Alexander Hamilton was pro-federalist, and authored a number of the papers.
Credit: Image courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
As Americans considered whether to adopt the Constitution proposed by the Convention in 1787, one of the central issues had to do with the large nation or republic that would be created. Many Anti-federalists, such as Brutus and Centinel, believed that in such a vast nation, the central government must rule by strength and force to ensure that the laws are enforced everywhere. Such a government, they argued, would likely be beyond the control of the people, abuse its powers, and become a tyranny that would deprive the citizens of their rights and liberty. Furthermore, Anti-federalists argued, such a large republic would necessarily involve a multitude of diverse interests and occupations, which would prevent the kind of unity among citizens from north, south, east, and west that ought to exist in every nation. The task of refuting these powerful arguments and defending the proposed Constitution fell mainly to Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, writing as Publius in The Federalist papers. Madison—especially in his famous Federalist No. 10—argued that the great danger in republics is not simply that those in government will abuse their powers; rather, the will of the majority must ultimately prevail, and in a popular government the majority may use the power of the vote to elect representatives willing to pass laws depriving the minority of their rights. Contrary to the arguments of Anti-federalists, Madison argued that multiplying the diversity of interests in a large republic is the key to breaking these dangerous majority factions. How the extended republic would control factions—with the aid of separation of powers and checks and balances in government—is the focus of this lesson.
Was James Madison correct when he claimed that a republican government over an extended territory was necessary to both preserve the Union and secure the rights of citizens?
The concerns of the Anti-federalists regarding the size of the Union that would be created by the proposed Constitution were perhaps best expressed in Brutus’ observation that “history furnishes no example of a free republic, any thing like the extent of the United States.” Brutus’ statement is correct, but the Federalists—especially James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, writing as Publius in The Federalist Papers—believed they had discovered a way to create an extended republic that would be both durable and effective in securing the rights of its citizens.
Alexander Hamilton begins this argument in The Federalist No. 9, in which he agrees that in the past, all republics had failed to secure the rights of their citizens and had perished in the grip of either tyranny or anarchy. “It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy,” wrote Hamilton, “without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” Hamilton also agrees that if a “more perfect” model of republican government cannot be discovered, the best that Americans could do is settle for a benevolent despotism that secures the lives—at the expense of the liberties—of citizens. “Happily for mankind,” however, Hamilton writes that the framers of the Constitution have discovered or improved upon the “science of politics,” and this will make possible an American republic that is both durable and safe for the rights of the people. Among these improvements are the election by the people of representatives to make all laws, separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, and judges who hold tenure during good behavior. And Hamilton adds one more improvement to his list: the “enlargement of the orbit” or the size of the territory that is to exist under the national government.
In The Federalist No. 10, Madison picks up this theme and shows how an extended republic or large nation will help to control the “mortal disease of popular governments”—or what he calls the “dangerous vice” of faction—from which the United States had been suffering under the system established by the Articles of Confederation. Madison defines a faction thus: “A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are 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.” In his now-famous line of reasoning, Madison states that there are two ways of removing the causes of faction: first, by doing away with liberty; or second, by giving every citizen the same passions, opinions and interests. Madison rejects the first option because it defeats the purpose of government, which is—according to the Declaration of Independence—to secure the rights and liberty of all citizens. The second option, Madison writes, is “impracticable” because human nature is such that there will always be diverse opinions and interests among men. In fact, he says, even when men have little to disagree about, they still look for reasons to “fall into mutual animosities,” and “the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.” With the causes of faction so firmly rooted in unchanging human nature, Madison abandons the hope of removing these causes, and instead sets out to show that a way must be found to mitigate the effects of these factious tempers if and when they do arise.
Minority factions—or those consisting of less than a majority of the whole body of citizens—do not present a critical problem, writes Madison; the “republican principle” or rule of the majority makes it less likely that such minorities can pass laws that oppress the majority. Rather, it is majority faction that is critically dangerous, precisely because of the republican principle itself—the principle that recognizes the majority as representative of the people as a whole. “When a majority is included in a faction,” Madison writes, “the form of popular government…enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Two things must be accomplished to prevent this great danger: “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.” It turns out, Madison argues, that a large or extended republic goes very far in facilitating both of these means of controlling majority faction; in other words, a large republic will make it less likely for factions to form in the first place, and if they do form, they are rendered less dangerous to the nation as a whole.
