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The Federalist Papers #10 B: The Larger the Republic, the Easier It is to Find Thoughtful Legislators and the Harder It is to Put Together a Majority to do Unjust Things—James Madison

Summary:
In the first half of the Federalist Papers #10, James Madison argues that “Conflicts Arising from Differences of Opinion Are an Inevitable Accompaniment of Liberty.” In the second half, James Madison is interested in how to avoid those differences of opinion leading to oppression of the minority by the majority. He argues that large republics have two advantages for avoiding such oppression: in a large republic, there are more people to choose from as elected representatives, while the number of elected representative doesn’t need to go up proportionately, so the electorate can be choosier, andthe bad things people want to legislate are more

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The Federalist Papers #10 B: The Larger the Republic, the Easier It is to Find Thoughtful Legislators and the Harder It is to Put Together a Majority to do Unjust Things—James Madison

In the first half of the Federalist Papers #10, James Madison argues that “Conflicts Arising from Differences of Opinion Are an Inevitable Accompaniment of Liberty.” In the second half, James Madison is interested in how to avoid those differences of opinion leading to oppression of the minority by the majority. He argues that large republics have two advantages for avoiding such oppression: in a large republic,

  1. there are more people to choose from as elected representatives, while the number of elected representative doesn’t need to go up proportionately, so the electorate can be choosier, and

  2. the bad things people want to legislate are more diverse, so it is harder to get together a majority for something truly bad—and harder to get together a critical mass for succeeding in an unconstitutional conspiracy.

These two points are closely related to the two ways James Madison sees for avoiding oppression of a political minority by the majority. With my notes added in brackets, here is what he says on that:

Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented [diversity of bad things people want to do helps], or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression [representatives instead of direct democracy helps if some legislators are public-spirited, and it is harder to organize a successful unconstitutional action in a large nation].

Let me back up James Madison on these points.

First, I do think our national politicians are, on average, smarter and more competent than our state and local politicians, while the state and local politicians are more corrupt than our national politicians. It might not seem that way, because a greater share of the corruption of national politicians is revealed by the more numerous press covering them than the share of corruption revealed of state and local politicians. But actively recalling stories of corruption by state and local politicians can give a more balanced perspective. (I’d love to see some comparable statistics on corruption by national politicians as compared to corruption to state and local politicians.)

Second, although we have quite a bit of polarization of our national politics, and for substantial fractions of our national history, there were majorities for racial and gender and sexual injustice, there are types of injustice for which there are likely majorities at the state level but not at the national level. James Madison gives the example of the oppression of religious minorities with laws that suit the religious majority:

A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.

And even in our polarized time, it is clear that the extreme left wing and the extreme right wing have an easier time putting together a majority in an individual state than in the United States as a whole. Just think of the states that are dominated by these two extremes.

It must be admitted that the problem of the majority enacting unjust laws remains with us. But I think James Madison is right that the problem would be worse if each state were a separate nation. Just look at the European Union: some of the nations within it have gone significantly away from respect for the rights of political minorities. If the European Union were a nation rather than a group of nations, fair treatment of political minorities might prevail somewhat more uniformly.

FEDERALIST NO. 10

The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

From the New York Packet
Friday, November 23, 1787.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:


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 by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.

By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.

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. 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.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, 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. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.

It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.

The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. 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. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,--is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

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. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And 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.


Here are links to my other posts on The Federalist Papers so far:

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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