Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Differences in a Republic and Democracy According to Madison

Differences in a Republic and Democracy According to Madison
Al Ritter

I recently embarked on a quest for knowledge about the evolution of our government. I knew of course about the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but from that point forward my grasp on how we came to be took a clouded turn.

Our country formally began in 1776, but not under the Constitution as we know it now, but under “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.” This was our first “Constitution.” It only took 10 years for this document to be outdated, and as George Washington opined, “The problem is money, and we have none.” The original Constitution had no teeth from which to collect taxes from the various states. Certain states became the darlings of the Federal Government, and others flatly refused to pay taxes based on preferential treatment of others.

On September 17, 1787 a Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia. The person whom presided over the convention was given the title of President of the Convention, and that person happened to be later the first president of our country, George Washington. The writing of the Constitution was accomplished in rather quick order, but the ratification process took almost 3 years. 13 original states ratified the document from December 1787 to May of 1790.

Three or our founding fathers who worked in anonymity took on the task of convincing the country through a series of 85 essays published at first In New York but eventually cross country of the importance of ratification of this new document known as the Constitution. So prolific were these essays (as often as three a week) that the people were totally mesmerized by the thought that went into them. It would later be known that the authors of these papers later to be known as the Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton (51 articles) James Madison (26 articles) and John Jay (5 articles).

These papers are used today as a peek into the past of the rationalization of though on the making of the Constitution. In these papers is the exploration of the history of governments throughout time and the reasons for their demise. It was determined that the best form of government would be a republic rather than a democracy. Madison opined that a republic is a representative government rather than a democratic government which needed to be done in person rather than by representative. He sighted the governments of Rome and Greece as having democratic rule and thus was the lead reason of their downfall. Sighted below are Madison’s remarks pertaining to the two different style governments.

“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 the first difference is, on the one hand, to 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. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.
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.

The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.

Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

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. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. 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? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.”

James Madison, Federalist Papers # 10 Nov. 23, 1787


turk182 said...

Interesting view from james madison,I always viewed the difference in being between mob rule (democracy) and being a country of laws (republic)

barb p said...

It sure seems the men who wrote the Constitution and founded our country were so much smarter than the leaders we are 'blessed with'...or maybe just knew what a poorly run government was capable of imposing on it's citizens...we have a very short memory!!! Thanks Al...I sure wish you would/could reconsider running for office.