Madison begins perhaps the most famous of the Federalist papers by stating that one of the strongest arguments in favor of the Constitution is the fact that it establishes a government capable of controlling the violence and damage caused by factions. Madison defines factions as groups of people who gather together to protect and promote their special economic interests and political opinions. Although these factions are at odds with each other, they frequently work against the public interest, and infringe upon the rights of others.
Both supporters and opponents of the plan are concerned with the political instability produced by rival factions. The state governments have not succeeded in solving this problem; in fact, the situation is so problematic that people are disillusioned with all politicians and blame government for their problems. Consequently, a form of popular government that can deal successfully with this problem has a great deal to recommend it.
Given the nature of man, factions are inevitable. As long as men hold different opinions, have different amounts of wealth, and own different amount of property, they will continue to fraternize with people who are most similar to them. Both serious and trivial reasons account for the formation of factions but the most important source of faction is the unequal distribution of property. Men of greater ability and talent tend to possess more property than those of lesser ability, and since the first object of government is to protect and encourage ability, it follows that the rights of property owners must be protected. Property is divided unequally, and, in addition, there are many different kinds of property. and men have different interests depending upon the kind of property they own. For example, the interests of landowners differ from those who own businesses. Government must not only protect the conflicting interests of property owners but must, at the same time, successfully regulate the conflicts between those with and without property.
To Madison, there are only two ways to control a faction: to remove its causes and to control its effects. The first is impossible. There are only two ways to remove the causes of a faction: destroy liberty or give every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests. Destroying liberty is a "cure worse then the disease itself," and the second is impracticable. The causes of factions are thus part of the nature of man and we must deal with their effects and accept their existence. The government created by the Constitution controls the damage caused by such factions.
The framers established a representative form of government, a government in which the many elect the few who govern. Pure or direct democracies (countries in which all the citizens participate directly in making the laws) cannot possibly control factious conflicts. This is because the strongest and largest faction dominates, and there is no way to protect weak factions against the actions of an obnoxious individual or a strong majority. Direct democracies cannot effectively protect personal and property rights and have always been characterized by conflict.
If the new plan of government is adopted, Madison hopes that the men elected to office will be wise and good men, the best of America. Theoretically, those who govern should be the least likely to sacrifice the public good to temporary condition, but the opposite might happen. Men who are members of particular factions, or who have prejudices or evil motives might manage, by intrigue or corruption, to win elections and then betray the interests of the people. However, the possibility of this happening in a large country, such as the United States, is greatly reduced. The likelihood that public office will be held by qualified men is greater in large countries because there will be more representatives chosen by a greater number of citizens. This makes it more difficult for the candidates to deceive the people. Representative government is needed in large countries, not to protect the people from the tyranny of the few, but to guard against the rule of the mob.
In large republics, factions will be numerous, but they will be weaker than in small, direct democracies where it is easier for factions to consolidate their strength. In this country, leaders of factions may be able to influence state governments to support unsound economic and political policies as the states, far from being abolished, retain much of their sovereignty. If the framers had abolished the state governments, the opponents of the proposed government would have a legitimate objection.
The immediate object of the constitution is to bring the present thirteen states into a secure union. Almost every state, old and new, will have one boundary next to territory owned by a foreign nation. The states farthest from the center of the country will be most endangered by these foreign countries; they may find it inconvenient to send representatives long distances to the capitol, but in terms of safety and protection they stand to gain the most from a strong national government.
Madison concludes that he presents these previous arguments because he is confident that many will not listen to those "prophets of gloom" who say that the proposed government is unworkable. For this founding father, it seems incredible that these gloomy voices suggest abandonment of the idea of coming together in strength - the states still have common interests. Madison concludes that "according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being Republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists."