To show how a large republic helps to mitigate the dangers of majority faction, Madison first compares what he calls a “pure democracy”—the kind established, for example, by Athenians in the days of Plato and Aristotle—and a republic. In a “pure democracy,” all of the citizens gather in one place to vote on all laws, and as a result it must be very small in size and limited in number of citizens. The smallness of democracies means that there will be relatively little diversity of interests, making it more likely for a majority to form that will pass laws contrary to the rights and interests of the minority. The fact that they all gather together makes it more likely for such a faction to form, and easier for them to “concert and execute their schemes of oppression.” In a republic, however, in which “the scheme of representation takes place,” it is the elected representatives, and not the citizens, who gather in one place to vote on laws. This makes it more difficult for a majority of the people to realize its common passion or interests, to unite into a faction, and to impose upon the rights of the minority.
Representation itself, Madison informs us, does not automatically cure the “mischiefs of faction.” Representatives carry with them to Congress the interests and opinions of their constituents in their election districts, making it possible for a faction to rear its head within the legislature, which is made even more dangerous because of the national executive’s power to enforce the laws they pass, whether good or bad. But, Madison writes, just as a republic is more beneficial than a pure democracy, so is a large republic better than a small one. Representation—unlike a “pure democracy”—allows the republic to be stretched to include a greater expanse of territory and a larger number of citizens. In a large or extended republic, a greater diversity of interests and opinions is comprehended within the nation, and these diverse interests—which will be represented in the national legislature—make it less likely for a simple majority to form among representatives in Congress.
Madison concludes his defense of the extended republic in The Federalist No. 51. Here Madison argues that a large nation helps to mitigate the effects of faction, or the propensity of one group of people to oppress and tyrannize over another group, in three ways. First, by multiplying the number of interests in the nation, it is less likely that a simple majority united by one interest will form. Second, with such a vast extent of territory it will be more difficult for factions to unite and “concert” on how to carry out their schemes of oppression. Third, in a large nation, if a faction forms in one state or section of the country, it will be less likely to spill over the borders and “pervade the whole body of the Union” with its “wicked project.” And if the multiplicity of interests in the extended republic is not enough to prevent the formation of a faction in Congress, certain “auxiliary precautions”—including separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, the executive veto power, and judicial review by the courts—make it more difficult for factious laws to be passed.
This lesson will involve a more detailed analysis of Alexander Hamilton’s and James Madison’s arguments in favor of the extended republic in The Federalist Nos. 9, 10 and 51. Students will consider and understand in greater depth the problem of faction in a free republic and the difficulty of establishing a government that has enough power to fulfill its responsibilities, but which will not abuse that power and infringe on liberties of citizens.
For more background information, the EDSITEment-reviewed resource “Ratification of the Constitution” website at Teaching American History offers useful texts and timelines of the Federalist and Anti-federalist debates, including their arguments regarding the extended republic.
Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the Text Document for each activity. Download the two Text Documents, Worksheet for Activity 1, and Worksheet for Activity 2, for this lesson, available here as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in the activities, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
NOTE TO TEACHERS ON MODIFYING ACTIVITIES:
Because this lesson uses primary documents that include language that students might find difficult to understand or translate into modern terms, teachers may find it useful to create a vocabulary chart for the room, or a chart listing the main points of the Federalist arguments. Students could refer to these charts before beginning the reading assignments.
Analyzing primary sources:
If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.
Time required for activity: One homework assignment and one class instructional period
Print copies (or provide links) for students of the documents and questions assigned for homework and class discussion (listed below, included in the Text Document for Activity One).
