Federalist No. 54

From New World Encyclopedia
Gilbert Stuart, James Madison, c. 1821, NGA 56914.jpg
AuthorJames Madison or Alexander Hamilton
Original titleThe Apportionment of Members Among the States
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Federalist
PublisherNew York Packet
Publication date
February 12, 1788
Media typeNewspaper
Preceded byFederalist No. 53 
Followed byFederalist No. 55 

Federalist Paper No. 54 is an essay by James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, the fifty-fourth of The Federalist Papers. It was first published by The New York Packet on February 12, 1788 under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist papers were published.

Titled, "The Apportionment of Members Among the States", the paper discusses how seats in the United States House of Representatives are apportioned among the states, comparing the distinct reasons for the apportionment of citizens for the purpose of assessing taxes and numbers of representatives. The author proposes that using the same counts for both would create "opposite interests," so that if states undercounted their populations for the purpose of lowering their tax burden, they would lose representatives to the Congress. The author reasons that balancing the two competing interests would contribute to an accurate census.

The primary concern of the paper regards the inclusion of slaves in the proposed apportionment. The author states that slaves are property as well as people and therefore require some degree of representation, which in the Constitution was to be three out of every five slaves, or 35 of the total number of slaves in a state. He thereby defends the Three-fifths Compromise that was adopted by the Constitutional Convention but which remained controversial and a source of friction between the states and political parties.


Prior to the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation stated that the apportionment of taxation was based on the land value in each state, causing states to depreciate the value of their land so they would incur less burden for the amount of taxes that they had to pay. To prevent states from manipulating the numbers, the solution was to create a system where both taxes and the number of representatives were based on the population, so that if a state claimed too large of a population to gain more seats in the House of Representatives, they would have to pay higher taxes. While this proposal found support, it led to a problem: the Southern states had large populations of slaves, who were ineligible to vote. If they were counted in the population, the slave states would have more seats in the House.[1]

A national convention was assembled for May 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. The problem of how to count slaves was a major issue. Southerners wanted slaves to count fully because it would increase the number of representatives allotted to slave-holding states.[2] On the other hand, northern delegates wanted the slaves not to count. As they saw it, slaves were not free citizens, and were considered mere property by their masters. After a long deliberation, they arrived at a solution: a compromise that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.

The Three-Fifths Clause is widely misunderstood. The clause provides that the representation in Congress will be based on "the whole Number of free Persons" and "the three fifths of all other persons." The other persons were slaves. This provision declared that the slave states would get extra representation in congress for their slaves, even though those states treated slaves purely as property. However, the provision was not directly about race. Free African American people were counted the same as whites. It was about how slaves counted in the status and allocation of political power. The clause provided a mathematical formula that allowed for the allocation of representatives in Congress that factored in the slave population. As for the slaves, no slaves could vote in the country, and the clause did not provide them a voice. This was about the distribution of political power among the states.[3]

Three-Fifths Compromise

The Three-Fifths Compromise was proposed by James Wilson-PA in 1789[4] in order to gain Southern support for the new framework of government by guaranteeing that the South would be strongly represented in the House of Representatives.[5] Naturally, it was more popular in the South than in the North.

Article I, Section II, Clause III of the United States Constitution states:

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included in this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.[6]

The argument

In Federalist No. 54, the author offers the pros and cons of the positions of both the slave-holding states in the South and the non-slave states in the North. The arguments of the slave-holding states with regard to apportionment of representatives to the United States House of Representatives was that slaves were considered as other members of society in that they were held to the same standard of law as others, and could receive punishment for breaking the law like others. With regard to taxes, the slave-holding states argued that as the slaves were property, they should be counted only as property for the purpose of taxation. The would lover the slave-holding states' tax burden. Against those arguments, the author counterposes the arguments of the non-slaveholding states. They naturally, felt that since the slaves were considered property, they should not count in the census for apportionment of representatives to the House. He recognizes that the lives of the slaves are initially considered property under the law, because the slaves labor was compelled, they could be the object of trade, and in the end, their liberty was constrained, much like property. The non-slave states nonetheless argued that when it came to taxation, the slaves should be counted, thus increasing the tax burden on the slave states. After laying out the impasse between the two positions which were diametrically opposed and both driven by self-interest, the author shows how the Three-fifths Compromise, while an imperfect solution, would be acceptable to both sides. The essay sets aside the question of slavery's legitimacy, treating the question as a legal matter. In order to solve the impasse between the two positions, the author defends the compromise in support of ratifying the Constitution, that slaves should be represented with mixed characteristics, as both property and person.[7]


