The Locke Luminary Vol. II, No. 1 (Summer 1999) Part 4
Edited by Amanda J. Owens, Director of Legal Studies, and Dr. Charles K. Rowley, General Director
The Thought of James Madison,
by Charles K. Rowley, The Locke Institute and George Mason University
The importance of a good education
James Madison was born on March 16, 1751, across the Rappahannock River from Port Royal. He was the eldest son of Nelly Conway and James Madison, a Virginia family of substantial gentry, indeed one of the leading two hundred closely networked families that throughout his lifetime would dominate Virginia politics and would make large contributions to the public life of the new United States. As a privileged white male in a well-off family supported by some 118 slaves, Madison was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
As an infant, Madison was moved to the site of Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, the family plantation that was to be his home for the remainder of his life. Among James Madison's many blessings was that of living all his life 'amid the fertile beauty of the Piedmont country presided over so majestically by the Blue Ridge Mountains' (Ketcham1994, 10). Among the curses of his early childhood would be the serious smallpox epidemics of 1761 and 1762 and the periodic Indian attacks over the period 1754-1763 associated with the French and Indian War. The victorious conclusion of that war by the British Empire and the sense of deliverance that came with it 'surely helped form Madison's early consciousness of public affairs' (Ketcham 1994, 16).
Madison was educated at home during his early childhood, primarily by his mother and grandmother. By his eleventh birthday he was well grounded in the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. In June 1762, he left Montpelier to attend the boarding school of Donald Robertson, a Scot who had been educated at the University of Edinburgh, a man who Madison subsequently would remember as 'a man of great learning and an eminent teacher'. The school was filled with pupils who Madison would know publicly and privately for the rest of his life.
Over a five year period, Madison learned Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish, was introduced to mathematics and science and immersed himself in the histories of Greece and Rome. Robertson's small collection of 'great books' thus provided Madison with an early advantage over many of his Virginia contemporaries whose pre-college education was limited by 'ignorant, indifferent tutors or rectors who owned only a few Latin grammars and some volumes on divinity' (Ketcham 1994, 20).
In 1767, Madison left the Robertson school for two years of advanced tutoring at home under the Reverend Thomas Martin, who had graduated in 1762 from the College of New Jersey at Princeton. Fired by the enthusiasm of the New Light Presbyterians who had influenced his own college education, Martin guided Madison's college preparations during the momentous events precipitated by the Stamp Act. Undoubtedly, Madison was influenced by the patriotic reactions of his family to this apparent act of British oppression. In the summer of 1769, Madison departed from Montpelier to follow the footsteps of his tutor Thomas Martin at The College of New Jersey at Princeton.
The College of New Jersey served James Madison well, offering a remarkably liberal education for a late eighteenth century colonial college. Madison found himself at the center of the English dissenting tradition in North America. He 'found there that enlightened men took for granted the pattern of thought which from Cromwell's day had opposed religious establishment, ecclesiastical hierarchy, courtly influence, and every other manifestation of privileged and therefore easily and inevitably corruptible power' (Ketcham 1994, 38). The distinguished revolutionary careers of so many College of New Jersey graduates of Madison's day are clear evidence that doctrines of resistance and freedom were taught well there from 1769 to 1776.
The key intellectual guiding the course of Madison's thought during his college days was President Witherspoon, a Scot who had developed habits and doctrines of resistance to authority during earlier battles against the power of the synods of the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland. The 'Old Doctor' as Madison referred to him, constantly proclaimed his pride in 'the spirit of liberty' and declared himself to be 'an opposer of lordly domination and sacredotal tyranny' (Ketcham 1994, 38). This was an intellectual environment in which the seeds of revolution and independence could freely spawn and grow.
The heroes of President Witherspoon were John Milton, Algernon Sidney, John Locke and the authors of Cato's Letters, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. Witherspoon was as fearful, as as any of these writers, that all power in human hands would be abused. As each of these scholars, Witherspoon was fearful that power placed in human hands would be abused and was on guard against exaggerated pretensions to authority. James Madison learned from Witherspoon the sterling principle that liberty was to be gained and preserved only at the price of eternal vigilance.
