Essay on Federalist No. 10


Before getting to the plain language summary of Federalist No. 10, I’d like to take a moment to voice my disagreements and intrigue with some statements made by James Madison in Federalist No. 10. They are as follows.

1. Discussing the effect of special interests on the government, Madison writes “The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.” Madison is correct. The influence of special interests on government degrades government to the point that it is no longer recognizable as a government of the people. The only solution to this problem is to strictly deny the government any power whatsoever to redistribute wealth. Special interests look to persuade politicians into supporting their own schemes and projects because they know that politicians have the power to take property from the people of the country and redistribute it. Stripping the government of the power to redistribute would eliminate the core cause of the problem and effectively cut off all special interests influence. The resources that were spent on buying politicians could then be put to use in better serving consumers, making people happy, and earning honest profits.

2. Madison writes that “the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” This passage shows the importance of protecting minority rights. Just because a majority of people vote on something does not make it just. By way of example imagine five kids eating lunch at school. They hold a vote to take the lunch of one and divide it evenly amongst the other four. The results of the vote are four in favor to one against. The four take the lunch of the one and eat it. Is this just? Of course not. The property rights of the one boy should be protected against such majority votes. The rights of the “minor party” must upheld in a civil society.

3. Madison blames the existing governmental structure, the state governments and the Articles of Confederation, for the “prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other.” Even today, in 2011, we hear the same cries. However, in present times the cynicism toward government and the infringement of “private rights”  are the result of a highly centralized government. Based on the observation that under both a highly decentralized governmental structure and a highly centralized governmental structure, “distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights” can be observed, we must conclude that the problem lies not with what type of governmental structure is adapted but rather with the agency of government itself. All governments, whether local or national, if given the power, will legislate of behalf of special interests and violate property rights. Therefore, the only solution is to strip government of all power to take property from citizens. Government’s sole responsibility, if it should even be trusted with any responsibility, is to protect property rights. This means that the government, including local governments, can run the police force, establish courts for enforcing contracts and protecting private property, and run the military. However, if these institutions even give off a whiff of tyranny, the government should be stripped of these powers as well. From that point forward these institutions should be run by voluntary associations.

4. In discussing factions, Madison writes “A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.” Madison errors here. “The regulation of these various and interfering interests” is not the job of the government. It is precisely because the government makes this its job that factions are able to exert influence on the government. The government should have one job: protect property rights. Once the government gets involved in regulating the various interests in society, those interests will dedicate more energy to influencing legislators. If the interests knew that they would have no recourse to legislative handouts they would have no choice bu to compete in the free market. Of course, in the free market the only way an interest can get ahead is by convincing other free people to voluntarily hand over their money in exchange for a good or service. Many times, convincing people to voluntarily part with money is much less lucrative than buying off politicians and getting subsidies or having laws written in their favor. This leads us to an interesting conclusion. Powerful interests may actually prefer being regulated. Being regulated allows lobbying and ultimately rich and powerful people can buy off the government. The regulations will then be written in their favor. Whereas if the government isn’t allowed to regulate business, they must compete and those who best serve other free people will be wealthy. Those who don’t will go broke.

5. Madison writes “And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them.” Madison is mistaken in holding that the legislature should have any authority to write laws concerning private debt contracts. Private citizens should be allowed to voluntarily enter into any type of contract the choose to. The government, rightly, should only be involved in the enforcement of the contract should one of the parties fail to comply with the agreed upon terms. This can happen in the case of fraud or simple non performance. It is job of the courts to determine if the contract has been broken and the job of the police to carry out civil or criminal penalties. Contracts must be enforced because they affect property rights. Fraud, in particular, is akin to theft and must be punished in an objective manner. Just because a party is rich and influential does not mean that they should be allowed evade the hand of justice. Even if the fraudulent party is a large and highly interconnected economic agent, they must be brought to justice by the courts and punished appropriately. Justice and a highly productive, properly functioning economy go hand in hand. It must be stressed again, private contracts fall under the jurisdiction of the courts, not the legislature.

6. Madison ignorantly writes “The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.” There is a very simple way to eliminate the causes of factions. Strip the government of the right to redistribute property and regulate commerce. If the government can’t take loot and give it to chosen winners and can’t write laws that favor one industry over another, the causes of special interests disappear. To bring this about citizens must have a philosophical change of heart. They must no longer consent to being ripped off in favor of the elite. People should only be allowed to become wealthy by serving their fellow man, not by slurping at the public trough. It isn’t a matter of making some grand political change. We simply have to hold the belief, and act accordingly, that we don’t need government to regulate our lives.

