Federalist No. 10: An Analysis

Federalist No. 10: An Analysis

Federalist No. 10 was written by James Madison in November 1787 and was a continuation of Federalist No. 9, written by Alexander Hamilton. The theme of both numbers was “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Factions and Insurrection.” What follows is an analysis of Federalist No. 10 wherein some parts will be summarized for brevity and other parts quoted directly. Reading this analysis will aid one in understanding the assertions of Federalist No. 10.

August Glen-James, editor

In the opening paragraph, Madison conceptually scaffolds the subject matter by asserting that an advantage promised by a “well-constructed Union” is its “tendency to break and control the violence of faction,” which he describes as a “dangerous vice” to which “popular” governments are prone. Madison writes that factionalism introduces into popular governments “instability, injustice, and confusion” and is a mortal disease under which such governments have “everywhere perished.” Thus, friends of popular government will highly value “any plan” that will cure the violence of faction, without violating its fundamental principles.

Madison acknowledges that the American constitutions have improved on popular models of government, but that it is an “unwarrantable partiality” to claim that the chaos and danger of factionalism has been “obviated” by them. He writes:

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

Madison wishes for these complaints to be untrue, but acknowledges that “evidence” and “known facts” dictate that the charges are “in some degree true.” Madison goes on to acknowledge the difficulty in establishing the causes of their distresses and complaints. Some charges are erroneously laid at the feet of the “operation of our governments,” but “other causes” cannot account for many of the “heaviest misfortunes.” At any rate, the public, says he, is increasing in distrust of public engagements and becoming alarmed about private rights. “These,” says Madison, “must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

The answer to obviating the havoc from a factious spirit can be found in the new constitution, i.e., from the Constitutional Convention, 1787. It was not proposed that the new constitution would eliminate factionalism; rather, it was thought that relief could be found through it in the “means of controlling its effects.” Consequently, Madison makes his argument as follows.

Faction Defined

Madison defines faction in these terms: “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated 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."

Methods of Curing the Mischiefs of Faction

Madison writes:

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.
It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.

Origin of the Rights of Property and other “Latent” Causes of Factionalism

“The diversity in the faculties of men,” Madison writes, “from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.”

Madison goes on to identify the “unequal distribution of property” to be the most “common” and “durable” source of faction. He wrote:

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. 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, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed 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, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

Madison covers a few other “latent causes of faction” that “are thus sown in the nature of man.” These include differences of opinion on religion, government, various points of speculation on many subjects, an attachment to different, ambitious leaders, and other persons whose “fortunes have been interesting to the human passions.” All of this has divided mankind into parties, Madison claims, and “inflamed them” with mutual animosities rendering them “more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” “So strong is this propensity of mankind,” Madison writes, “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 conflicts.”

Madison then claims that “The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed. . . .” What does he offer to support this contention? First, he explains why no man is allowed to be a judge in his own case: his interests would bias his judgments and “not improbably” corrupt his integrity. Likewise, “with greater reason,” a body of men are unfit to be both judge and party at the same time, “yet,” Madison continues, “what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but 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?”

Consequently, factionalism is built into the levers and pulleys of government in a very natural and irresistible way. “It is vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust” the various clashing interests upon which people naturally divide “and render them all subservient to the public good.”

Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment [i.e., adjustments to clashing interests] be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

“Justice,” writes Madison, “ought to hold the balance” between competing factions. “Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail.” Upon the conclusion, therefore, that factions cannot be removed from a free society, Madison asserts “that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling” the effects of factionalism. How is this to be done?

This is the juncture in which the nature and history of republican forms of government intersect with the proposed Constitution. History shows that, by nature, when a faction consists of less than a majority, republican principles (i.e., majority rule) supply relief. However, when a faction is an oppressive majority, how can the public good and private rights be protected? History shows this to be the great undoing of popular governments. “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” But, by “what means is this object attainable?”

To this question, Madison suggests two answers:

Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.