Madison learned much more from President Witherspoon than just to value liberty and to endorse revolution. Under Witherspoon's tutelage he read a range of literature that deeply influenced his post-revolutionary thinking. One such text was Memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz, 1723 which tells of the swirling riots and political maneuvers in France during the period 1648-1652. Throughout the text, de Retz urged prudence, a shrewd calculation of consequences, a willingness to admit mistakes, and the ability to use power, or the appearance of power, effectively. These precepts guided Madison's thought fundamentally throughout his long public career.
In his commentary on government and society, Witherspoon closely mirrored his thinking on Aristotle's Politics. He outlined three forms of government, namely monarchy, aristocracy and constitutional polity, and the perversions of each, tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. He distinguished between these noble and perverted forms just as Aristotle had done, according to their attention to the common good or to selfish factional ends. In this way, Madison was provided with a supreme emphasis upon the ends and not the means of government as a foundation for his political education. In particular, democracy, in the Aristotelian sense, of government by the multitude, where the will of demagogues and not the law was supreme, was a term of disdain in the lexicon of Witherspoon.
Repeatedly, Witherspoon would drive home the notion that the role of government was to encourage and to nourish, not life alone, but the good life, the life of virtue. As Madison later came to accept John Locke's concepts of representation and government by consent, he added these concepts to his earlier education in the politics of virtue. In this way, a great gulf separates the thought of Madison from such later concepts as Benthamite utilitarianism and simple majoritarian democracy. For Madison, virtue was always the foundation of government, endowed with a higher sanction than the mere will of the majority.
By the time that Madison had completed his studies he had become an ardent student of the scholarship of John Locke, having read all his works. Indeed, Locke's thought influenced Madison profoundly and was always thereafter the foundation of his personal and public philosophy. In this regard, Madison embraced the early, empirical, largely British phase of the Enlightenment. He was little phased by Hume's analysis of the contradiction between empiricism and reason. Rather he accepted the world of Newton and Locke at face value viewing the world as remarkably harmonious, and believing that the discovery of facts about man and society would lead to progress and enlightenment:
In summary, Madison's education at Princeton furnished him, from the wisdom of Greece and Rome, a lifelong realism about human nature, a comprehensive concept of political obligation, and an instinctive admiration of patience, prudence, and moderation. From the Christian tradition, he inherited a sense of the prime importance of conscience, a strict personal morality, an understanding of human dignity as well as depravity, and a conviction that vital religion could contribute importantly to the general welfare. From Locke, he learned that to be fully human, men had to be free, and that to be free, they had in some way to take part in their government' (Ketcham 1994, 50).
The College of New Jersey at Princeton during Madison's stay surely was the seedbed of sedition and the nursery for rebels justifiably criticized by Tory loyalists. It was also a school for statesmen trained to seek freedom and ordered government through the pursuit of virtue.
A child of the revolution reads some books
Madison returned to Virginia in 1773. In late 1774, he became a member of the Orange County Committee on Public Safety, chaired by his father, and was active in raising men and materials to defend the County against a British invasion. Madison was appointed colonel of the militia, again under the command of his father; but he never took an active part in the War of Revolution. Instead, he entered into a lifelong career in politics.
In 1776, Madison was a delegate to the convention in Williamsburg that declared Virginia's independence, that constructed Virginia's new independent government and that instructed Virginia's delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. Madison was elected to Virginia's House of Delegates in October 1776, but lost his seat in 1777, largely because he refused to supply the traditional barrel of free liquor for the voters on Election Day. In 1778, the House of Delegates elected Madison to the council of state reporting to the Virginia Governor, Patrick Henry. In 1779, Madison became acquainted with his lifelong friend and collaborator, Thomas Jefferson who was elected Governor of Virginia in that year.