7. Madison states that elected politicians under a republican form government will “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” This has proved to be completely false. Madison was terribly off base on this particular issue. American politicians throughout history have been petty and shortsighted, unenlightened, unwise, have acted in their own best interest as opposed to the best interest of the country, have showed a base misunderstanding and outright aversion to justice, and have as a rule acted based on short term considerations. Perhaps a handful of notable politicians stand out as a exceptions. It must be noted that this is not an attack on the American people in general but rather on the political class. Sincere, hard-working, freedom loving people have been duped into believing that our inferiors are actually our superiors. The opposite is true. Politicians, be it under a monarchy, democracy, republic, communism, etc. will always be crooked. Therefor, their power must be strictly limited or perhaps, non-existent.

8. Madison asks the question “Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest?” He answers in the affirmative. History has proved him wrong. In fact, the greater variety of special interests hasn’t led to a stalemate amongst them whereby nobody is able to gain at the expense of others. They have simply all been able to get what they want from the government. In that case, every new special interests harms society. It does not provide greater security.

9. Madison observes that “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it.” The purpose of quoting Madison here is to show that he considered a “rage for paper money” to be an ” improper or wicked project.”


A strong and well designed union offers many advantages. Of those advantages, the one that most deserves to be studied and understood is the union’s ability to reduce or eliminate the influence of special interests. Among those who support the idea of self government, the power of special interests is seen as the greatest threat to government. Therefore, anybody who supports self-government will certainly support a plan that puts an end to special interests, as long as the plan does not violate our liberties. Throughout history, governments of the people have always suffered from and even come to an end as a result of the “instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils” by special interests. Those who argue against granting too much liberty to the people point to the influence of special interests on free government as reason for restricting liberty. The constitutions of the various states have made wonderful improvements to constitutions of the recent and ancient past. However, it would be dishonest to say that the dangers of special interests have been as completely eliminated as we would all like. Indeed, concerns are being constantly voiced by “virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty.” They all say that the existing form of government is too chaotic. Public good is being sacrificed for the benefit of those who seek to control government. Majorities are wielding their “superior force”  to pass laws that are unjust and infringe upon the rights of the minority. Even though we all hate to admit that these worries are justified, the facts show us that there is, indeed, cause for worry. When we take a sober and honest look at the situation, it will be seen that the some of the problems that are blamed on government were actually not caused by a malfunction of government. However, it will be found that many of our problems cannot be traced back to any source other than the action of government.  In fact, government can be blamed specifically for the common and increasing lack of faith in government action and the preoccupation with protecting individual rights that is prevalent throughout the entire nation. These developments, and their accompanying “unsteadiness and injustice”, result from the power that special interests exert on the government.

A faction, or special interest, is a group of citizens, constituting either a minority or majority of the entire population, who come together for a common purpose that either infringes upon the rights of other citizens or goes against the best interest of the community as a whole.

There are two ways to fix the problems caused by factions. The first is to remove the causes that bring factions into existence in the first place. The second is to manage the harmful effects of factions after they’ve already occurred.

There are two ways to eliminate the causes of factions. The first is to do away with certain liberties, without which factions could never exist. The second is to give “every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.”

Getting rid of certain liberties in order to do away with factions is a bad solution. In fact, such a solution is worse than the problem itself. However, factions cannot exist without liberty and doing away with liberty would immediately do away with factions. In spite of that, sacrificing liberty is a very foolish idea. Eliminating liberty, which is necessary for a civil society, in order to put a stop to the ill effects of factions, would be like doing a way with air, which is necessary for all life on earth, in order to stop the ill effects of fire.

Of course,  imparting upon every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests is impossible. As long as man’s ability to reason is imperfect, and man has the freedom to exercise his reason, there will be a broad variety of different opinions. As long as there is a relationship between a man’s thoughts and his desire to better his own life, each man’s beliefs and his wants will influence each other. This being the case, man’s desires will always be driven by how he sees the world. The varying degree of each citizen’s capabilities, which gives birth to the notion of property rights, also stands in the way of imposing the same set of beliefs and thoughts on each and every individual. It is the government’s job to protect each citizen’s right to work and obtain property to the best of his abilities. Each individual, according to the skill and quality of their work, will acquire different types and quantities of property. As the citizens of a society progress, accumulating varying classes and quantities of property, different interests and political divisions will begin to appear.

