James Madison and the Factions that
today people commonly make reference to the great American circus in regards as
to what the United States Political system has become. Everything seems slow,
nothing seems to be getting done, no one really wants to work with the other,
and everyone is trying to smile so they can get reelected. Most people in this country,
let alone people recently immigrating to it, seem to think that the entire
system needs to be sped up, unclogging the gridlock that keeps Uncle Sam so inefficient.
With the recent rise in ‘political extremes’ people fear that a group of people
with ideas that they do not endorse, will change all of the laws to reshape
America as they see fit. This idea was something the Founding Father often
thought about when forming our government, especially one in particular, James
was born to a well off plantation owning family in Virginia in the year 1751 (Cheney). After his college years studying at
what is now Princeton University, he quickly found himself involved in the
early battles of what would become the Revolutionary War. He never personally
saw battle, but due to his ability to communicate his ideas well, he was
elected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention forming the state’s
first constitution (Cheney).
He also served on the early Congress of the Confederation early on as well,
showing his great political skill.
When the idea of rewriting the then weak
Articles of Confederation began, Madison found himself is a great position to
help guide the new government. He wrote what is now called the Virginia Plan, a
sort of outline to the constitution, that was used as the backbone for the Constitution.
Much of what Madison purposed are some of the most important ideals in the
modern United States Government, included one idea that Madison was extremely well
prepared to deal with as he viewed it as the biggest potential determent to the
new government, the idea of human factions.
Factions, which as
defined by Madison are “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority
or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of
passion, or of interest, averse to the rights of other citizens, or to the
permanent and aggregate interests of the community” (Madison). Madison
addresses various ways that he sees factions can be cured of its mischiefs such
as removing a faction’s causes and also controlling their effects.
Madison points out that
this is would potentially create an even bigger problem than the factions
themselves by stating, “Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an ailment,
without which it instantly expires” (Madison). Madison also stated that the way
for a government to remove the cause of faction was either to destroy the
liberty that causes factions to exist in the first place or to give every
citizen the same beliefs and opinions. Madison deemed this impractical, because
it is nearly impossible to give everyone in a given place the same opinions and
destroying the liberty would take away the very thing that the colonies fought
for four years earlier. The fact is Madison knew that the country wouldn’t be
able to count on a well-educated statesman to be there any time a faction gets
out of hand. Madison knew the only viable way to keep factions under control is
not to get rid of factions entirely but to set a republic style government in
Madison viewed a structure similar to a republic as the sure fire way to
protect the country against many factions unlike the pure democracy format that
many countries used. A pure democracy in the words of James Madison is, “a
society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer
the government in person” (Madison). A republic is based more on electing a set
number of officials for each group or faction and having the officials do the
voting for the given faction.
Madison saw this and
used factions against themselves. By having factions have to fight other factions
for a majority, they often canceled each other out. (Morgan) That way when you
have many factions with different ideas on a single topic they would all get
some amount of representation and should in theory lead to the majority vote
being that of what the entire nation of people wanted, not just a leading
faction. Madison did see issues with this type of republic though.
He saw that to get a positive
outcome out of this republic system that the government would have to find a
way to pass positive views through a given medium in which who have the
interest of the country in mind. This is so that the government can be sure
that what is going on in society is for the good of the public.
Madison took notice of a
repeating question he faced when putting this plan together. Whether small or
extensive republics are most favorable for the election of proper guardians for
the prosperity of the public (Madison)? Madison knew that the number of
representatives must be raised to a certain number. The problem here is that if
you enlarge the number of electors for a given representative too much that he
would lose the local interests, but if you made the number too small that the
representative would then become too attached on a local level and not be fit
to look at problems on a more national basis(Morgan). Madison also takes notice
on one more difference that a republic has from a pure democracy, which is the
greater number of citizens and the amount of territory. Madison talks about how
if a society has a fewer number of distinct parties and interests that you will
see a majority faction rise in power and oppress all others with opposing
viewpoints. Madison says to keep this from happening we must, “extend the
sphere” (Madison). This means that to keep from one faction rising in power we
must get a wide variety of factions in society some with opposing viewpoints
and some with similar viewpoints to cancel out one another from getting
All of the first Article
of the United States Constitution talk about the balance between the House and
Senate and the balance between them. Each one is designed in such a way to make
sure the system is slow and no single group or faction, without the majority of
the American people behind them, can make all of the laws in the land.
Compromise is the name of game and that keeps all of American run by all of the
people. This was the overall result after much debate at the Constitution
Convention, settling on a system that traded fast and efficient, for slow and balanced
The fear of doom that
pulses though so many American veins is something that is a byproduct of the
system set up by James Maddison and the Founders. It also represents one of the
most powerful systems set into the US Government by the Constitution, the three
branch system. By understanding the basic slow system that was put in place,
someone new to the country should be able to understand the beauty of the
system. No single faction will ever have complete control of Government, dissenting
voices will always be heard. Understanding that you have a voice in this
country is part of gaining citizenship; but, understanding how that voice may
be challenged by others and the balance that creates because of the framing
from the Constitution is really what it means to be American.
Madison, James, Federalist #10, in
Michael P. Johnson, ed. Reading the American Past
(Boston: Bedford/ St.
Martins, 2012): p.155-160. Print.
Morgan, Robert J. James Madison on
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. New York:
Greenwood, 1988. Print.
Lynne V. James Madison: A Life Reconsidered. Penguin, 2015. Print.
Sheehan, Colleen A. The Mind of
James Madison: The Legacy of Classical Republicanism.
Cambridge University Press,