As his friendship with Jefferson blossomed, Madison's political stature increased. In December 1779, he accepted an appointment to the Third Continental Congress in response to a plea from General Washington that Virginia should send 'her ablest and best men' to Congress. He arrived in Philadelphia in March 1780 only to find Congress in a state of defeat and despair, a mere shadow of the inspired body that had led the nation in 1776.
Fairly early in his tenure, in 1781, the last state ratified the Articles of Confederation and 'Congress became the uninspired creature of that uninspired instrument' (Miller, 1992, 10). During the four years that he served in Congress, Madison obtained a considerable political education. The Continental Congress inexorably collapsed into thirteen independent states, each jealous of the other, touchy about its sovereignty, stingy with its moneys, unwilling properly to finance the defense of the new nation against the loyalist armies. Only the intervention of the French finally saved the new nation from a humiliating and well-deserved defeat.
When his tenure in Congress expired in late 1783, Madison once again returned to Virginia, absorbing the lessons that he had learned about the fundamental weakness of the Confederacy. In 1784, Madison was elected once again from Orange County to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he remained until 1787. He quickly became a legislative leader, steering through the assembly much of the revision of the Virginia law code proposed by Jefferson and defeating Patrick Henry's attempt to support an established Church in the State of Virginia. The inalienable right of the individual to freedom with respect to religion would become a central component of Madison's political philosophy.
By the spring of 1786, Madison was well aware that the Confederation was self-destructing because of the absence of any central authority. Thirty five years old, well-educated and well-versed in politics, Madison was ready to undertake serious research into the nature of republican governments, not for abstract purposes but rather as the basis for redesigning the Constitution of the United States. To this end, helped by trunk loads of books shipped to him from Paris by Thomas Jefferson, Madison settled down to read every treatise that he could find on governments bearing some resemblance to the one in which he had been participating.
He referred specifically to 21 works, some of them multi-volume collections. From these he listed all the ancient confederacies, most notably the Amphictyonic and Achean confederacy of ancient Greece, the Helvitic confederacy of 14th to 15th century Switzerland, the Belgic confederacy after 1679 and the Germanic confederacy. In each case, he made a list of its identifying features and an analysis of its federal authority. In each case he focused attention upon the vices of the system. He determined that the overriding vices of all these past confederacies were the jealousies and sovereign defiance of the component parts and the inability of the central authorities to control them.
Madison's approach, focusing upon the vices of the proposed solution and upon the past, was unusual if not to say unique among revolutionaries. For revolutionaries then as now tend to focus only upon the present and the future and to identify only the vices of the regimes that they oppose (Miller 1992, 16). The regime that they propose too often is viewed as a utopia, an ideal form that will dispense with all the problems of the system that is to be destroyed. Madison was too well-educated by the 'Old Doctor' and too disillusioned by his experiences in Philadelphia simply to ignore the vices of his own movement.
Yet Madison was no cynic in his analysis of the republican form of government. Rather he was an ardent and a zealous reformer of that system:
'I profess myself to have had a uniform zeal for republican government. If the honorable member, or any other person, conceives that my attachment to this system arises from a different source, he is greatly mistaken. From the first moment that my mind was capable of contemplating political subjects, I never till this moment, ceased wishing success to well regulated republican government. The establishment of such in America was my most ardent desire.' (James Madison, June 14, 1788: The Virginia Convention considering the ratification of the Constitution).
On the world scene, Madison was viewed as a young supporter of the world's first successful colonial revolt and as a promoter of republicanism spawned by the Enlightenment and Dissenting Protestantism (Miller 1992, 17). At home, he was a supporter of the Patriots against the Loyalists, and in later years a founder, together with Jefferson, of the more progressive of the two parties that contested for power in the new nation. Yet, as a progressive revolutionary he had the remarkable wisdom to consult books about the past and to ask questions about the vices of republican forms of government. As an American who never left his native soil, Madison was the most cosmopolitan statesman of his time, far out-reaching in this respect his much more widely traveled colleague Thomas Jefferson.