Therefore, the creation of factions and special interests spring forth from the most basic part of human nature. Which actions will be perused and how vigorously they will be undertaken depends on the particular situation of each faction. Some factions will manifest themselves through expressing their religious beliefs, thoughts on government, and many other topics. Some will practice what they preach while others will say one thing and do another. Some factions will try to promote political leaders at the local and national level. Others follow charismatic leaders who divide citizens into political parties, turn neighbors against each other, and motivate them hate one another instead of working together for the good of all.

It is so common for human beings to fall into conflict with each other, that even where no serious problems exist, minor and petty infractions are often seized upon to stir up bitter passions and start wars. The surest and most common issue that inflames passions among various factions is an unequal distribution of wealth. Those with property and those without property have always formed the two most common special interest groups in society. Similarly, debtors and creditors have always been rivals. Landowners, manufacturers, merchants, bankers, and many other interests come into existence in a free society. These interests divide themselves up into various groups based on their common beliefs and goals. Writing laws that govern all of these different interests is the job of “modern legislation.” As a result, “the spirit of party and faction” is an important and necessary part of running the government.

Men should never be allowed to be both the judge and a party to a legal matter because they would always have a tendency to rule in their own favor and become corrupt. Likewise, when large groups of men come together, neither can they be trusted to judge their own cases. However, as it stands, most laws written by the legislature are nothing more than judgements passed that affect the rights of a large body of American citizens. The legislature is made up of nothing more than men who are there to promote and push for their own private causes. Take for example the problem of private debt. One part of the congress is made up of creditors, the other of debtors. The just solution to such a problem is to find a compromise between the positions of both sides. It is inescapable, though, that the parties must also be their own judges. The most powerful side will win in the end. Take the question of whether American manufacturers should be promoted by placing restrictive tariffs on foreign products. Imagine  if this question were to be decided by large American manufactures. It is likely that they would decide in favor of helping themselves, even if such action wouldn’t coincide with the best interests of the country as a whole. Deciding which taxes will be charged against the various types of property is decision which made with the utmost neutrality. At the same time, there is no other legislative activity that is more likely to cause the dominant factions to wield their power over minor factions, effectively making a mockery of the justice. Any taxes that special interests can pass off on other members of society is money they don’t have to pay themselves.

It is naive to believe that morally upstanding politicians will be able to get conflicting special interests to act in the best interests of the public. For one, there may not always be morally upstanding statesmen running the show. Nor is it an easy task to convince partisan special interests to change their plans without making an appeal to the long term interests of the country.  This is a difficult route to take because most factions care only about the present and are willing to infringe upon the rights of others in order to recognize gains in the short term.

The conclusion we reach is that the causes of factions can’t be eliminated. We can only hope to minimize their effects.

If a faction does not control a majority of votes in the congress, the republican form of government will act as a defense.  The majority will be able to squash the attempt at usurpation. Factions may be able to slow down congressional proceedings and cause furious debates amongst the citizenry, but in the end minority factions will be unable to impose their will on the majority. However, when a special interest is made up of a majority, democracy provides a path for that special interest to “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” The purpose of this article, then, is to figure out how to serve the public good, protect individual rights, and defend against special interests, while at the same time maintaining a government of the people. Accomplishing the above mentioned goals is the great challenge of republican governments. In fact, the major complaint against republican governments is that they cannot control special interests. If we can solve this problem, the republican form of government can be used in confidence throughout the rest of history.

There are only two ways that our goal can be achieved. Either we must keep the majority of people from ever having the same policy goals or the majority of people, even if they share the same political interests, must be made unable, by geographical or numerical limitations, to carry out their goals. If the majority has both the desire and the means to foist their plan on the rest of society, neither religious nor other moral considerations will keep them from carrying out the scheme. Religion and morality have not proven to be great checks against injustice and greed. This becomes even truer when large groups of people combine together to carry out the injustice.

