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people will be excited to undue resentments against the national government. With so effectual a weapon in their hands as the exclusive power of regulating elections for the national government, the combination of a few men in some of the large States might, by seizing the opportunity of some casual disaffection among the people, accomplish the destruction of the Union. And it ought not to be overlooked that, as a solid government will make us more and more an object of jealousy to the nations of Europe, so there will be a perpetual temptation on their part to generate intrigues of this sort for the purpose of subverting it.1
§ 819. There is, too, in the nature of such a provision, something incongruous, if not absurd. What would be said of a clause introduced into the national Constitution to regulate the State elections of the members of the State legislatures? It would be deemed a most unwarrantable transfer of power, indicating a premeditated design to destroy the State governments.2 It would be deemed so flagrant a violation of principle as to require no comment. It would be said, and justly, that the State governments ought to possess the power of self-existence and self-organization, independent of the pleasure of the national government. Why does not the same reasoning apply to the national government? What reason is there to suppose that the State governments will be more true to the Union than the national government will be to the State governments?
§ 820. If, then, there is no peculiar fitness in delegating such a power to the State legislatures, if it might be hazardous and inconvenient, let us see whether there are any solid dangers from confiding the superintending and ultimate power over elections to the national government. There is no pretence to say that the power in the national government can be used so as to exclude any State from its share in the representation in Congress. Nor can it be said, with correctness, that Congress can, in any way, alter the rights or qualifications of voters. The most that can be urged, with any show of argument, is, that the power might, in a given case, be employed in such a manner as to promote the election of some favorite candidate or favorite class of men, in exclusion of others, by confining the places of election to particular districts, and rendering it impracticable for the citizens at large to partake in the choice. The whole argument proceeds upon a 1 The Federalist, No. 59.
supposition the most chimerical. There are no rational calculations on which it can rest, and every probability is against it. Who are to pass the laws for regulating elections? The Congress of the United States, composed of a Senate chosen by the State legislatures, and of representatives chosen by the people of the States. Can it be imagined that these persons will combine to defraud their constituents of their rights, or to overthrow the State authorities or the State influence? The very attempt would rouse universal indignation, and produce an immediate revolt among the great mass of the people, headed and directed by the State governments.1 And what motive could there be in Congress to produce such results? The very dissimilarity in the ingredients composing the national government forbids even the supposition of any effectual combination for such a purpose. The interests, the habits, the institutions, the local employments, the state of property, the genius, and the manners of the people of the different States are so various, and even opposite, that it would be impossible to bring a majority of either House to agree upon any plan of elections which should favor any particular man, or class of men, in any State. In some States commerce is, or may be, the predominant interest; in others, manufactures; in others, agriculture. Physical as well as moral causes will necessarily nourish in different States different inclinations and propensities on all subjects of this sort. If there is any class which is likely to have a predominant influence, it must be either the commercial or the landed class. If either of these could acquire such an influence, it is infinitely more probable that it would be acquired in the State than in the national councils.2 In the latter there will be such a mixture of all interests that it will be impracticable to adopt any rule for all the States giving any preference to classes or interests founded upon sectional or personal considerations. What might suit a few States well would find a general resistance from all the other States.
§ 821. If it is said that the elections might be so managed as to give a predominant influence to the wealthy and the well-born, (as they are insidiously called,) the supposition is not less visionary. What possible mode is there to accomplish such a purpose ? The wealthy and the well-born are not confined to any particular spots in any State; nor are their interests permanently fixed any1 The Federalist, No. 60.
where. Their property may consist of stock or other personal property, as well as of land, of manufactories on great streams or on narrow rivulets or in sequestered dells. Their wealth may consist of large plantations in the bosom of the country, or farms on the borders of the ocean. How vain must it be to legislate upon the regulation of elections with reference to circumstances so infinitely varied and so infinitely variable! The very suggestion is preposterous. No possible method of regulating the time, mode, or place of elections could give to the rich or elevated a general or permanent advantage in the elections. The only practical mode of accomplishing it (that of a property qualification of voters or candidates) is excluded in the scheme of the national government.1 And if it were possible that such a design could be accomplished to the injury of the people at a single election, it is certain that the unpopularity of the measure would immediately drive the members from office who aided in it, and they would be succeeded by others who would more justly represent the public will and the public interests. A cunning so shallow would be easily detected, and would be as contemptible from its folly as it would be difficult in its operations.
