Was James Madison Wrong?
The United States is a Republic and not a democracy. A republic is a representative form of government where people are elected to represent a population within an assigned district. A democracy is a form of government where the entire population gathers to vote on how the government runs.
This concept seems simple enough to understand; but, when talking to people, it is surprising how many do not realize our country is in fact a republic, or why our Founding Fathers chose that form of government.
These are important concepts to comprehend if we are to intelligently evaluate whether our government today is performing as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Remember, in drafting our constitution they were looking for a way to ensure individual rights and minority parties would not be jeopardized by an overzealous and partisan majority. This was not done to prevent majority rule, but only to protect the rights of those who might not be in the majority.
In November 1787 James Madison extolled the virtues of a republic in what is now known as Federalist Number 10.
“If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. 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.”
In the same document Mr. Madison defines a faction as “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.”
By today’s standard there are number of factions within the United States. However, for the sake of brevity and a more accurate description of our current political environment, it might be safe to define factions as Democrat and Republican.
In Federalist Number 10, it certainly appears as if Mr. Madison makes a case for a Republican form of government under the Constitution to exist in order to protect individual and minority rights. The question today is: Does our Republican form of government actually live up to these ideals?
This question is increasingly important as we see all levels of government extend their reach and control into the private lives of everyday Americans. Another question that comes to mind is with the advent of the professional politician (someone who spends their whole life in elected office instead of having another job, career or other source of legitimate income) do we have opposing factions anymore, or do we have different shades of the same faction?
In essence, has our country created a class of politically elite people in both the Democratic and Republican parties, who have only one goal in mind; to stay in power? This last question is extremely important as it really looks at whether or not those in power found a way to bypass the protections provided to the people by a Republican form of government.
It is important we remember Mr. Madison’s warning in Federalist Number 10: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” In other words, those in office will not always have the good of the people or the country as their primary concern.
In the United States we are faced with an exploding debt of almost $17 trillion, assaults on our constitutional rights, increased taxes and control of our healthcare along with numerous other issues for which neither party seems to have a solution. Under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans, these issues seem to be growing exponentially. Arguably, a case could be made that individual rights and liberties are not necessarily being protected under our Republican form of government as laid out in the Constitution.
So, the question remains, was Mr. Madison wrong?
As time went by and political parties tirelessly toiled to cement their power and stranglehold over the American voter, has a Republican form of government protected the rights of the individual and minorities from an oppressive majority or is it failing? Have our political parties found a way to convince a majority of the population that government control over their lives is their only security and their individual rights are no longer important? If this is the case, then given the current polarization in this country, the gridlock in our federal government, the attack on our individual constitutional rights and a complicit judiciary, Mr. Madison is turning out to be wrong.
If our republican form of government is not able to protect our rights as originally envisioned, what are our options? The only ones that appear viable at this time are for more people to become involved in the political process.
Now doing so doesn’t only mean voting. It means being informed and aware of the issues; it means communicating with your representatives; and it means educating yourself on the constitutional role of government and making sure it operates within those parameters.
It may also be time for the introduction of new political parties to our electoral process. A greater variety would help dilute the power currently wielded by the Democratic and Republican parties.
Our Founding Fathers had a great vision for this country. It’s time we got back to living by those founding principles and put this country back on course.