James Madison carried to the Convention a plan that was the exact opposite of Hamilton's. In fact, the theory he advocated at Philadelphia and in his Federalist essays was developed as a republican substitute for the New Yorker's "high toned" scheme of state. Madison was convinced that the class struggle would be ameliorated in America by establishing a limited federal government that would make functional use of the vast size of the country and the existence of the states as active political organisms. He argued in his "Notes on Confederacy," in his Convention speeches, and again in Federalist 10 that if an extended republic was set up including a multiplicity of economic, geographic, social, religious, and sectional interests, these interests, by checking each other, would prevent American society from being divided into the clashing armies of the rich and the poor. Thus, if no interstate proletariat could become organized on purely economic lines, the property of the rich would be safe even though the mass of the people held political power. Madison's solution for the class struggle was not to set up an absolute and irresponsible state to regiment society from above; he was never willing to sacrifice liberty to gain security. He wished to multiply the deposits of political power in the state itself sufficiently to break down the sole dualism of rich and poor and thus to guarantee both liberty and security. This, as he stated in Federalist 10, would provide a "republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government."
It is also interesting to note that James Madison was the most creative and philosophical disciple of the Scottish school of science and politics in the Philadelphia Convention. His effectiveness as an advocate of a new constitution, and of the particular constitution that was drawn up in Philadelphia in 1787, was certainly based in a large part on his personal experience in public life and his personal knowledge of the conditions of American in 1787. But Madison's greatness as a statesmen rests in part on his ability to set his limited personal experience in the context of the experience of men in other ages and times, thus giving extra insight to his political formulations.
His most amazing political prophecy, contained within the pages of Federalist 10, was that the size of the United States and its variety of interests could be made a guarantee of stability and justice under the new constitution. When Madison made this prophecy, the accepted opinion among all sophisticated politicians was exactly the opposite. It was David Hume's speculations on the "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth," first published in 1752, that most stimulated James Madison's' thought on factions. In this essay Hume disclaimed any attempt to substitute a political utopia for "the common botched and inaccurate governments which seemed to serve imperfect men so well. Nevertheless, he argued, the idea of a perfect commonwealth "is surely the most worthy curiosity of any the wit of man can possibly devise. And who knows, if this controversy were fixed by the universal consent of the wise and learned, but, in some future age, an opportunity might be afforded of reducing the theory to practice, either by a dissolution of some old government, or by the combination of men to form a new one, in some distant part of the world. " At the end of Hume's essay was a discussion that was of interest to Madison. The Scot casually demolished the Montesquieu small-republic theory; and it was this part of the essay, contained in a single page, that was to serve Madison in new-modeling a "botched" Confederation "in a distant part of the world." Hume said that "in a large government, which is modeled with masterly skill, there is compass and room enough to refine the democracy, from the lower people, who may be admitted into the first elections or first concoction of the commonwealth, to the higher magistrate, who direct all the movements. At the same time, the parts are so distant and remote, that it is very difficult, either by intrigue, prejudice, or passion, to hurry them into any measure against the public interest." Hume's analysis here had turned the small-territory republic theory upside down: if a free state could once be established in a large area, it would be stable and safe from the effects of faction. Madison had found the answer to Montesquieu. He had also found in embryonic form his own theory of the extended federal republic.
In Hume's essay lay the germ for Madison's theory of the extended republic. It is interesting to see how he took these scattered and incomplete fragments and built them into an intellectual and theoretical structure of his own. Madison's first full statement of this hypothesis appeared in his "Notes on the Confederacy" written in April 1787, eight months before the final version of it was published as the tenth Federalist. Starting with the proposition that "in republican Government, the majority, however, composed, ultimately give the law," Madison then asks what is to restrain an interested majority from unjust violations of the minority's rights? Three motives might be claimed to meliorate the selfishness of the majority: first, "prudent regard for their own good, as involved in the general . . . good" second, "respect for character" and finally, religious scruples. After examining each in its turn Madison concludes that they are but a frail bulwark against a ruthless party.
