DISCLAIMER: I am not a historian nor a political scientist. I do have a fascination and interest in the Constitution and so I started reading the Federalist Papers and posting my interpretation on my own blog. I thought it might be of some interest here. Your interpretations and thoughts are greatly appreciated in the comments!
You can find the Federalist Papers in their entirety at The Library of Congress website.
Federalist No. 10 and links to previous Federalist Papers entries below the fold and previously posted at LiveJournal
The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection
From the New York Packet.
Federalist No. 10, by James Madison is perhaps one of the most important Federalist Papers as it deals with factions and their control. Ultimately, it becomes a powerful argument for a Republic instead of a Democracy. Yes, we are a Republic, not a Democracy. You hear people describe it incorrectly all the time.
Madison opens with a discussion of the threats of factions to governments and how it is in the interest of a government to develop a system true to its virtues for controlling the threats of factions. Failure to control the effects of factions had been the downfall of many governments. Madison then goes on to say that the improvements made by the proposed American system were not perfect.
Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, 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.
Madison says that unfortunately, this is true. But, he also states that some of the problems blamed on the government are instead actually the motives of factions and NOT the result of government.
Madison then defines a faction thus:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
He then goes on to states the methods for dealing with factions and their ramifications. Factions are handled by removing their causes or controlling their effects.
There are two ways of removing the causes of a faction - destroying the liberty of a faction, or forcing a conformity of opinion upon all the people. The destruction of liberty, Madison says, is worse than the disease itself for liberty is essential to political life. Forcing a conformity of opinion is impractical. Man is diverse by his very nature. The protection of this diversity is the first responsibility of government. Protection of this diversity of opinion in turn divides the nation into different interests and parties.
The cause of faction is a natural fact. It is inherent in man and society and it is the role of LAWS to control the mischief of faction.
So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But 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. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. 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 then addresses the issue of bias and how it impacts decisions that might be imposed by factions. The basic question boils down to the fairness of justice in the context of bias. Given two sides of an argument in front of someone with bias, how can justice be served for the greater public good? One possibility is a class of "enlightened statesmen" who only serve the public good. And while that might be the noble way to approach factious disputes, Madison states that it is impractical.
The issues then boils down the fact that causes cannot be controlled, but the effects can be mitigated. This is the portion of the paper where the argument of democracy vs. republic are discussed.
If a faction is a minority, then the effects are controlled by the republican government, where the majority can overrule the mischief of the minority faction. The minority might be able to muck up the works, but it will be controlled by the majority rule.
If the faction is comprised of a majority, then Madison states:
the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.
And then the remainder of the paper is dedicated to the following question:
. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.
And, the answer:
By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.
Madison then makes the argument that a pure democracy is unable to effectively deal with factions because the assumption is that because of the small size of a direct democracy, local passions are likely be be spread as a majority and they will squash the minority. It is for this reason, Madison says, that democracies have often been turbulent and have been incompatible with personal liberty. He then states that the idea of a democracy is good in theory, that history proves in practice that democracy is not sustainable.
The solution, Madison states, is a republic. According to Madison, the differences between a republic and a democracy are:
The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.
The effect of having representation is that the will of the people is filtered through a larger group and subject to the greater good of the people. Madison thinks this is the best way to make sure the greater needs of the nation are served. He does admit the possibility that a small faction could subvert the process by gaining votes deceptively and then exerting their will. The question then arises, does a small or large republic lessen the likelihood for corruption?
There must be a lower limit on the number of representatives because if the number is too small, then it will be subject to control by those that may have impure motives. By the same token, if the number of representatives is too large, then the government will bend toward mass confusion. Of course, Madison then states the obvious that there is a happy medium.
It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.
Madison then goes on to say that a republic is more amenable to expansion encompassing a larger body of citizens. It is in this larger body of citizens that diversity of thoughts and ideas are brought to bear for the greater good. This diversity ensures that radical ideas are typically squelched and the good of the republic is preserved.
Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,--is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it.
Madison then says that the republic will even guard against the leader of a state with bad intentions because that influence will be diluted by the remainder for the greater good of all of the states. He closes with this:
In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.