The Prevalence of Lying in the Federalist Papers

Feb 2013
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Coastal Florida
#1
The Constitution was a hard sell in the state of New York during the ratification period. In order to convince the people to support it, several of our founding fathers began writing what were essentially newspaper editorials. They were subsequently dubbed The Federalist Papers. These documents are widely considered to be very influential in helping us understand the intent and meaning of the Constitution. However, I've noticed that in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton appears to be lying about the intent of the Convention pertaining to the manner in which the president would be elected:
It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. [...]

But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment.

This is not a rhetorical flourish and it's not an occasion where there could be an issue regarding differences in interpretation. In fact, the Convention took numerous votes on popular election modes of selecting the president and they were all rejected, generally by a wide margin. The means of selecting the president was one of the most debated topics of the entire Convention. The delegates argued about it for 3 solid months and the only option which could pass a vote consistently over that entire time was the proposal from the Virginia Plan to have Congress elect the president. In actuality, few people liked that idea but it was the only one which could get enough support. At the last minute, however, the Convention actually did the exact opposite of what Hamilton claims here. They explicitly "made the appointment of the President to depend on[...]preexisting bodies of men" when they empowered state legislatures to determine how to select electors for the electoral college in any way they see fit. In fact, states were not required to hold an election at all and many didn't.

I've considered ways this could possibly be an accident on Hamilton's part but I can't think of any. His contributions to the substantive subject matters of the Convention were negligible as he primarily played 2nd fiddle to other delegates' motions. When he did present his own ideas, they were simply ignored. However, Hamilton did serve on one of the last committees, the Committee of Style and Arrangement which met over 4 days in September to give a nearly final polish to the text. Although Gouverneur Morris appears to have done most of the work of this committee, I imagine Hamilton contributed. Hence, there's really no credible way I can see that it could be said he somehow didn't know the mind of the Convention on this point. All we're left with is a conclusion that he consciously lied to the people of New York in Federalist 68, presumably because he thought his claims would sound better to them than the truth.

Thoughts? Are there other instances of this you've found in the Federalist Papers? I'm not talking about rhetorical flourishes or differences of interpretation...rather, I'm referring to instances where an example of lying is the only logical conclusion.
 
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Rodger

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Jun 2014
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#2
I wonder what the literacy rate was during these times, and of those who could read, how many would have read the Federalist papers. It seems as if these editorials were intended as a means of informing the learned. With that said, I have never read the Federalist papers in its entirety, so I am but an amatuer with an amateurish opinion. . In regard to the part you cited, I wanted to see if I could better understand it, as I was not sure to what the term "pre-existing bodies of men" referred. In reading this Wikipedia article, I wonder if "pre-existing bodies of men" refers to what the article says are "senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States." In other words, Hamilton is addressing who is qualified to be a member of the electoral college, not that a direct, popular vote should be considered for the election of the president over an indirect method, i.e., the electoral college. It is clear that Hamilton favored an indirect election of the president, which came to be the electoral college.
Here is the portion from which the preceding quote comes,
"Corruption of an electoral process could most likely arise from the desire of "foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." To minimize risk of foreign machinations and inducements, the electoral college would have only a "transient existence" and no elector could be a "senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States"; electors would make their choice in a "detached situation", whereas a preexisting body of federal office-holders "might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes'."

