Father of U.S. Constitution Feared Factionalism

If our founding fathers could watch the malfunction of our state and local governments and the lack of reasoned discourse therein, what might they say?

A good place to look would be the Federalist Papers.

Huh?

Oh that’s right. Besides some judges, scholars, and historians, few Americans today have a clue about the Federalist Papers or what they meant to the founding of our nation. Few care, as modern culture deems much of our founding heritage as politically incorrect.

Too bad. James Madison, our fourth President and acknowledged father of our Constitution, had some relevant things to say.

In Federalist No. 10, published November 23, 1787, Madison writes about “factions” and their ability to thwart good government. By “faction,” Madison meant a cluster of citizens “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

He considered the rise and fall of factions an inescapable problem. “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.”

Madison also wrote, “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Oh my. Madison thought the role of government was to provide for the “common good,” not to serve the interests of one or more factions. What planet was he from?

Madison was particularly concerned should a faction become the majority in government, writing such occurrence “enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”

Oh no. He cared about the rights of all citizens, too.

Sarcasm aside, Madison and his fellow authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, believed the “representative republic” set forth in our Constitution would disable the means for factions to dominate government.

“A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection,” wrote Hamilton in Federalist No. 9.

Yet, domestic faction has come to dominate federal and state governments as both Republican and Democratic parties devolve from big tents into narrow factions.

“Splintered parties and unrestrained factionalism may do significant damage to the fabric of government,” commented the late Supreme Court Justice Byron White, citing our founding fathers.

As Independence Day approaches, Americans ought to consider what our founding fathers had to say. All 85 essays in the Federalist Papers may be too much, but it’s easy to search the Internet and read summaries. Collectively, these papers represent one of the great examples of reasoned discourse in civilized history. They should not just fade away, nor our founding heritage.

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