Federalist #10 - James Madison - Federalist Fridays

Federalist #10 - James Madison - Federalist Fridays

Federalist #10 is one of the great documents in American political history.

James Madison writes about the dangers of Faction in #10, giving an explanation as to why the Constitution could help prevent tyranny of the majority.

If you have missed any of our previous reviews of the Federalist Papers (AKA Federalist Fridays), click here to pick a Paper.

Federalist #10

James Madison

November 23, 1787

Enter James Madison

Well here we are. Federalist #10 and James Madison finally makes an appearance.

Madison, the primary architect of the Constitution, was in New York defending his document. He teamed up with Alexander Hamilton (who in just three short years would become his most ardent rival) to write the Federalist Papers.

In Paper #10, Madison picks up where Hamilton left off the previous day, continuing the discussion of divisions between the States.

Madison’s Style

When one begins Federalist #10, the difference between Madison's and Hamilton's writing styles are immediately apparent.

While Hamilton's articles are generally written with an argumentative tone, attempting to prove his point by demonstrating the faults in opposing views, Madison approaches his first paper in a more methodical, even intellectual, evaluation.

Federalist #10 reads like a college thesis, outlining arguments, giving examples, and drawing conclusions. It may not be as much fun to read, but it is succinct and direct.

Perhaps the Most Important Federalist

Federalist #10 is reflected on by most historians as one of the definitive essays on American political thought. Furthermore, it is considered one of the most important documents in the history of the United States.

Because of this, entire papers could be (and have been) written on #10.  

Therefore, this installment of Federalist Fridays will be a bit different than the rest. As opposed to my usual summation of the Paper, coupled with an Anti-Federalist response, I will focus on its place in American history and my opinion there of.

Factions

Federalist #10 is actually a continuation of Hamilton's #9 which was released just the day before. However, instead of discussing how the Constitution prevents divisions from within, Madison claims they are inevitable and promotes the Constitution’s ability to mitigate their effects.

The overarching theme of #10 are Factions, which Madison defines as:

“...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.”

The important part of that phrase is ‘adverse to the rights of other citizens’ which demonstrate his concern with party’s whose policies will actively hurt others.

He further describes how this type of Faction can really only be a party in the majority, as a minority will never have the power to make laws which negatively affect a larger number of people.

Part National, Part Federal

James goes on to assume that a true democracy is a poor form of government, using the 'too many cooks in the kitchen’ argument (though be mindful that I have extremely oversimplified his thoughts). He proceeds to acknowledge that the opposite, too few people in power, is something equally to be feared.

Madison's theory is best summed up in this statement:

“...the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”

The beautiful thing about the Constitution is that it is part Federal and part National. The State Governments can take care of issues at the local level while the National Government can manage the big picture. This cures concerns of the Republic being too big or too small. Like Baby Bear's porridge, it's just right.

Observations

Many historians have pointed at Federalist #10 as an essentially economic document, stating that the guards against Faction are meant to prevent misappropriation of funds towards self interested means.

Others believe it to be a reference to class struggle (in both good and bad ways).

Both of the above theories seem to be based off one line:

“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;”

Personally, I disagree with the above listed determinations.

The aforementioned quote comes in the second to last sentence of a very long essay. Throughout most of his article, Madison speaks in very general terms, rarely referencing specifics like economics of religion.

I interpret the piece as a warning against tyranny of the majority at large, of any nature. While reading this Paper, it seems that the fear is the majority of people will be led against a minority.

Yes,the idea of ‘the masses’ rising up to overtake the wealthy elites was put there in the end to strike fear into Madison’s moneyed readers, but the core of the essay was to demonstrate how any Faction in the majority could repress any Faction in the minority for any reason.

One More Thing

The last thing I would like to point out is how wrong James Madison was.

His goal in this Paper, as with all the Federalist Papers, was to demonstrate the perks of the Constitution and convince the people (specifically of New York) to vote in favor of the document. The promise made herein was the Constitution's ability to avoid Factions and the tyranny of the majority.

Just three short years later, Madison would be the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, one of the first two great Factions in American history (I know some of you are thinking ‘wait, Thomas Jefferson was the leader’ but Madison did most the legwork, while Tommy was the face of the operation for the first few years).

Madison would continue with his Faction through his Presidency, when the Federalists considered the majority’s tyranny so great they quietly discussed ceding from the Union at the Hartford Convention.

It is interesting to note that, for many, Madison would come to embody the very idea of Faction he insisted the Constitution would prevent in Federalist #10.

To learn about Founders who’s careers would later be effect by Faction, check out our articles on Rufus King and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

If you’d like to read a really interesting version of Federalist #10, check out ‘Federalist 10 in Modern English’ which is only a dollar through the affiliate link below. (You can read the original all over the internet and at any library).

If you are new to this site and like what you read here, we publish brief bios of little known Founders every day of the week so make sure you subscribe to our email list.

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