Written by James Madison, Essay #10, The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, is monumental – one of the most important of the Federalist Papers.
It’s about “factions” – defined by James Madison as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent aggregate interests of the community.”
Specifically, Madison wrote that the greatest threat to government and the public was the potential oppression committed by majority factions. Madison did not elaborate with a minute analysis or description of factions as did Montesquieu or David Hume. Instead, he summed up his thoughts in one of the most inclusive and accurate statements ever written:
“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.”
As the authors of the summary and analysis of Essay #10 wrote, “It is hard to conceive of a more perfect example of the concentration of idea and meaning than Madison achieved in this famous sentence.”
Madison argued that there are two ways to control factions:
- Remove their causes; or
- Control their effects.
He considered the first as impossible and the second as difficult but achievable through the new Constitution.
“Since the causes of factions are part of the nature of man,” he argued, “one must deal with their effects and accept their existence. Accordingly, the government created by the Constitution controls the damage created by such factions.”
Madison believed that, “if an extended republic was set up including a multiplicity of economic, geographic, social, religious, and sectional interests, those interests, by checking each other, would prevent American society from being divided into the clashing armies of the rich and poor.”
Madison argued that harmful effects of factionalism would be prevented by the quality of elected representatives working toward the public good – but warned against “sinister designs securing the requisite votes to gain power, and then betraying the interests of the people.” He pointed out that the “lack of limits on the number of terms that may be served by representatives in any office, an official’s desire for election and reelection would lead them to act sycophantically toward the majority faction” – contrary to the true interests of the republic.
He hoped that the large number of citizens “would increase the likelihood of competent citizens serving as representatives – thus diminishing a demagogue’s ability to manipulate the citizenry.”
But there remained a paradox. The solution to the problem of majority oppression in state governments is Madison’s first principle of representative government, of which the success depends on Madison’s second principle of the republic’s large size—which inevitably refers significant pieces of legislation to the state governments.
Madison argued that the ideal state lies somewhere in the middle – “an intermediary position between a republic of small union size, inept representatives and fewer incidents of majority faction oppression at the state level, and a republic of large union size, competent representatives and more incidents of majority faction oppression at the state level.”
Madison did not want to sacrifice liberty to gain security. Instead, he wished to “multiply the deposits of political power in the state itself sufficiently to break down the sole dualism of rich and poor – thus guaranteeing both liberty and security.” This would, in his words, “provide a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”
In contrast to Montesquieu who argued that a republic could survive only in a small country, Madison believed that “the sheer size of the United States and its variety of interests could be made a guarantee of stability and justice under the new constitution.”
Protection of the minority against the selfishness of the majority could be attained because of three motives:
- Prudent regard for their own good, as involved in the general good;
- Respect for character;
- Religious scruples.
[Madison’s arguments were advanced, obviously, in an era that did not contemplate, let alone envision, the technological advances that led to instant communications to millions – advances not achieved until the arrival of the twenty-first century.]
Credit for the summary and analysis goes to Brittany Nelson and Christopher Higgins (second revision 09/15/2011). Weinbloom, Elizabeth ed. “The Federalist Papers Essay 10 Summary and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 30 December 2011 Web. 16 January 2019.
Credit is also given to Bauman, Ryan. “The Paradox of the Republic: A Close Reading of Federalist 10”. GradeSaver, 24 February 2017 Web. 16 January 2019.