When one examines these two papers in which Hume and Madison summed up the eighteenth century's most profound thought on political parties, it becomes increasingly clear that the young American used the earlier work in preparing a survey on factions through the ages to introduce his own discussion of faction in America. Hume's work was admirably adapted to this purpose. It was philosophical and scientific in the best tradition of the Enlightenment. The facile domination of faction had been a commonplace in English politics for a hundred years, as Whig and Tory vociferously sought to fasten the label on each other. But the Scot, very little interested as a partisan and very much so as a social scientist, treated the subject therefore in psychological, intellectual, and socioeconomic terms. Throughout all history, he discovered, mankind has been divided into factions based either on personal loyalty to some leader or upon some "sentiment or interest" common to the group as a unit. This latter type he called a "Real" as distinguished from the "personal" faction. Finally, he subdivided the "real factions" into parties based on "interest, upon principle," or upon affection."
Hume spent well over five pages dissecting these three types; but Madison, while determined to be inclusive, had not the space to go into such minute analysis. Besides, he was more intent now on developing the cure than on describing the malady. He therefore consolidated Hume's two-page treatment of "personal" factions and his long discussion of parties based on "principle and affection" into a single sentence. The tenth Federalist reads" "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex ad oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good." It is hard to conceive of a more perfect example of the concentration of idea and meaning than Madison achieved in this famous sentence.
EDITOR’S NOTE:The following is the tenth in a series of articles giving an introduction to the Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.
James Madison makes his first contribution to the Federalist project with Federalist #10, taking up the same subject Alexander Hamilton tackled in Federalist #9 – the union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection.
Federalist #10 counts among the best known of the Federalist Papers, and showcases Madison’s intellect. The paper features some truly impressive political reasoning.
But in retrospect, history has proved many of Madison’s seemingly-brilliant arguments dead wrong.
Madison starts by defining factions.
“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
He then argues that only two ways exist to deal with the problem: either eliminate factions by removing their causes, or limit their impact by controlling their effects.
Madison proposes two ways to remove causes. First, a government could limit liberty because “liberty is to faction what air is to fire.” But he dismisses this out of hand.
“But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”
The second way to remove causes of faction involves “giving every citizen the same opinion.” But of course, this proves impossible due to the fallibility of human reason. Madison notes that as long as people exercise reason “other opinions will be formed.”
Madison concludes “the latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man,” and points out that people divide into parties due to different opinions concerning religion, government and many other points, along with attachment to different leaders. These divisions “inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
So, if we cannot stop factions, how do we deal with them?
“The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.”
Madison argues that a minority faction will not be able to assert itself under the proposed Constitution due to its republican nature.
“If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.”
But a faction encompassing a majority of the people poses a greater problem.
Madison tackles this issue by first contending a pure democracy provides no cure for faction because a majority can always tyrannize the minority, but the republican system created by the Constitution offers the solution. Madison points out two distinctions that he thinks will mitigate faction in the proposed system.
- Representative government
- The size and population of the union.
Madison argues that the election of representatives will tend to minimize the effects of faction because the people will chose men with wisdom who may “best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” And because a greater number of citizens will choose each representative in a large republic, it will prove more difficult for unworthy candidates to rise to power. Madison contends the people will choose “the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.”
A quick survey of the characters walking the halls of Capitol Hill quickly proves Madison wrong on this point.
Madison goes on to assert that a larger republic dilutes faction.
“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.”
But again, time proves Madison wrong. He never imagined today’s parties. In an interview with Tom Woods, historian Kevin Gutzman described a modern party as a “league of minority factions.” The gay rights activist and the union member might have little in common, but they often vote as a Democratic Party block. The Republican Party block brings together divergent interests such as the religious right and big business interests. Parties can graft a minority faction into a majority and make it impossible for the “majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.” Even though the majority opposes the minority position, it will overlook it in order to advance the majority party.
While Federalist #10 serves as a beautiful articulation of political theory, things didn’t turn out the way Madison envisioned. On its own, the constitutional system cannot provide a safeguard against faction.