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In the sixth paragraph of Federalist No.51, James Madison wrote,

But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is, to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election, and different principles of action, as little connected with each other, as the nature of their common functions, and their common dependence on the society, will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified. An absolute negative[1] on the legislature, appears, at first view, to be the natural defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed. But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe, nor alone sufficient. On ordinary occasions, it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness; and on extraordinary occasions, it might be perfidiously abused. May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department, and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the latter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department?

What does “qualified connection” in the last sentence refer to? What is the meaning of “qualified” here?

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May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department, and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the latter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department?

A qualified connection allows the weaker component of the legislative authority to bother itself with the correct functioning of the executive department in the proper defence and deferrence of the constitutional powers granted to the executive; and at the same time, this connection must be qualified (limited) such that the weaker part of the legislative authority does not become too detached from its legislative duties to be to closely aligned with the executive.

The weaker part of the legislative authority should have some checks on the stronger part so that the legislative branch does not become all powerful over the exercise of constitutional responsibilities and duties granted to the executive branch. However, the connection with the executive should not be so strong that the executive controls one part of the legislative branch (or vice versa).

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Question:

What is the meaning of “qualified connection” in Federalist No. 51 by James Madison?

Short Answer:

Earlier in the paper Madison describes the executive as the weakest branch of government needing some "fortification" against the legislature.

As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified.

The "qualified connection" is the fortification specifically awarded to the Executive against the weakest branch of the legislature, the Senate which favors the Executive. It's the Presidential Veto.

On ordinary occasions it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness, and on extraordinary occasions it might be perfidiously abused.

On ordinary occasions the President won't veto a bill, only on extraordinary occasions.

Why was the Senate the lesser opponent for the Executive in Madison's mind? Read my longer answer.

Long Answer:

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

Federalist Paper #51 is about "Checks and Balances" and "separations of power" within the branches of government.

Separation of powers is not just meant to isolate branches of government with absolute authority in their spheres of power; but crafting interdependence among the branches requiring their reserved powers to be used in concert to achieve goals. The phrase "qualified connection" generally refers to an interdependence. A curb by one branch against another.

  • Congress declares war, but the President is the Commander and Chief of the Armed services.
  • The President appoints his cabinet but they must be approved by the Senate.
  • The House and Senate both must approve a bill for it to become a law.

The phrase "qualified connection" you cite specifically refers to the a weaker legislature branch (the senate) and the executive (previously described as a weakest branch of government in a Republic in Fed 51). Stated a different way, if the appointed President was seen blocking legislation of the elected House of Representatives, the House would have a natural political advantage as it was meant to reflect the will of the people. The appointed Senate had no such natural political advantage, thus it was the weaker legislative branch for the President to confront.

The objective was to have 3 independent relatively equal branches of government. Madison notes: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” We balance this advantage by dividing the legislature in two (house and senate) and then fortify the executive. It is “not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense.” Therefore we need to get creative to balance the scales by creating a "qualified connection" between this weaker department (The Executive) and the weaker branch (Senate) of the stronger department (Legislature).

What is the qualified connection which favors the executive between the Senate and the Executive? The Veto. Out of 1,484 regular vetoes since 1789, only 7.1%, or 106, have been overridden. Clearly the veto is the qualified connection which fortifies the executive against the legislature which is rolled out "on extraordinary occasions".

It is far more significant than the VP role as president of the senate. The VP who only play's any role when the senate is evenly split. That's occurred 4 times in 118 congresses or 3.3% of the times. Not much of a fortification to protect the weakest branch of government against the strongest.

Clearly the qualified connection in Federalist No. 51, is the veto.

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  • My first reading was that he was referring to a connection that is in addition to the veto " an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department, and the weaker branch of the stronger department". The "weaker branch" I take to be the Senate, and the connection to the executive is the VP as President of the Senate.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:16
  • @JamesK Yeah that kind of fits too. Only the VP of the Senate is mostly a ceremonial job and doesn't give the executive any real advantage over the Senate. "the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified....... May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection". How does the V.P having a purely ceremonial role of President of the Senate fortify the executive against the legislature. I'm still thinking veto.
    – user47010
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:28
  • In the very early days of the republic, the VP was not just a ceremonial position, indeed, until the 20th century, the VP took an active role in the the Senate.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:35
  • @JamesK, Don't think that's true. John Adams, America's first Vice President famously called the office. "the most insignificant Office” ever devised.
    – user47010
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:28
  • @JamesK John Adams on the Vice Presidency - "In this I am nothing, but I may be everything?"....................“the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of man contrived or his Imagination conceived.”
    – user47010
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:32

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