Study Guide

The Federalist Papers 10 and 51 Quotes

By James Madison

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations. (10.1)

    Here, Madison observes that leaders who take tyrannical power often do so by taking advantage of internal divisions in political life, and riding a majority opinion into prominence.

    Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency. (10.4)

    Freedom can be both a blessing and a curse for governments, because it includes the freedom to make poor decisions. Like as an adult, we have the ability to eat nothing but take-out pizza, but we probably shouldn't. Underneath the analogy, however, is the sense that free will is troublesome and needs to at least be managed by the government in a hands-off kind of way.

    Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. (51.6)

    This is an interesting counterpoint to the notion that America is a government "of the people." While that idea lumps all citizens together into one group, Madison's saying that the public naturally divides itself, and we have to watch out for that.

    In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. (51.8)

    By this logic, freedom can only be ensured by a government that can protect your rights as a citizen. This is not only a gesture towards the Anti-Federalists, who called out the Constitution as failing to protect civil rights, but also a gesture to the various Christian sects that had fled to the United States.

    Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. (51.8)

    Where does that leave the United States, then? Will freedom end up being consumed as the natural course of history?

  • Majority vs. Minority

    Complaints are everywhere heard […] 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. (10.1)

    Madison's tossing shade at the political climate he's writing in, clearly. However, it's interesting to note that—if he did have Shays' Rebellion in mind when he was writing Federalist 10—that event was a crisis of a minority's overbearing power over a majority. Curious. Given his distrust of average people in a democracy, which majority group do you think he's most concerned about?

    If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. (10.10)

    This seems like a pretty apt prediction at the different partisan block-ups that have occurred over our long two-century relationship with the two-party system: two factions always fighting for the majority position.

    When a majority is included in a faction, 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. (10.11)

    This is his main rationale as to why true democracies can't work. In a lot of ways, he's right: there has to be protections for the most vulnerable people in society. But what groups did he consider vulnerable?

    A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. (10.13)

    This is pretty much the definition of what we know as mob mentality. Take Shays' rebellion for example: It was a case where a majority—the farmers—decided to take up arms to put down a minority group—the wealthy merchants who were squeezing them for money they didn't have.

    Madison's idea of a minority group just might not be the same as our idea of a minority group in politics, at least in terms of power-to-population ratios. A billionaire is in a much, much stronger position of power than a hundred people making minimum wage, for example.

    It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. (51.9)

    It's interesting that Madison used Rhode Island as his example, considering the Rhode Island state legislature was one of the first to vote against the Constitution. Was he tossing what he viewed as some well-deserved shade?

  • Rules and Order

    The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations. (10.1)

    Simply ensuring freedom ain't enough. If the United States was going to survive without the States fracturing one against the other, they needed to be brought into one order. Disorder is the enemy of society, by this logic.

    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. (10.13)

    Madison's pretty much saying that democracy is one of the most chaotic forms of government imaginable. He's probably also looking back to the democracy of Athens, which is probably what he's referring to here.

    A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. (51.4)

    Madison's asserting that there needs to be an extra level of control above the heads of the will of the people. Governments need to be stable and persist through turbulent times and bad leaders.

    In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. (51.6)

    By this logic, order's kept through a careful balance of power. This is a recurring theme in these Federalists papers—order is kept through balance. How Zen.

    In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature... (51.8)

    Freedom's actually impossible without order. This has a lot to do with the fact that people are free to rob other people of their freedoms, because humans have the capacity to be terrible, terrible people.