§ 822. Other considerations are entitled to great weight. The Constitution gives to the State legislatures the power to regulate the time, place, and manner of holding elections, and this will be so desirable a boon in their possession on account of their ability to adapt the regulation from time to time to the peculiar local or political convenience of the States, that its representatives in Congress will not be brought to assent to any general system by Congress, unless from an extreme necessity or a very urgent exigency. Indeed, the danger rather is, that when such necessity or exigency actually arises, the measure will be postponed and perhaps defeated by the unpopularity of the exercise of the power. All the States will, under common circumstances, have a local interest and local pride in preventing any interference by Congress, and it is incredible that this influence should not be felt as well in the Senate as in the House. It is not too much, therefore, to presume that it will not be resorted to by Congress until there has been some extraordinary abuse or danger in leaving it to the discretion of the States respectively. And it is no small recommendation of this supervising power, that it will naturally operate
1 The Federalist, No. 60.
as a check upon undue State legislation, since the latter might precipitate the very evil which the popular opinion would be most solicitous to avoid. A preventive of this sort, addressed a priori to State jealousy and State interest, would become a most salutary remedy, not from its actual application, but from its moral influ
§ 823. It was said that the Constitution might have provided that the elections should be in counties. This was true; but it would, as a general rule, afford very little relief against a possible abuse, for counties differ greatly in size, in roads, and in accommodations for elections, and the argument from possible abuse is just as strong even after such a provision should be made as before. If an elector were compellable to go thirty or fifty miles, it would discourage his vote as much as if it were one hundred or five hundred miles.1 The truth is, that Congress could never resort to a measure of this sort for purposes of oppression or party triumph until that body had ceased to represent the will of the States and the people; and if, under such circumstances, the members could still hold office, it would be because a general and irremediable corruption or indifference pervaded the whole community. No republican constitution could pretend to afford any remedy for such a state of things.2
§ 824. But why did not a similar objection occur against the State constitutions? The subject of elections, the time, place, and manner of holding them, is in many cases left entirely to legislative discretion. In New York the senators are chosen from four districts of great territorial extent, each comprehending several counties; and it is not defined where the elections shall be had. Suppose the legislature should compel all the electors to come to one spot in the district, as, for instance, to Albany; the evil would be great, but the measure would not be unconstitutional. Yet no one practically entertains the slightest dread of such legislation. In truth, all reasoning from such extreme possible cases is ill adapted to convince the judgment, though it may
1 The Federalist, No. 61. The full force of this reasoning will not be perceived without adverting to the fact that, though in New England the voters generally give their votes in the townships where they reside, in the Southern and Western States there are few towns, and the elections are held in the counties, where the population is sparse, and spread over large plantation districts. 1 Elliot's Debates, 68.
2 2 Elliot's Debates, 38, 39.
3 The Federalist, No. 61.
alarm our prejudices. Such a legislative discretion is not deemed an infirmity in the delegation of constitutional power. It is deemed safe, because it can never be used oppressively for any length of time, unless the people themselves choose to aid in their own degradation.
§ 825. The objections, then, to the provision are not sound or tenable. The reasons in its favor are, on the other hand, of great force and importance. In the first place, the power may be applied by Congress to correct any negligence in a State in regard to elections, as well as to prevent a dissolution of the government by designing and refractory States, urged on by some temporary excitements. In the next place, it will operate as a check in favor of the people against any designs of a Federal Senate and their constituents, to deprive the people of the State of their right to choose representatives. In the next place, it provides a remedy for the evil, if any State, by reason of invasion or other cause, cannot have it in its power to appoint a place where the citizens can safely meet to choose representatives.1 In the last place, (as the plan is but an experiment,) it may hereafter become important, with a view to the regular operations of the general government, that there should be a uniformity in the time and manner of electing representatives and senators, so as to prevent vacancies when there may be calls for extraordinary sessions of Congress. If such a time should occur, or such a uniformity be hereafter desirable, Congress is the only body possessing the means to produce it.2
§ 826. Such were the objections, and such was the reasoning, by which they were met at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. A period of forty years has since passed by without any attempt by Congress to make any regulations, or interfere in the sightest degree with the elections of members of Congress.3 If, therefore, experience can demonstrate anything, it is the entire safety of the power in Congress, which it is scarcely possible (reasoning from the past) should be exerted, unless upon very urgent occasions. The States now regulate the time, the place, and the manner of elections, in a practical sense, exclusively. The manner is very various, and perhaps the power has been ex
1 See 1 Elliot's Debates, 44, 47, 48, 49; Id. 55; Id. 67.
2 The Federalist, No. 61; 2 Elliot's Debates, 38, 39.
8 But since these commentaries were written, it has been done by several acts, the last of which is referred to in note 1 to § 814, ante.]