The Federalist #51



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James Madison, "The Federalist #51" (1787)

To promote the ratification of the new Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison teamed up to write a series of newspaper articles under the name, "Publius." These articles, eighty-five in all, are known together as  The Federalist Papers and have become justly famous not only as high-class propaganda, but as brilliant commentary on the principles underlying the Constitution. One of the most famous of the Federalist Papers, Number Fifty one, explains the Constitutional principle of checks and balances. According to Madison, what are some of problems faced by the new republic? How does the proposed Constitution protect against the problems Madison has noted?
 

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution?... It is ... evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices...

But the great security against a gradual concentration of those several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional and personal motives to resist the encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of the attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. 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. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions...

There are... two considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America, which place that system in a very interesting point of view...

First. 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 [federal and state], 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.

Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority... the other by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable... The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights might be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may presume to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government...

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty is lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger...



In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and general good.... It is no less certain than it is important... that the larger the society... the more duly capable it will be of self government. And happily for the republican cause...


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