James Madison: Federalist 51

(1788)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In Federalist 51, Madison explains how the separation of powers between the branches of government will check the power of each branch. He first argues that the branches must be absolutely separate for separation of powers to work. Each branch is like a person needing a “will of its own” to have its separate identity and to protect itself from the incursions of others. Since the members of each branch are absolutely separate, each branch should have nothing to do with the appointment of members of the other branches. This can best be attained when the members of all three branches are drawn “from the same fountain of authority, the people.”

Popular sovereignty, which locates power in the people as a whole, works to select members of the government from a source independent of the government or its branches. Madison exempts the judicial branch from the popular principle because of the “peculiar qualifications” essential for its...

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James Madison (Library of Congress)

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