Madison would make good use of his notes on the ancient and modern confederacies. They would appear in his important speech on June 6 1787 in the federal Convention in Philadelphia. They would re-appear in the following October, in his letter to Jefferson summarizing the convention. They would re-appear most potently in the following winter in The Federalist Papers,Numbers 18, 19 and 20 where Madison set out his arguments against the Articles of Confederation.
The 'oracle of truth' derived from the experience of history and eloquently enunciated by Madison in the Federalist Papers was as follows:
'The important truth, which it unequivocally pronounces in the present case, is that a sovereignty over sovereigns, a government over governments, a legislation for communities, as contra-distinguished from individuals; as it is a solecism in theory, so in practice, it is subversive of the order and ends of civil polity, by substituting violence in place of law, or the destructive coertion of the sword, in place of the mild and salutory coertion of the magistracy.' (James Madison Federalist 20).
Madison had learned from history that a confederation in which the sub-units are the sovereign entities and in which the central government lacks the power to act directly on individuals always fails. It fails, as we now would say, because of the free rider problem that erodes the incentives of any individual state to finance and to reinforce the activities of the central body.
The solution proposed by Madison, unique as it was at that time, was that citizens of individual states must place themselves under the laws of two governments and that, in the absence of such a submission, any federation of republics would fail. The Constitution that Madison would play a principal role in drafting, and that later writing as Publius he would eloquently defend, would overcome this fault by providing a new arrangement in which the stronger federal center might exercise its own authority over individuals, and survive. (Miller 1992, 20).
James Madison as The Founding Father?
In August 1786, Madison left his study of ancient and modern confederacies for a first-hand lesson in the problems of federation at the Annapolis Convention called in September 1786. Delegates gathered only slowly for this Convention and by September 11 only twelve had appeared. The New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia delegations each had a quorum while Pennsylvania and New York were represented unofficially.
In consequence, the Convention could not exercise its commission 'to examine the trade of the states...and consider...a uniform system in their commercial regulations'. Those who were opposed to increased federal power had simply boycotted the meeting. Those present decided to issue a call for a convention in May 1787 in Philadelphia to consider more generally the ills of the Union.
Madison endorsed this proposal wholeheartedly and persuaded Alexander Hamilton to make a stirring call to the states to appoint delegates to the Philadelphia convention to: 'render the Constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union'. Thus began three momentous years of collaboration between Madison and Hamilton, a productive partnership that was destined to dissolve into bitter hatred as the two men moved forward in the post-Constitution environment with diametrically opposed visions of the role of the federal government.
Madison would join the convention in Philadelphia with a clearly formulated political philosophy. He recognized the powerful proclivity of mankind to prefer private advantage to the public good. Yet, he also presumed a capacity for human beings, at least to a degree and under the right constraints, to serve justice and the common good. Madison was concerned above all else to arrange the institutions of politics so as to encourage the common good by restraining private advantage. (Miller 1992, 30). In this respect, Madison's view of human nature differed radically from that of Machiavelli or Hobbes. For Machiavelli, morality is something to be manipulated; for Hobbes it does not exist. For Madison, as for Machiavelli and Hobbes, the issue was the survival of a political order. Decisively, for Madison, however, a republican order must have a moral content, a cluster of values, without which it would lose its meaning.
Madison arrived early in Philadelphia on May 3, 1787 to take part in 'the grand convention of the states'. His intent was to bring the Virginia delegation solidly behind a plan that he had outlined the previous month to George Washington and Governor Edmund Randolph. Madison's plan sought to reconcile Washington's insistence on a thorough reform that would provide authority for central government with Randolph's insistence that state prerogatives must be protected. Madison perceived that a plan built on such a reconciliation of state rights and federal prerogatives might have a real chance of adoption (Ketcham 1994, 188). The Virginia Plan, though it did not make its way through the convention without some significant amendments, provided the basic document from which the Constitution of the United States of America would be written.
The convention made a quorum for the first time on May 25 1787 and organized itself for business. On May 29, Randolph laid before the delegates Madison's Virginia Plan in the form of fifteen resolutions that were to form the essential frame of the government finally offered to the states for ratification. By a surprising majority of six states to one the convention supported a recommendation by Hamilton, based on this Plan, and determined to create a new constitution, not merely to tinker with the old. (Ketcham 1994, 196).
