The Anti-Federalists commonly complained that the House of Representatives would be the home of an elite, an “oligarchy” out of sympathy with the common people, who would truly represent only their own class interests and not those of their constituents. In Federalist No. 57, James Madison rightly slams this argument: “Whilst the objection is levelled against a pretended oligarchy, the principle of it strikes at the very root of republican government.” The voters who choose House members, after all, will be “[n]ot the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune.”
Will the members, once chosen, drift away from their proper fidelity to the people they are supposed to represent? No guarantee can be offered that this won’t happen, but Madison gives several reasons to think it is improbable. First, if the people choose wisely, their trust will be justified by the character of those they elect. Second, members will be grateful to the voters who sent them to Congress. Third and perhaps most interestingly, in line with arguments elsewhere in the Federalist, Madison says “motives of a more selfish nature” will animate the representatives, as they identify their own institutional interests with the people’s interests and with the cause of republican government, as connected with their “pride and vanity.” And this is distinct from their calculation of their reelection prospects, which is the fourth factor Madison mentions.
Fifth and last is an axiom of republicanism: “they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society.” But Madison knows full well, despite the absolute character of the principle as stated, that no provision of the Constitution will explicitly bar such legislation of a privileged status for the legislature’s members. And so he turns to the “manly spirit” of republicanism as its own best surety here: “If this spirit shall ever be so debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.”
(For explanation of this recurring feature, see here.)