must stop repeating these behaviors to correct our situation.

Our Founding Fathers had the same temptations of power, wealth, and authority with even more opportunity for self-aggrandizement. They successfully resisted their influence.

“From what quarter can the danger proceed? Are we afraid of foreign gold? If foreign gold could so easily corrupt our federal rulers and enable them to ensnare and betray their constituents, how has it happened that we are at this time a free and independent nation? The Congress which conducted us through the Revolution was a less numerous body than their successors will be; they were not chosen by, nor responsible to, their fellow citizens at large; though appointed from year to year, and recallable at pleasure, they were generally continued for three years, and prior to the ratification of the federal articles, for a still longer term. They held their consultations always under the veil of secrecy; they had the sole transaction of our affairs with foreign nations; through the whole course of the war they had the fate of their country more in their hands than it is to be hoped will ever be the case with our future representatives; and from the greatness of the prize at stake, and the eagerness of the party which lost it, it may well be supposed that the use of other means than force would not have been scrupled. Yet we know by happy experience that the public trust was not betrayed; nor has the purity of our public councils in this particular ever suffered, even from the whispers of calumny.”

Madison states that we should find nothing to fear in the personal fortune of office holders as they (too) are Americans. The ability to pursue personal happiness is the very reason for the establishment of this government, so personal wealth should be common.

“Is the danger apprehended from the other branches of the federal government? But where are the means to be found by the President, or the Senate, or both? Their emoluments of office, it is to be presumed, will not, and without a previous corruption of the House of Representatives cannot, more than suffice for very different purposes; their private fortunes, as they must all be American citizens, cannot possibly be sources of danger.”

Madison goes on to state that the method the House of Representatives would use to accumulate personal extra-constitutional power “will be in the dispensation of appointments”.

But what Madison never envisioned was that the re-election of such members would occur because he trusted in the genius of the American people to be zealous defenders of their own liberty, rather than a patchwork of various factions combined in one political party bent upon robbing other members of their own communities of their civil liberties.

The improbability of such a mercenary and perfidious combination of the several members of government, standing on as different foundations as republican principles will well admit, and at the same time accountable to the society over which they are placed, ought alone to quiet this apprehension.

However, even as unlikely as Madison considered such a situation, our Constitution once again enables us to correct the situation.

But, fortunately, the Constitution has provided a still further safeguard. The members of the Congress are rendered ineligible to any civil offices that may be created, or of which the emoluments may be increased, during the term of their election. No offices therefore can be dealt out to the existing members but such as may become vacant by ordinary casualties: and to suppose that these would be sufficient to purchase the guardians of the people, selected by the people themselves, is to renounce every rule by which events ought to be calculated, and to substitute an indiscriminate and unbounded jealousy, with which all reasoning must be vain. The sincere friends of liberty, who give themselves up to the extravagancies of this passion, are not aware of the injury they do their own cause. As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

Our task is to reawaken the value of liberty as endowed in all men by their Creator.

Below is the final summation of the speech The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World by former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, July 4, 1994.

Vaclav Havel: Playwright, Poet, and Dissident led theCzech Republic from Communism to Liberty

A modern philosopher once said: “Only a God can save us now.”

Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respects for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors, and thus honor their rights as well.

It logically follows that, in today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies – it must be rooted in self-transcendence:

  • Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.
  • Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.
  • Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.

The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it.


  1. I have been asked to write a book chapter on consciousness. Your quote of Havel is a fitting closing to the chapter of my paper on “Sense of Self and Consciousness: Nature, Origins, Mechanisms, and Implications.”

    I had not realized until now the full significance of our human sense of self. Havel’s quote will form the closing of my chapter.

    • Nancy Coppock says:

      Thank you, Dr. Klemm. Truly, appreciating who we are – evolved or created – is the root of the question as to the future of this nation. Other nations after experiencing the atheistic communist holocaust have come to appreciate the difference between the competing worldviews. Those that ignore the benefits of being a created being do so at the peril of the very liberty they think they are exhibiting. Rebellion to absolute truth is nothing new in the nature of man. Our Constitution was written to reward our better nature – that behavior that portrays man as created in the image of His Creator – a creator, producer, and entrepreneur. We have made an egregious error in disavowing the reality of human nature as rebellion to God. Our Founders were incredibly wise men.

      I wish you well on your paper and am humbled to consider that my teaching helped you synthesize the subject of Human Sense of Self.

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