The very next intervention, by George Read of Delaware, however, identified what would become the most contentious issue that the convention would have to resolve: should the several states each have an equal vote in the national legislature or should representation be according to population? Read threatened to retire from the convention if the principle of equality were to be breached. Madison had already realized that the equality of the states indeed was incompatible with a centralized republican government but he moved shrewdly to head off discussion at this early stage in the convention.
The delegates agreed relatively easily, Madison not dissenting, that there would be two houses of the new national legislature, although Benjamin Franklin openly preferred a unicameral legislature. Unintentionally, the delegates laid the foundation for the compromise that eventually would emerge, much to Madison's consternation, and that would affect the nature of the upper house.
On June 6, Madison gave his first major speech, his most important speech of the convention, using the occasion to lay down his explanation why there are unjust rules in a republic. He presented his analysis of the groups, powers and interests - in essence the factions - which make up any people. He proposed his republican solution: enlarge the sphere and thereby divide the community into so many interests and parties as to make it unlikely that any one could become dominant.
Madison launched an attack on those members of the convention who proposed that some indirect mode of election should be used for the lower chamber of the legislature, on the ground that individuals were seldom fit judges of legislators. The direct election of the Lower House by the people, Madison asserted, was 'a clear principle of free government'. Objections made against that principle were largely specious.
Madison argued that a central government would provide more adequately than separate states for the security of private rights and for the steady dispensation of justice. Interference with these duties had been rampant within the states under the Articles of Confederation. Such interference had been most manifest in the smallest state, Rhode Island. In general, smallness tended to be associated with poor government. An enlarged republic 'was the only defense against the inconveniences of democracy consistent with the democratic form of government'.
According to Madison, republican weaknesses were not compounded in an enlarged country. Rather they were diminished and controlled. Increased powers for the central government were an essential part of the defense against such evils. In such an enlarged system, characterized by an appropriate system of checks and balances, the people could safely be encouraged to elect their representatives.
When the convention followed Madison's speech by endorsing the election of the Lower House directly by the people - albeit with a franchise that would extend to barely 25 per cent of the potential electorate. - it laid the strongest possible foundation for democratic government. In this speech, Madison forthrightly presented the idea of a compound republic, together with the idea of the balancing of factions - pluralism as we have come to call it - which he would further polish and convincingly expound in The Federalist Papers.
In this speech Madison confronted explicitly for the only time in his career a form of oppression based on human difference: 'We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground for the most oppressive domination ever exercised by man over man'. This insight would never be stated again, and was notably absent in Federalist 10. As a lifetime owner of slaves, Madison's lop-sided struggle between his morals and his search for personal wealth became a matter solely for a troubled conscience. Madison was not alone among Virginia's Founding Fathers in this unforgivable moral failure. George Washington, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson walked with him down this guilt-ridden path.
The debate in the convention now focused in earnest on the nature of representation in the two houses of the legislature, pitting the large states, which for the most part preferred population-based representation, against the small states which preferred equal representation among the states. Madison unequivocally preferred the population-based criterion, since this would protect the central government against the vices of the small states. On this issue, Madison would not have his way.
On July 16, by a narrow majority, and over Madison's vigorous dissent, the convention accepted the 'Great Compromise, whereby the lower house would be elected on the basis of population and the upper house would be determined on the basis of state equality. In one stroke, the convention appeared to have thrown Madison's compound republic into disarray. Would the small states now bring all their vices into the core of the central government?
At this critical juncture, Madison's detailed research and careful preparation for the convention paid handsome dividends. He would now delve into his knowledge of political institutions to recreate the compound republic in the newly created, much more adverse conditions. Henceforth, Madison would become much more cautious about the powers to be granted to the central government. These powers must now be checked in ways that the Virginia Plan had not really addressed. With the able and consistent support of James Wilson, Madison now focused attention on the issue of the separation of powers.
