The Federalist Papers: No. 10

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 10 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states. This particular paper was written by the Father of the Constitution, James Madison! He is writing under the pseudonym “Publius.”

Madison_Federalist 10 (2)Madison continues a discussion begun in earlier papers: Why is a formal Union best for America? Why shouldn’t the thirteen states break up into 3 or 4 different confederacies, as some were then suggesting? Several reasons were given in the earlier essays. Now Madison adds another.

A large republic will have the best “tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” But what is a faction? Madison defines it as a group “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.”

In other words, a “faction” is a group that is gripped by the need to accomplish some policy purpose, even if it hurts the greater good of the community.

How can this “mischief” be cured? Well, one option is to remove the cause of factions: liberty. But should we destroy liberty? Should we force each citizen to hold the “same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests”? Of course not, Madison concludes. The cure would be “worse than the disease.”

Why, then, are so many forces today striving to shove Americans into one-size-fits-all solutions, policies, or opinions? Surely Madison would be horrified!

If the causes of faction cannot be cured, then perhaps the effects can be controlled.

Madison argues that a pure democracy can never control the effects of faction. Have you heard the saying that pure democracy is like two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner? The sheep always gets sacrificed, right? That is basically what Madison is saying here. A **pure** democracy cannot work.

So what about a republic?

Possibly. In a republic, representatives are chosen to act for the “true interest of their country.” On the other hand, even republics can fail: “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.”

Madison thinks this danger is mitigated in a larger republic. More “fit characters” are available to be elected. And there are more voters, which should make it “more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.”

Madison concludes that a smaller confederacy is less likely to work because the people themselves are less diverse. It is too easy to gain a bare and tyrannical majority. By contrast, a larger Union will have much more diversity, making it “less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens . . . .”

A republic, Madison believes, controls faction better than a democracy. But a large republic controls factions better than a small republic.

“Publius” will continue his arguments for ratifying the Constitution in the next essay.