So, as the first proposition is improbable the only hope is to rob ambition of opportunity. Pure democracies fail to check ambition because such a government can “admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.” Hence, democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Moreover, politicians who are given to theory “erroneously” suppose that a people completely equal in political rights will become “perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.” The term erroneous seems to be proved by experience.

The Cure of a Republic

Madison claims  that the tumults and violence of democracy can be remedied by a properly constructed republic. He defines a republic as a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, as opposed to a democracy where citizens assemble and administer the government. He continues, “The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended” (emphasis added). At this point, Madison addresses the differences in detail.

Point 1: A Delegated Government

According to Federalist 10, Madison believes that the machinery of a republic will produce “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country” and whose patriotism and love of justice will be “least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Madison asserts that “it may well happen” that this select body will speak with greater consonance for the public good than the people could accomplish were they to assemble together. However, Madison also delivers a warning: The good effects of a wise body of citizens may be inverted if 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.”

Point 2: The Size of a Republic

While Madison was constructing Federalist 10, the opponents of the Constitution (Anti-Federalists) were voicing several concerns. For instance, the geographical size of the several States and the difficulty constructing a central government over said States while simultaneously preserving freedom presents a troubling conundrum. The “dissent” from the “Pennsylvania Minority” states their position thusly:

We dissent, first, because it is the opinion of the most celebrated writers on government, and confirmed experience, that a very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than by a confederation of republics, possessing all the powers of internal government; but united in the management of their general, and foreign concerns. . . . Is it probable that the dissolution of the state governments, and the establishment of one consolidated empire would be eligible in its nature, and satisfactory to the people in its administration? I think not, as I have given reasons to show that so extensive a territory could not be governed, connected, and preserved, but by the supremacy of despotic power. (emphases added)

The Pennsylvania Minority, then, expect that the constitutional scheme being proposed by Madison and the Convention will eventually become a consolidated empire, extinguish the sovereignty and rights of the States, and rule the extensive territory with “despotic power.”

Madison, however, denies the Constitution will become a consolidated empire that will rule despotically. Rather, he emphatically confirms that it will be a confederation of states in similitude to the “confederation of republics” abstractly styled by the Pennsylvania Minority. “The question resulting is,” wrote Madison, “whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:” Madison explains:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.
In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.
It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.
The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.
Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, -- is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

In the main, then, Madison does not insinuate that the Constitution will completely ameliorate the “vicious arts” of political faction; rather, the large republic is best to winnow the field of candidates to the most “fit.” This is similar to the advantage a large city has fielding a talented football team at the local high school over a small, rural community. Moreover, since only the “aggregate interests” will be referred to the national government while leaving “local and particular” matters to the States, the geographical sphere over which a large republic can expand will be greatly increased. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Cartwright, June 5, 1824, explains the fundamental arrangement this way:

With respect to our state and federal governments, I do not think their relations correctly understood by foreigners. They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter, but this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple, and integral whole. To the State governments are reserved all legislation and administration in affairs which concern their own citizens only, and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners, or the citizens of other states; these functions alone being made federal. The one is the domestic the other the foreign branch of the same government; neither having controul over the other, but within its own department, there are one or two exceptions only to this partition of power. But, you may ask, if the two departments should claim each the same subject of power, where is the common umpire to decide ultimately between them? In cases of little importance or urgency, the prudence of both parties will keep them aloof from the questionable ground: but if it can neither be avoided nor compromised, a Convention of the states must be called to ascribe the doubtful power to that department which they may think best. You will perceive by these details that we have not yet so far perfected our constitutions as to venture to make them unchangeable, but still, in their present state, we consider them not otherwise changeable than by the authority of the people, on a special election of representatives for that purpose expressly: they are until then the Lex legum.

Madison punctuates this arrangement with the assertion that the greater the political sphere, the greater “variety of parties and interests;” consequently the less “probable” any one party or interest can “invade the rights” of the others.

Madison seems to have believed that factions would not disappear, of course, but that “factious leaders” could kindle unrest in their own states, but could not spread a “general conflagration” through all the other States. “A rage,” Madison writes, “for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State. In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”