Prior to the 'Great Compromise' the convention had focused primarily on the legislature in the expectation that that body would be the center of power as was the case with the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia Plan had proposed only a weak and vaguely defined executive and judiciary, chosen by the legislature and dependent upon it. Madison now recognized that this must be radically changed if the vices of the small states were to be prevented from permeating the central government. He also recognized that the legislature must be conceived as a body of strictly enumerated and not of unlimited powers.
Madison played a major role in ensuring that the executive, now conceived as the president, would be chosen by an electoral college system and not appointed by the legislature, and that he would be eligible for re-election. He played a major role in ensuring that members appointed to the Senate by the states would vote as individuals and not as state delegates. He played a major role in ensuring that the judiciary would be appointed by the president subject to advise and consent by the Senate and that those appointed would receive lifetime tenure and guaranteed remuneration.
In enumerating the powers of the legislature, Madison followed the precepts of John Locke in formulating a set of restrictions designed to protect property rights. In his mind, as in the mind of Locke, human rights and property rights buttressed each other, indeed were indispensable to each other. There is no evidence that Madison was ever party to any conspiracy of the propertied class to behave selfishly in this regard. Indeed, any reading of Madison's writings makes it abundantly clear that his approach to governance within a compound republic was grounded in Enlightenment morality and singular high purpose.
Madison was so satisfied with the checks and balances of the system that he had forged that he forcefully rejected attempts to incorporate a Bill of Rights into the Constitution. This false confidence in the compound republic cost the convention the votes of significant Founding Fathers, most notably George Mason. Fortunately, Madison was man enough to recognize his folly and to help to move the first ten amendments successfully through the amendment process. Madison thereby helped to protect individual rights which otherwise would have been obliterated by the unanticipated emergence of a federal Leviathan in the twentieth century.
There are those who honor James Madison as the Founding Father. They are incorrect. Rather he should be viewed as the most important of several parents of the Constitution (Miller 1992, 142). For the Philadelphia convention was a complex process in collaborative decision-making, and the Constitution was not the rational construction of a single elite mind.
Forrest McDonald has noted that 'of seventy-one specific proposals that Madison moved, seconded, or spoke unequivocally in regard to, he was on the losing side forty times'. Madison was not even the most frequent speaker at the convention, securing only second place to Gouverneur Morris. More important, he failed to carry the convention on two central issues, namely the right of the federal government to nullify state legislation and population rather than equality as the basis for representation in the upper house of the legislature. James Madison in Philadelphia did not enjoy the advantage of David Hume at his desk in Edinburgh. He could not assume reality away. He had to respond throughout to a changing configuration of real forces and opportunities that would not respond to his wishes like some puppet on a string (Miller 1992, 143).
Yet Madison played an indispensable role in the convention and the Constitution would not have been written in the way that it was in his absence. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, Madison did the heavy lifting essential to the task in hand. He prepared for the convention far more thoroughly than anyone else. His preparation was of crucial importance.
He played the key role in issuing the call from Annapolis that made the convention happen. He it was who persuaded George Washington to lend his indispensable support. He it was who developed the Virginia Plan which provided the foundation for the constitutional debate. He it was who maintained the vision of the compound republic against all the forces of faction that manifested themselves on the convention floor. At the convention he attended every session, kept the only notes from which we learn what happened, and spoke 161 times.
James Madison as Publius: Ratifying the Constitution
James Madison's work was not yet done. He left Philadelphia shortly after the Constitution was signed to take his place in the Continental Congress in New York that now would determine its fate. This Congress, with a unanimous vote, sent the document without commendation to the states. The battle for ratification was now engaged.
At this point Madison joined forces with the most intellectually brilliant of all the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, forever known in Sam Adams' words as 'the bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar'. Although Hamilton had much more deep-rooted reservations about the Constitution than Madison, the two agreed, together with John Jay, to write and publish a comprehensive, reasoned defense of the new constitution. The result was The Federalist Papers written at speed and in the heat of battle, but regarded, nevertheless as perhaps the finest treatise on political theory ever written in the United States (Ketcham 1994, 239). The authors wrote anonymously under the name of Publius, although the identities of the authors were subsequently made known.
