Primary Source: Excerpt from Federalist Paper #10

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Some of the most important philosophical ideas that influenced the development of American government came from the Federalist Papers, written by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. Learn the context and significance of Federalist Paper #10, then read an excerpt of it.

Federalist Papers

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, many people had ideas about how their new government should look. The short-lived Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, had quickly failed to promote common interests and build a functional government. In response, the Founding Fathers called a convention to write and ratify a new constitution to replace the Articles. Many were opposed to this from the start, including Thomas Jefferson, who supported the Articles due to their lack of a strong federal government, believing it more important that states have sovereignty and power.

Several Americans became prominent spokespersons for a federal government that had powers greater than its states. Alexander Hamilton was one of the most notable voices, famously giving speeches that lasted hours on the value of a federal state. He also, in conjunction with lawyer John Jay and James Madison, published a series of articles in prominent New York newspapers urging state politicians to ratify the new Constitution and its federalist attributes. These became known as the Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers contain 85 essays arguing about topics ranging from the structure of republican government to judicial review to the importance of a one-man executive. Federalist Paper #10 is usually considered the most important, written by James Madison and published in November 1787. The Paper addresses the question of what rights are owed to the citizenry by their government and is a major foundation stone for many legal and philosophical ideas about American government. It specifically addresses factionalism, or the splintering of political parties and/or political interests, as Madison feared that multiple groups arguing and competing with each other could overwhelm a weak government.

Let's take a look at it now.

Excerpt from Federalist Paper #10

The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

From the New York Packet.

Friday, November 23, 1787.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. 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. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. 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. The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected. 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. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

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.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. 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.

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