That being the case, we must conclude that “pure democracy”, defined as a small group of citizens who vote directly and in person on governmental action, have no defense against special interests. It is too common for the majority of people to share some common political goal. Under a pure democracy, ideas and plans are easily communicated throughout the entire society. There is no ultimate defense for the minority or for specific individuals that society has demonized. For this reason, democratic governments are always in a state of turmoil and distress; they have been unable to provide for personal security or protect property rights; and they tend not to last for very long before being dissolved. Politicians who support pure democracy in theory have wrongly assumed that if citizens are granted political equality they will also “be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”

Republics, defined as governments where representatives are elected to make governmental decisions,  on the other hand, provide a cure for the ailments that afflict pure democracy.  We will examine how republics differ from pure democracies. As a result, we will understand why the Union provides us with a cure and to what extent our problems will be solved.

There are two key differences between a democracy and a republic. First, under a republic, the functions of government are turned over to a small group of citizens who have been elected by the rest of society. Second, republics are made up of a greater number of citizens and govern over a far greater stretch of land.

Because only a small number of select citizens are elected to govern, public opinion will become more refined and farseeing. These wise and patriotic citizens will only consider what is best for the country as a whole. Their “love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Under a republican government, public opinion, as expressed by our elected representatives, will be more geared toward the good of the country than if the people were to express it themselves. However, it is possible that a republican government can be corrupted. Partisan politicians, those seeking nothing more than local gain, or outright corrupt individuals can  become elected by various means and betray the electorate once they’re in office. The question we must ask ourselves is whether small or large republics are more conducive to good government. For two reasons, we must conclude that a large republic is better.

First, it must be pointed out that no matter how small the republic, a certain quantity of individuals must be elected to keep a small oligarchy from running the government. On the other hand, their must be an upper limit to the amount of people that will be elected as well. Otherwise things will become unorganized and confused. The proportion of representatives to voters will not be the same in both large and a small republics. In fact, in a small republic, the proportion of elected officials to voters will be higher than in a large republic. If, then, there are proportionately more qualified politicians in a large republic than a small republic, the large republic will be a better choice.

In a large republic, each politician will be chosen by a greater number of voters than in a small republic. It will be far more challenging for bad candidates to trick the electorate into voting for them. Also, when men are freer to vote they are much more likely to vote for qualified individuals with sterling reputations.

Like any other important issue, there are great difficulties in determining the proper proportion of voters to representatives. If there too many voters per politician, the politicians will not be well informed on local issues and will lack a connection to local voters. On the other hand, if there are too many politicians they will be overly concerned with local issues and unable to focus on problems of national importance. The proposed Constitution provides an admirable solution to the problem. The law is to be carried out by a combination of national, state, and local governments.

Another important point is that a republican government can handle a far larger number of voters and a far greater amount of territory than can a democratic government. In fact, it is precisely this fact that minimizes the influence of special interests to a much greater extent under a republic than under a democracy. Smaller societies have far fewer special interests. With fewer special interests, it is much more likely that a majority will compose one of those interests.  The smaller the number needed to make up a majority and the smaller the geographical limitations within which to operate, the easier it will be for the majority to impose their will. However, when you have a larger populace spread out of over a much vaster tract of land, there will be a greater variety of special interests.  Under such circumstances, it will be much less likely that a majority will form under a common interest and attempt to infringe upon the rights of others. Even if a majority were to materialize, it would be much more difficult for them to execute their plan. It is always much more difficult for people who are united to carry out a devious scheme to do so as their group gets larger. Distrust grows and communication breaks down.

We can clearly see that the same advantages republics have over democracies in checking the power of special interests, are shared also by large republics over small republics. Logically then, the Union will be better at controlling special interests than the states that make up the Union. Representatives elected to the federal government are more likely to look out for the good of the country as a whole as opposed to being overly concerned with local issues. They are much less likely to hatch unjust schemes as well. Likewise, greater security will be provided to private citizens against special interests by the existence of a much greater quantity and variety of special interests. It will be more difficult for any one faction to impose their will on society. The fact that various states make up the Union will keep any one state from becoming too powerful. In short, the Union makes it much more difficult for any majority to succeed in perpetrating injustice on the rest of society.

The leaders of factions may become powerful in their own states, but it will be impossible to impose their power on the rest of the country. A religious leader might be able influence the people in one part of the country, but the great quantity of religious sects ensures that he won’t be able to take over the government. The desire for paper money, to eliminate debts, to redistribute property, or any other evil plan is less likely to take over the entire country than a mere portion of it. Likewise, it is more likely that such plans will be accepted by cities than by entire states.

The structure of the union, therefore, solves the most difficult problems that have faced republican governments in the past. To the extent that we take pride in being advocates of republicanism, we should support the efforts and accomplishments of the Federalists.


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