Federalist No. 68 - Wikipedia
 
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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#3
I don't see lying here. The Constitution doesn't specify how electors were to be chosen. It does not prohibit the modern method of choosing electors by popular vote. Another way of doing it back then was to choose electors via state convention, which would not be a pre-existing body. A state legislature is a pre-existing body, but they don't elect a president directly. A legislature can only appoint electors, not a president. When Hamilton spoke of pre-existing bodies directly choosing a president, he referred to Congress, a plan the founders rejected. Madison is talking about an electoral college chosen only for the purpose of choosing a president. There's no lie or deceit here, but I understand how modern readers can be confused by 18th century language.
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#4
I wonder what the literacy rate was during these times, and of those who could read, how many would have read the Federalist papers. It seems as if these editorials were intended as a means of informing the learned. With that said, I have never read the Federalist papers in its entirety, so I am but an amatuer with an amateurish opinion. . In regard to the part you cited, I wanted to see if I could better understand it, as I was not sure to what the term "pre-existing bodies of men" referred. In reading this Wikipedia article, I wonder if "pre-existing bodies of men" refers to what the article says are "senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States." In other words, Hamilton is addressing who is qualified to be a member of the electoral college, not that a direct, popular vote should be considered for the election of the president over an indirect method, i.e., the electoral college. It is clear that Hamilton favored an indirect election of the president, which came to be the electoral college.
Here is the portion from which the preceding quote comes,
"Corruption of an electoral process could most likely arise from the desire of "foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." To minimize risk of foreign machinations and inducements, the electoral college would have only a "transient existence" and no elector could be a "senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States"; electors would make their choice in a "detached situation", whereas a preexisting body of federal office-holders "might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes'."

Federalist No. 68 - Wikipedia
Well, I guess it's helpful if you're familiar with the records of the convention. When he's talking about "pre-existing bodies of men", he's referring to legislative bodies. Again, for most of the convention, a selection by Congress was the only mode of selection which was able to consistently pass a vote. However, the delegates were very concerned that the Congress would be susceptible to intrigue or foreign influence. He's referring to that in the following passage:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.
This is exactly the same type of language used in the convention as the delegates expressed concern about letting an existing body make the decision.
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#5
I don't see lying here. The Constitution doesn't specify how electors were to be chosen. It does not prohibit the modern method of choosing electors by popular vote. Another way of doing it back then was to choose electors via state convention, which would not be a pre-existing body. A state legislature is a pre-existing body, but they don't elect a president directly. A legislature can only appoint electors, not a president. When Hamilton spoke of pre-existing bodies directly choosing a president, he referred to Congress, a plan the founders rejected. Madison is talking about an electoral college chosen only for the purpose of choosing a president. There's no lie or deceit here, but I understand how modern readers can be confused by 18th century language.
He explicitly says the Convention intended a popular election would be held to select the electors and that is an outright falsehood as, in fact, the Convention explicitly rejected the idea of requiring a popular election of any sort, whether direct or indirect (both modes were proposed in Convention). I am not confused about anything. And this is Hamilton speaking, not Madison. I would also note that even Madison acknowledged the practical reality that the states were free to vary the mode of selection and could effectively make the choice under the language that made it through the Convention.
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,053
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#6
Here is the Federalist paper #68 in its entirety:

FEDERALIST No. 68. The Mode of Electing the President
From The Independent Journal. Wednesday, March 12, 1788.
HAMILTON

To the People of the State of New York:

THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded.(1) I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.(E1)

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.

Another and no less important desideratum was, that the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre in one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select out of the candidates who shall have the five highest number of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says:

"For forms of government let fools contest—That which is best administered is best,"—yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

The Vice-President is to be chosen in the same manner with the President; with this difference, that the Senate is to do, in respect to the former, what is to be done by the House of Representatives, in respect to the latter.

The appointment of an extraordinary person, as Vice-President, has been objected to as superfluous, if not mischievous. It has been alleged, that it would have been preferable to have authorized the Senate to elect out of their own body an officer answering that description. But two considerations seem to justify the ideas of the convention in this respect. One is, that to secure at all times the possibility of a definite resolution of the body, it is necessary that the President should have only a casting vote. And to take the senator of any State from his seat as senator, to place him in that of President of the Senate, would be to exchange, in regard to the State from which he came, a constant for a contingent vote. The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other. It is remarkable that in this, as in most other instances, the objection which is made would lie against the constitution of this State. We have a Lieutenant-Governor, chosen by the people at large, who presides in the Senate, and is the constitutional substitute for the Governor, in casualties similar to those which would authorize the Vice-President to exercise the authorities and discharge the duties of the President.

PUBLIUS

1. Vide federal farmer.

E1. Some editions substitute "desired" for "wished for".

