Tuesday, April 12, 2011


by James Craig Green

Part 4 - James Madison

 Following John Locke’s ideas on property and Thomas Paine’s incendiary pamphlet Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence was co-authored primarily by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The shooting war had begun in April 1775 and continued until 1781 with the improbable but decisive defeat of occupying British forces by General George Washington’s army.

This period of American history is well documented elsewhere, and its heroes are widely known. Our next not-so-well-known builder, James Madison, convinced Americans the new national government should be a constitutional republic, and not a democracy.

No Democracy for America

Upon signing the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. He was asked, Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy? He answered, A Republic, if you can keep it.

James Madison (1751-1836), “Father of the Constitution,” primary author of the Bill of Rights, and later, the fourth President of the United States, argued strongly in the Federalist Papers that America should not be a democracy. In Federalist No. 10, he explained the simple reason why democracies inevitably fail—majorities tyrannize minorities.

That’s why Madison proposed a bicameral (two-house) legislature called Congress. The House of Representatives was to be elected every two years, directly by voters, as the “democratic” house in Congress. The Senate, on the other hand, was designed to represent the (then sovereign) states equally, so the most populated states would not be able to bully those less populated as they can in the house. Also, the President was to be elected by an electoral college rather than directly by the people. These measures were necessary to maintain the balance of powers between three independent branches of government and to limit the influence of powerful special interests.

Read Federalist No. 10 to understand the essential difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic. Here’s an important excerpt—arguably, the most important paragraph ever written about the original vision of the proposed U.S. government as it was being created:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such 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. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that, by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

Madison knew that all historical democracies had failed, and one reason was that majorities can easily bully smaller groups into submission, just like kings. Another reason was democracies’ tendency toward ever-greater public spending and debt, which inevitably led to financial ruin from debasing the currency. Democracy, according to Madison, was not the path to freedom, but the blind repetition of past mistakes.

The U.S. Constitution was written without a Bill of Rights because the Continental Congress didn’t think it necessary. However, anti-federalist sentiment in some states, especially Virginia and Connecticut, demanded one, so James Madison went back to work drafting twelve amendments, of which ten were adopted to become the Bill of Rights. This was the part of the Constitution that most resembled the Declaration of Independence, to guarantee protection of individual rights against government power.

The Tenth Amendment in particular limited the authority of the U.S. government to only those tasks specified in the Constitution. Unfortunately, the popular socialism of the New Deal in the 1930s led to a series of Supreme Court decisions that many legal scholars believe destroyed the Tenth Amendment. Today, the Tenth Amendment is being revived by states and individuals who have recognized that it may be the most tyranny-limiting part of the Constitution as originally modified by the Bill of Rights.

Please understand - although the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made rulings that have re-interpreted the Tenth Amendment to the point of being meaningless, none of the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights has ever been changed - not even one word.

Years after the Constitution was in place, Madison’s wisdom could be seen by comparing the results of the American Revolution with those of the French Revolution. The American Revolution produced freedom and prosperity, not just from defeating the British, but from a cultural respect for individuals and their property. American colonists were farmers, merchants and others who endured severe hardships to build strong, independent societies from a wilderness. Americans had to be tough and independent, or die.

By contrast, the French Revolution was not based on protecting individuals from government. It was based on the superiority of the collective over the individual (the opposite of the American Revolution), and therefore degenerated into the quagmire of mob rule. This was pure democracy in action and a forerunner of socialism. The American Revolution produced the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The French Revolution produced the Reign of Terror, the guillotine and eventually, the Emperor Napoleon.

Our next builder explained the difference between legitimate law, as a surrogate for the individual right of self defense, and illegitimate law that violates it.

Justice is the end of government - James Madison


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NEXT - Frederic Bastiat

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