James Madison and the Factions thatMake Us Oftentoday people commonly make reference to the great American circus in regards asto 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 entiresystem 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 peoplewith ideas that they do not endorse, will change all of the laws to reshapeAmerica as they see fit. This idea was something the Founding Father oftenthought about when forming our government, especially one in particular, JamesMadison. James Madisonwas born to a well off plantation owning family in Virginia in the year 1751 (Cheney).
After his college years studying atwhat is now Princeton University, he quickly found himself involved in theearly battles of what would become the Revolutionary War. He never personallysaw battle, but due to his ability to communicate his ideas well, he waselected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention forming the state’sfirst 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 weakArticles of Confederation began, Madison found himself is a great position tohelp guide the new government. He wrote what is now called the Virginia Plan, asort 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 themodern United States Government, included one idea that Madison was extremely wellprepared to deal with as he viewed it as the biggest potential determent to thenew government, the idea of human factions. Factions, which asdefined by Madison are “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majorityor minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse ofpassion, or of interest, averse to the rights of other citizens, or to thepermanent and aggregate interests of the community” (Madison). Madisonaddresses various ways that he sees factions can be cured of its mischiefs suchas removing a faction’s causes and also controlling their effects.Madison points out thatthis is would potentially create an even bigger problem than the factionsthemselves by stating, “Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an ailment,without which it instantly expires” (Madison). Madison also stated that the wayfor a government to remove the cause of faction was either to destroy theliberty that causes factions to exist in the first place or to give everycitizen the same beliefs and opinions. Madison deemed this impractical, becauseit is nearly impossible to give everyone in a given place the same opinions anddestroying the liberty would take away the very thing that the colonies foughtfor four years earlier. The fact is Madison knew that the country wouldn’t beable to count on a well-educated statesman to be there any time a faction getsout of hand.
Madison knew the only viable way to keep factions under control isnot to get rid of factions entirely but to set a republic style government inorder(Morgan).Madison viewed a structure similar to a republic as the sure fire way toprotect the country against many factions unlike the pure democracy format thatmany countries used. A pure democracy in the words of James Madison is, “asociety consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administerthe government in person” (Madison). A republic is based more on electing a setnumber of officials for each group or faction and having the officials do thevoting for the given faction.Madison saw this andused factions against themselves. By having factions have to fight other factionsfor a majority, they often canceled each other out. (Morgan) That way when youhave many factions with different ideas on a single topic they would all getsome amount of representation and should in theory lead to the majority votebeing that of what the entire nation of people wanted, not just a leadingfaction.
Madison did see issues with this type of republic though.He saw that to get a positiveoutcome out of this republic system that the government would have to find away to pass positive views through a given medium in which who have theinterest of the country in mind. This is so that the government can be surethat what is going on in society is for the good of the public. Madison took notice of arepeating question he faced when putting this plan together. Whether small orextensive republics are most favorable for the election of proper guardians forthe prosperity of the public (Madison)? Madison knew that the number ofrepresentatives must be raised to a certain number. The problem here is that ifyou enlarge the number of electors for a given representative too much that hewould lose the local interests, but if you made the number too small that therepresentative would then become too attached on a local level and not be fitto look at problems on a more national basis(Morgan).
Madison also takes noticeon one more difference that a republic has from a pure democracy, which is thegreater number of citizens and the amount of territory. Madison talks about howif a society has a fewer number of distinct parties and interests that you willsee a majority faction rise in power and oppress all others with opposingviewpoints. Madison says to keep this from happening we must, “extend thesphere” (Madison). This means that to keep from one faction rising in power wemust get a wide variety of factions in society some with opposing viewpointsand some with similar viewpoints to cancel out one another from gettingpowerful. All of the first Articleof the United States Constitution talk about the balance between the House andSenate and the balance between them. Each one is designed in such a way to makesure the system is slow and no single group or faction, without the majority ofthe 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 thepeople. This was the overall result after much debate at the ConstitutionConvention, settling on a system that traded fast and efficient, for slow and balanced(Sheehan).
The fear of doom thatpulses though so many American veins is something that is a byproduct of thesystem set up by James Maddison and the Founders. It also represents one of themost powerful systems set into the US Government by the Constitution, the threebranch 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 thesystem. No single faction will ever have complete control of Government, dissentingvoices will always be heard. Understanding that you have a voice in thiscountry is part of gaining citizenship; but, understanding how that voice maybe challenged by others and the balance that creates because of the framingfrom the Constitution is really what it means to be American.Work Cited Madison, James, Federalist #10, inMichael P.
Johnson, ed. Reading the American Past (Boston: Bedford/ St.Martins, 2012): p.155-160. Print.Morgan, Robert J.
James Madison onthe Constitution and the Bill of Rights. New York: Greenwood, 1988. Print.Cheney,Lynne V. James Madison: A Life Reconsidered.
Penguin, 2015. Print.Sheehan, Colleen A. The Mind ofJames Madison: The Legacy of Classical Republicanism. Cambridge University Press,2015. Print.