How Did the Constitution Guard Against Tyranny?

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How Did the Constitution Guard Against Tyranny?

James Madison was one of the principle authors of the “Federalist Papers”. They were written and circulated during the ratification (approval) process of the Constitution. They were written to gain support for the Constitution.


James Madison, Federalist Paper #51, 1788

“In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate governments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will each control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

Note: Madison’s idea of division of power between central and state governments is known as Federalism. Specific power divisions can be seen in the chart below.

Document Analysis

  1. A “compound” is something made of two or more pieces. What are the two pieces that make up Madison’s compound government?

The central/national government and the state governments.

  1. What word ending in “ism” is another word for this kind of compound government?


  1. How does this compound government provide “double security” to the people?

The central and state governments will check each other’s power. Also, the branches within each level of government will provide checks and balances.

  1. Using the chart above, can you see a pattern in the types of power the Constitution reserved for the State governments?

States seem to have power over the more local and personal issues (school, marriages…). These personal liberties were too important for the framers to put into the hands of the national government. Governments closer to the people (the state governments) would be more in tune with the feelings and cultures of their area.

  1. How does federalism guard against tyranny?

By distributing certain powers between the central government and the states neither could tyrannize (gain absolute power) over the nation or the nation’s people.


James Madison, Federalist Paper #47, 1788

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may be justly pronounces the very definition of tyranny….(L)iberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct.”

Constitution of the USA, 1787

Article 1, Section 1

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, (serve) together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term….

Article 3, Section 1

The judicial power of the United States shall be invested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme court and the inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior…

Document Analysis

  1. What is the main idea of the Madison quote?

If one person or group of persons gets all these powers you will have a tyranny.

  1. Does Madison say it is possible to have tyranny in a democracy? Explain?

Yes, he says powers can accumulate even when the government is “elective”.

  1. What is the primary job of each branch?

The legislative makes the laws, the executive enforces the laws and the judicial branch judges if the laws have been broken.

  1. What would James Madison say about allowing a person elected to the House of Representatives to serve at the same time on the Supreme Court? Explain?

Madison would say this is one step toward tyranny. You must separate law makers from judges or you give too much power to one person.

  1. How does the separation of powers guard against tyranny?

By separating the three powers (legislative, executive and judicial), you keep one person, or one group, from doing whatever they want.

James Madison, Federalist Paper #51, 1788

“…the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that they may be a check on the other…(The three branches) should not be so far separated as to have no constitutional control over each other.”

checks and balances.gif
Document Analysis

  1. What is the main idea in the Madison quote?

The separation of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches should not be complete. Each should have some check on the powers of the others.

  1. What is one way the legislature can check the power of the chief executive?

For example, the House can impeach the President.

  1. What is on way the President can check the power of the Supreme Court?

The President can appoint members of the Supreme Court.

  1. What is one way the Supreme Court can check the Senate?

The Supreme Court can rule a law passed by the Senate unconstitutional.

  1. According to this document, how did the framers of the Constitution guard against tyranny?

The framers gave each of the three branches of government several ways they could limit the power of the other two branches. Together these powers are called checks and balances. By limiting power, checks and balances guard against tyranny by keeping one branch from getting more powerful than the others.

Constitution of the USA, 1787

Article 1, Section 2, House of Representatives

Clause 3: Representatives…shall be appointed…according to… (population)…. The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative; and until (a census is taken within three years) the state of New Hampshire shall be entitled to three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island…one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

Article 1, Section 3, Senate

Clause 1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislatures there of for six years; and each senator shall have one vote.

Document Analysis

  1. On what basis – area, population, or wealth – was the number of representatives in the House determined?


  1. Which states had the smallest representation in the House of Representatives? How many?

Rhode Island, Delaware, both had one

  1. Which state had the most Representatives? How many?

Virginia, 10

  1. Who would have been happier with their representation in the House, small states or large states? Why?

The large states because their bigger population entitled them to more representatives and therefore more power.

  1. Who would have been happier with their representation in the Senate, small states or large states? Why?

The small states because they had the same number of senators as the large states.

  1. How did this small state – large state compromise guard against tyranny?

Equal representation in the Senate protected small states from domination by the large states. Unequal representation in the House rightfully protected the more populous states from being neutralized by a minority.

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