The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, by James Madison
Notes from our May 5 meeting:
James Madison – (1751 – 1836) called the “father” of The Constitution. In the biography Sacred Fire of Liberty, the author suggests that to misunderstand Madison’s conduct and ideas is to misunderstand the Founding itself. Madison attended the entirety of the Constitutional Convention and was influential in practically every aspect of the deliberations. His notes are the only comprehensive account of the discussions and debates at the secret meetings and were not published until after his death.
The difference between republicanism and democracy is that of the rule of law vs. the mob.
The purpose of Government
The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and
A Faction is any group bent on subverting the civil liberties of others within the same community
- are inevitable – As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.
- gain power by making promises – and those promises are always supported by subverting the civil liberties of certain members within the same community.
- are ruled by depraved human nature–
- The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.
- 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 and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.
- The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.
- With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens?
- must be controlled by republican representation – The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.
Defense Against Factions – Individual Character –
[Note: the following information is taken from: We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future (A Leader’s Guide) a Heritage Foundation Publication, written by Dr. Matthew Spalding. A publication of the First Principles Initiative]
- The truth of human nature must be taught
- Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
- It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good.
- The requirements of character – whose wisdom 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.
- Controlling The Effect of Factions
- 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.
- When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.
- To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum [requirement, indispensable thing] by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium [harsh criticism or censure] under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.
- Demand republican form of gov’t. – From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
- American Virtues– The Founder’s writings emphasized the four following types of civic virtues
- Self Reliance – Hard work, both physical and intellectual, was encouraged to form moral character. Churches, family, and community formed such an independent character. Piety and patriotism demanded private charity. An independent character felt shame about receiving welfare, and saw gov’t welfare was a last resort only for those who had nowhere else to turn. Though welfare may be necessary, a good character demands that it be temporary and eventually repaid.
- Courage – James Madison called courage the “vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourished freedom” Courage is necessary to confront foreign and domestic threats. Courageous people have the strength to stand against the advance of despotism. The Founders promoted the morality of risk and reward, discipline and skill, prudence and justice.
- Responsibility – Citizens must understand that not all exercises of authority are despotic; some duties will be burdensome yet still legitimate. People should be able to distinguish liberty from license. Citizens need to know the natural rights principles of the Declaration of Independence and have the capacity to be morally responsible people.
- Personal and Public Moderation – moral people must rule over their passions rather than submit to them, and respect the rights of others, the constitutional process, and rule of law. They promote prudence, justice, wisdom, moderation, courage, hope, and charity. A society ruled by a limited constitution would reinforce the limited character of government.
Key Concepts about the purpose of Self-Government
- Moral formation is vital for the maintenance of self-government. If the moral character of the people fails, so, too, will the republican character of the gov’t.
- Political self-government requires moral self-government. Moral self-government is the result of upbringing and education.
- The Founders emphasized self-reliance, hard work, courage, knowledge of the natural rights tradition (all men are created equal by God), and moderation in the people.
- The Founders recognized the function of religion in forming morals. Regardless of their theological differences they understood that a free people required religion.
- The Founders knew education must have a moral component as well as a civic component. So, they promoted the study of the principles that founded America, with emphasis on natural law (undeniable truths, human nature) and natural rights ( as ordained by God). Education is the best defense against tyranny.
- Society has an interest in promoting the family and stable marriages, because these are the most intimate private associations and the source of private morality.