In The Minds of the Framers: Federalist Papers 10 & 51

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In The Minds of the Framers: Federalist Papers 10 & 51

One of the concerns of the Anti-federalist was that the new Constitution created a country that was too large for one government to rule over. They feared that it would be too difficult to achieve a ruling majority with such a diverse group of people with various interests. Others feared that democracy would lead to a civil war. As you read the excerpt from Federalist #10 think about how Madison responds to those fears.

Summary of federalist # 10 By James Madison
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As defined by Madison, a faction was a number of citizens, whether a majority or minority, who were united and activated "by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

There were two ways of removing the causes of factions, or political parties. The first was to destroy the liberty essential to their existence. This remedy would be worse than the disease. The second was to give everyone the same opinions, passions, and interests. This was impossible. Woven into the fabric of all societies, deeply planted in the very nature of man, were conflicting ideas, interests, and passions. The greatest source of factions had always been the various and unequal distribution of property, said Madison:

Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, . . . a landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a monied interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern Legislation.

The inference to which we are brought, is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed; and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.

Such effects could be better controlled in a large society under a representative form of government than in a small society under a popular form of government. The proposed constitution would check the power of factions by balancing one against the other. Factious leaders might "kindle a flame" in one state, but would be unable to spread a general conflagration throughout the states.

"A rage for paper money, for abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, . . ." was not likely to spread if those professing themselves republicans showed zeal in "supporting the character of Federalists."


1) In your own words describe what a faction is.

2) What are two methods of removing factions? Why is each unacceptable?

3) According to Madison, how would the Constitution control factions?

4) Which theory of American democracy most closely resembles Madison’s prediction of how the new democracy would operate? (Pluralism, hyper pluralism or class-elite)

6) Who are the most powerful factions in modern politics? Are those factions mostly “local powers” as Madison predicted or have any been able to dominate on the national stage, Madison argued that the size and diversity of the nation would keep any faction from becoming too powers.

Another concern of the Anti-federalist was that the central or federal government under the new Constitution would become too powerful. As you read this excerpt from Federalist # 51 think about how Madison addresses those fears. Keep in mind that the Framers were influenced by Social Contract Theory, which is based in the belief that people go into government to protect their core rights and liberties.

Federalist # 51 by James Madison
In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others . . . But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others . . . It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? 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. 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 . . .
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified. An absolute negative on the legislature appears, at first view, to be the natural defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed . . . In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.

1) What is the main argument in Federalist 51?

2) What is meant by “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition?”

3) Draw a column for legislative, executive, and judicial. In your groups think of the different ways the Constitution places checks on each branch of government.

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