It is not possible, in this presentation, to do full justice to the ideas set out by Madison in his Federalist essays. Let me offer instead a flavor of his more important pronouncements. On November 24, 1787 Madison's first entry was published, the essay that would become in the twentieth century 'the most famous of all the Federalist papers and one of a handful of the most important documents in American history: Federalist 10:
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them every where brought into different degrees of activity....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 conflict'
In Federalist 10, Madison publicly summarized the argument that a large republic was not a contradictory concept He contended that Aristotle, Montesquieu and others had been wrong on this issue. By extending the representative principle to a large territory there would result a great diversity of interests in the government. However, in a system that fairly represented the people, this diversity would preserve freedom and not threaten it, because no single interest would be able to control the government.
Although the potential divisions in society were many, Madison suggested that 'the most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distribution of property'. This has important consequences for governance:
No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and not improbably, corrupt his integrity. 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 indeed concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens; and what are the different classes of legislators, but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine?
It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust such clashing interests and render them subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. If the causes of faction cannot be removed, then relief must be sought by controlling its effects. Madison's republican solution to the problem of the majority faction is also set out in Federalist Number 10 It is necessary to extend the sphere of the country to be governed thus making it less probable that a majority will have a common motive to invade the rights of others.
The second major protection against faction is outlined by Madison in Federalist 51. The right kind of checks and balances provided by multiple separated powers helps to preserve republican government within the federal structure. Several passages from this essay have become famous: 'If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary''. 'Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place'. 'In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself'.
There, for lack of time, I must leave the magic of Madison's words and bring this presentation to an end. Suffice it to say that of the eighty five essays that comprise The Federalist, Hamilton wrote fifty one, Jay wrote five and Madison wrote twenty nine. The essays were written at speed and were designed to influence the ratification debate. They may or may not have done so, who can tell. However, they set out the principles of the compound republic in a book that is destined for immortality.
James Madison is honored and remembered, and rightly so, for his intellectual contribution both to the constitutional debate and to the process of ratification. This presentation has focused attention exclusively on these contributions. Of course, there is much more that might be said about a statesman who would go on to play several major roles in the political system that he had helped to create. There is more that might be said about a wise man who would later turn against some of the notions of centralized federal government that he had earlier espoused in the light of the post-constitutional experience. There is more that might be said about a weak and vacillating President who unfortunately possessed none of the qualities of leadership required for executive office; a president whose rash decision to take a new nation into a war against the British Empire ended with the sacking of Washington and his own ignominious flight. However, these events tell us more about Madison as a politician than as a political philosopher.
When we shortly gather together at Montpelier, Madison's former home, we might pause to contemplate the following remarks by William Lee Miller in his biography of Madison:
'Tell me mummy, why are we looking at all these empty rooms in this boring house. Well son, once there lived in this house a Virginia family, rather ordinary except that the oldest child was a very bright boy. That boy sat in his room, wherever exactly it was, somewhere over by that staircase, and he read and thought hard and made notes for himself. One summer-1785-he wrote the best defense of religious liberty the country would ever see. The following spring, he started the most fruitful research project any American has ever undertaken. He studied what was wrong with republics, old ones and new ones, how they failed and why they were failing. He studied what was wrong, and why republics failed, so that he could build a republic that would last, and he pretty much did'
Banning, L. (1995). The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison & the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.-
Ketcham, R. (1994). James Madison: A Biography. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia.
McCoy, D. (1989). The Last Of The Fathers: James Madison & The Republican Legacy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, W. L. (1992). The Business of May Next: James Madison & the Founding. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia.
Rutland, R. A. (1987). James Madison: The Founding Father. New York: Macmillan.
Hamilton, A., Jay, J. and Madison, J. (1788). The Federalist Papers.
© The Locke Institute 1999