Authorship of Federalist No. 54 is disputed. It was erroneously attributed to John Jay in Alexander Hamilton's enumeration of the authors of the various Federalist Papers. Madison was Hamilton's major collaborator, writing 29 of the papers, although Madison himself asserted that he had written more. A known error in Hamilton's list, that he incorrectly ascribed No. 54 to John Jay when in fact Jay wrote No. 64, provides some evidence for Madison's claim. Nearly all of the statistical studies show that the disputed papers were written by Madison, including No. 54., but there is no conclusive proof.[8]

Federalist Paper No. 54 was published on February 12, 1788 under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all The Federalist Papers were published. Alexander Hamilton was the force behind the project of the Federalist Papers, and was responsible for recruiting James Madison and John Jay to write with him as Publius.[9] Two others were considered, Gouverneur Morris and William Duer. Morris rejected the offer, and Hamilton didn't like Duer's work. Even still, Duer managed to publish three articles in defense of the Constitution under the name Philo-Publius, or "Friend of Publius."[9] The Federalist Papers were written in an attempt to get the New York citizens to ratify the United States Constitution in 1787, but the specific issue at hand for No. 54 was the way which the seats in the US House of Representatives would be apportioned among the states.


The Three-fifths Compromise was successful in forging a compromise that allowed for the ratification off the United States Constitution, but it postponed the inevitable resolution of the question of slavery. That resolution would not come until three quarters of a century later with American Civil War. In the wake of the defeat of the Confederacy, the clause was annulled by the Fourteenth Amendment).[3]


  1. "What was the Three-Fifths Compromise?," Laws, November 11, 2023. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  2. Donald McClarey and Paul Zummo, "Federalist 54 – Madison," Almost Chosen People, July 25, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Paul Finkleman, "Three-Fifths Clause: Why Its Taint Persists," The Root, February 26, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  4. James Madison, 1787: The Journal of the Constitutional Convention, Part I, volume 3 (The Writings of James Madison) ed. Gaillard Hunt (1787; New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902), 143-144, 416. Retrieved December 3, 2023.
  5. "The Three-Fifth Compromise," Digital History, Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  6. Steve Mount, "U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 2," Constitution Facts, August 16, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  7. Donald Applestein, "The three-fifths compromise: Rationalizing the irrational," National Constitution Center, February 12, 2023. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  8. Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, "Federalist No. 54," National Archives, February 12, 1788. Retrieved December 20, 2023.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Howard A. Ohline, "Republicanism and Slavery: Origins of the Three-Fifths Clause in the United States Constitution," The William and Mary Quarterly 28(4) (Oct. 1971): 563-584.

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Further reading

  • Baker, Pauline H. "The Myth of Middle Class Moderation: African Lessons for South Africa," Issue: A Journal of Opinion 16(2) (1988): 45–48.
  • Condit, Celeste Michelle, and John Louis Lucaites. "The rhetoric of equality and the expatriation of African‐Americans, 1776‐1826" Communication Studies 42(1) (1991): 1-21.
  • Hamilton, Alexander, et al. The federalist Papers, edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0192805928
  • Kaminski, John P., and Gaspare J. Saladino (eds.). "The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Volume XVI: Commentaries on the Constitution, Public and Private: Volume 4, February 1 to 31 March 31, 1788,". Volume 4. Center for the Study of the American Constitution University of Wisconsin, 1986. Retrieved December 20, 2023.
  • Kincaid, John. "The Federalist and V. Ostrom on concurrent taxation and federalism," Publius: The Journal of Federalism 44(2) (2014): 275–297.
  • Martinez, J. Michael, and William D. Richardson. "The Federalist Papers And Legal Interpretation," South Dakota Law Review 45(2) (2000): 307–333.
  • Southard, Bjørn F. Stillion. "In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity by Jeannine Marie DeLombard (review)." Rhetoric & Public Affairs 18(4) (2015): 798-801.

External links

All links retrieved March 25, 2024.


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