I have highlighted portions that make it clear Hamilton is advocating for an electoral college in Federalist #68. Especially, please note the bolded, highlighted, UNDERLINED portion in which Hamilton specifically writes,
"depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice."
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#7
I have highlighted portions that make it clear Hamilton is advocating for an electoral college in Federalist #68. Especially, please note the bolded, highlighted, UNDERLINED portion in which Hamilton specifically writes,
"depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice."
I think you missed the point. There is no argument about the electoral college selecting the president. The problem is what Hamilton says about selecting the electors. He claims the Convention intended that a popular election by the people would be the mode of selecting the electors and that is not true. The Convention intended that state legislatures would decide how to select the electors. While each state was free to hold an election, they were not required to do so. In fact, many states didn't hold popular elections at all, they simply appointed their own electors themselves.

I can give you an example of what I mean. On June 2nd, James Wilson of PA made the following motion in Convention:

Mr. Wilson made the following motion, (to be substituted for the mode proposed by Mr. Randolph's resolution.)

"that the Executive Magistracy shall be (elected) in the following manner: (That) the States be divided into districts: (& that) the persons qualified (to vote in each) district for members of the first branch of the national Legislature elect ______ members for their respective districts to be electors of the Executive magistracy, that the said Electors of the Executive magistracy meet at __________ and they or any of them so met shall proceed to elect by ballot, but not out of their own body __________ person __________ in whom the Executive authority of the national Government shall be vested." **
This is basically what Hamilton is claiming the Convention intended but this proposal failed 8-2 when it was voted on. No version of a popular election was able to gain enough support to pass in the Convention.
 
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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#8
And this is Hamilton speaking, not Madison.
You're right about Hamilton over Madison. I mispoke.

He explicitly says the Convention intended a popular election would be held to select the electors.
No, he says the electors will be chosen by the people. He does not say "popular election." Hamilton assumes the people will act through their elected representatives, either in the state legislatures or at state conventions.

... the Convention explicitly rejected the idea of requiring a popular election of any sort, whether direct or indirect (both modes were proposed in Convention).
I take exception to your claim of no popular elections "of any sort." The Constitutional Convention rejected direct popular election of the president, but they didn't prohibition choosing electors by popular vote, or at least they didn't write such a ban into the Constitution. The founders assumed electors would be chosen by state convention or by state legislature, but they didn't specifically state how electors would be chosen.
 
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Rodger

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Jun 2014
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#9
I think you missed the point. There is no argument about the electoral college selecting the president. The problem is what Hamilton says about selecting the electors. He claims the Convention intended that a popular election by the people would be the mode of selecting the electors and that is not true. The Convention intended that state legislatures would decide how to select the electors. While each state was free to hold an election, they were not required to do so. In fact, many states didn't hold popular elections at all, they simply appointed their own electors themselves.
I did miss the point. My apologies. There were many safeguards against "mob rule" in the initial U.S. system. As you likely know, the U.S. Senators were chosen by the state assembly ( only much later to be amended to a popular vote). This was just one example of power the States' wield, in relation to the Federal government at the inception of the nation. And while most electors have voted, at least in recent memory, for the candidate chosen by the popular vote, I am aware that they are not obliged t do so. In effect, the popular vote to this day does not affect the votes of the electoral college, in theory and practice, to this day. o, even if the Founding Fathers insisted that the electors be selected by popular vote, if the electors are not obligated to vote for the presidential candidate who won the popular vote, or even in proportion to the popular vote among the candidates, does it matter?
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#10
No, he says the electors will be chosen by the people. He does not say "popular election." Hamilton assumes the people will act through their elected representatives, either in the state legislatures or at state conventions.
Erm...it's in the passages Rodger highlighted when he posted the full text of Federalist 68...where Hamilton says "men chosen by the people" and "a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass". Clearly, he's referring to a popular election to choose the electors.

I take exception to your claim of no popular elections "of any sort." The Constitutional Convention rejected direct popular election of the president, but they didn't prohibition choosing electors by popular vote, or at least they didn't write such a ban into the Constitution.
See post #7 above. I have edited it to include an example of exactly this. See Farrands Records, vol. 1, page 80 (for the proposal) and page 81 (for the result of the vote on it). In that example, they rejected nearly the exact scenario Hamilton claims was intended in Federalist 68. They clearly contemplated requiring this and chose not to.
 
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