50. James Madison and Hamilton On Factions Within our Government and the Need for a Large Republic as to a Pure form of a Democracy

In Hamilton’s Federalist number 10 he addressed the destructive role of a faction within our government. He saw factions as a danger He saw fractions as a means of breaking apart the republic. Madison wrote that the best form of government would be in the form of a large republic for since with this form of government there would be a lesser chance factions.

He defines a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or a majority 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” He identifies the most serious source of faction to be the diversity of opinion in political life which leads to dispute over fundamental issues such as what regime or religion should be preferred.

He wrote that “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” He saw that a direct democracy as being a danger to individual rights and advocated for a representative democracy in order to protect what he viewed as individual liberty from majority rule, or from the effects of such inequality within society. He says, “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies 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”

Madison states, “The latent causes of factions are thus sown in the nature of man” so the cure is to control their effects. He makes an argument on how this is not possible in a pure democracy, but possible in a republic. With a pure democracy, he means a system in which every citizen votes directly for laws, and, with a republic, he intends a society in which citizens vote for an elite of representatives who then vote for laws. He indicates that the voice of the people pronounced by a body of representatives is more conformable to the interest of the community, since, again, common people’s decisions are affected by their self-interest.

He then makes an argument in favor of a large republic against a small republic for the choice of “fit the characters” to represent the public’s voice. In a large republic, where the number of voters and candidates is greater, the probability to elect competent representatives is broader he stated. The voters have a wider option. In a small republic, it would also be easier for the candidates to fool the voters, but more difficult in a large one. The last argument Madison makes in favor of a large republic is that as, in a small republic, there will be a lower variety of interests and parties, a majority will more frequently be found. The number of participants of that majority will be lower, and, since they live in a more limited territory, it would be easier for them to agree and work together for the accomplishment of their ideas. While in a large republic the variety of interests will be greater so to make it harder to find a majority. Even if there is a majority, it would be harder for them to work together because of the large number of people and the fact they are spread out in a wider territory.

A republic, Madison writes, is different from a democracy because its government is placed in the hands of delegates, and, as a result of this, it can be extended over a larger area. The idea is that, in a large republic, there will be more “fit characters” to choose from for each delegate. Also, the fact that each representative is chosen from a larger constituency should make the “vicious arts” a reference to the rhetoric, of electioneering less effective. For instance, in a large republic, a corrupt delegate would need to bribe many more people in order to win an election than in a small republic. Also, in a republic, the delegates both filter and refine the many demands of the people so as to prevent the type of frivolous claims that impede purely democratic governments.

Today our nation has a form of government that is a representative republic and we are a nation of fractions so I guess that these two very wise Founding Fathers with all their wisdom and effect put forward were not able to solve the problem as they thought they could some 200 plus years ago. They may have been correct in choosing the form of government that we have in America, but the way we as a nation have put into use this form of government may be the reason that we are such a nation that is so polarized. It is my opinion that we as a nation have not learned from our history and too often think that we still live in the times that our Founding Fathers lived in. Our system of government is still built on the profit motive and we do not see our Constitution as a living document.


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