Brutus No. 16

Why does Brutus argue that terms for senators are too long? What happens to people, according to Brutus, who are not subject to frequent elections? Why does Brutus propose a rotation in office? What does Brutus predict will happen to senators once they enter into office? How will their incumbency affect their reelection bid?
How would James Madison respond to Brutus’s argument about the term lengths of senators, given his argument in Federalist No. 63? Which side has the better of the argument? What are the different virtues in senators that Brutus and Madison want to cultivate?  

Although the authorship of the Brutus essays is unknown, these writings contain some of the most compelling and best-articulated arguments against the proposed Constitution. From October 1787 through April 1788, the pseudonymous author wrote sixteen essays, which were published by the New-York Journal and Weekly Register. In this essay, Brutus argues that the model of representation contained within the proposed Constitution will tend towards corruption, especially if the three branches were all located within a “federal city” located far from their constituents. As they congregate in the national capital, they will become insulated and removed from the concerns of ordinary citizens, and function as an aristocratic elite indifferent to the issues that matter to the people.

—Joseph Postell

Source: The New York Journal, April 10, 1788.

The term for which the Senate are to be chosen, is in my judgment too long, and no provision being made for a rotation will, I conceive, be of dangerous consequence.

It is difficult to fix the precise period for which the Senate should be chosen. It is a matter of opinion, and our sentiments on the matter must be formed, by attending to certain principles. Some of the duties which are to be performed by the Senate, seem evidently to point out the propriety of their term of service being extended beyond the period of that of the assembly.[1] Besides as they are designed to represent the aristocracy of the country, it seems fit they should possess more stability, and so continue a longer period than that branch who represent the democracy.[2] The business of making treaties and some other which it will be proper to commit to the Senate, requires that they should have experience, and therefore that they should remain some time in office to acquire it.—But still it is of equal importance that they should not be so long in office as to be likely to forget the hand that formed them, or be insensible of their interests. Men long in office are very apt to feel themselves independent [and] to form and pursue interests separate from those who appointed them. And this is more likely to be the case with the senate, as they will for the most part of the time be absent from the state they represent, and associate with such company as will possess very little of the feelings of the middling class of people. For it is to be remembered that there is to be a federal city, and the inhabitants of it will be the great and the mighty of the earth. For these reasons I would shorten the term of their service to four years. Six years is a long period for a man to be absent from his home, it would have a tendency to wean him from his constituents.

A rotation in the Senate, would also in my opinion be of great use. It is now probable that senators once chosen for a state will, as the system now stands, continue in office for life. The office will be honorable if not lucrative. The persons who occupy it will probably wish to continue in it, and therefore use all their influence and that of their friends to continue in office. Their friends will be numerous and powerful, for they will have it in their power to confer great favors; besides it will before long be considered as disgraceful not to be re-elected. It will therefore be considered as a matter of delicacy to the character of the senator not to return him again. Everybody acquainted with public affairs knows how difficult it is to remove from office a person who [has] long been in it. It is seldom done except in cases of gross misconduct. It is rare that want of competent ability procures it. To prevent this inconvenience I conceive it would be wise to determine, that a senator should not be eligible after he had served for the period assigned by the constitution for a certain number of years; perhaps three would be sufficient. A farther further benefit would be derived from such an arrangement; it would give opportunity to bring forward a greater number of men to serve their country, and would return those, who had served, to their state, and afford them the advantage of becoming better acquainted with the condition and politics of their constituents. It farther further appears to me proper, that the legislatures should retain the right which they now hold under the confederation, of recalling their members.[3] It seems an evident dictate of reason, that when a person authorizes another to do a piece of business for him, he should retain the power to displace him, when he does not conduct according to his pleasure. This power in the state legislatures, under confederation, has not been exercised to the injury of the government, nor do I see any danger of its being so exercised under the new system. It may operate much to the public benefit.

  1. 1. Brutus here means to refer to the House of Representatives.
  2. 2. Although America had no true aristocracy in the European sense, the Framers believed that the Senate—because its members would be chosen by the state legislatures—would represent the interest of economic and social elites from each state, and the House—because its members would be directly elected by the people—would represent a more popular, or democratic, element in society.
  3. 3. See Federal Farmer, No. 11, footnote 5.
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