This activity is designed to give students a better understanding of the problem of faction, as it was understood by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and why they considered this to be the “mortal disease” that made popular forms of government (in which the people get to vote on laws or representatives) so unstable. Students will see Hamilton and Madison’s defense of republican government—with certain improvements—as a response to those who did not think it was possible to create a republican system based on consent and majority rule that also secured justice for all, including the minority. Students will also be introduced to the concept of “extending the sphere” or enlarging the republic as a way to deal with the problem of faction. From Madison’s famous argument in The Federalist No. 10, students begin to see that the problem in popular governments is that it is relatively easy for a majority to out-vote and thereby deprive the minority of their rights. This is the basis of Madison’s response to Anti-federalists such as Brutus and Centinel, who feared that the extended republic would lead to tyranny by an elite and powerful national government. Madison shows that the real threat is not simply from ambitious men in the government, but from the ability of a majority of the population to use the power of government to oppress the minority. The solution, he argues, is to extend the republic over a great extent of territory, which will have certain beneficial effects: first, it will make it more difficult for members of a faction to unite and carry out their “schemes of oppression”; second, if a faction forms in one state, it will be less likely to infect the entire Union; and third, by multiplying the diversity and number of interests that will be represented in Congress, it becomes less likely that a faction will form in the government of the Union. The net result, Madison believes, will be that justice—the “end of government [and] of civil society”—will more likely be obtained. In the next activity, students will see Madison’s solution to the problem of faction in action.
1. For homework, have all students read the documents for activity one (Reading Sets A, B and C) listed below. These documents are available in their entirety at the EDSITEment-reviewed The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, and in excerpted form on pages 1-3, 6 and 9 of the Text Document for Activity One:
Reading Set A: The vices of republican government
Reading Set B: The benefits of “a large over a small republic”
Reading Set C: “Extending the sphere” and multiplying interests
2. Divide the class into three groups, and assign for homework one of the worksheets (for either Reading Set A, B or C) to each group (available on pages 4-5, 7-8 and 10-11 of the Text Document for Activity One).
1. Have each group meet to compare and discuss answers to the questions on their assigned worksheet (for Reading Set A, B or C) for approximately ten minutes.
2. Distribute the worksheets for Reading Sets A, B and C to each student. Reshuffle the students in each group, so that they can complete the remaining two worksheets by comparing and discussing answers again; this will also allow “experts” in each group to lead the discussion on the questions and answers. Allow approximately twenty minutes for this discussion.
3. If you do not plan to go on to Activity Two, teachers can use the remainder of the class time by having one student from each group present their answers to the entire class, with the teacher writing answers on the board or leading a deeper and broader discussion on the problem of faction.
4. If you plan to continue on to Activity Two, skip to the section “On the day before the activity” in Activity Two below.
Time required for activity: One homework assignment and one class period for role playing scenario
Print copies for students of the constituency cards, name tags, and list of possible bills to be introduced during the activity (included on pages 1-19 in the Text Document for Activity Two).
The purpose of the activity is to give students a working knowledge of Madison’s solution to the problem of majority faction by demonstrating how the multiplicity of diverse interests in an extended republic– combined with the constitutional separation of powers—will make it difficult for a majority faction to form in Congress, and therefore provide a better security for the rights of the minority.
1. Explain the purpose and details of the activity to students. Students will engage in a role playing scenario on the following day in which some will be members of the House of Representatives and others will be Senators. They will be given a card making them familiar with the interests of their constituents in the state they represent. During the role play, bills will be introduced in both houses, and students will have to vote on each bill. Before voting they must determine whether the bill is beneficial or harmful to their constituents; then they will engage in discussions and negotiations with other members of their house who will also be affected by this bill. Students can also try to form coalitions (or possibly factions?) with members of both the House and Senate to try to get the bill passed or blocked.
2. Distribute one name tag and constituency card to each student. Notice that the names should match on the name tag and constituency card distributed to each student. Notice also that there are thirteen cards for the Senate and twenty for the House of Representatives. If you do not have enough students to use every card, it is recommended that teachers eliminate two House cards for every Senate card not used. Teachers have the option of deciding which states will be under-represented or not represented. If there are more than 33 students, make the necessary number of copies.
3. Distribute the list of possible bills to each student. After reading through them, have the students choose two bills—one H.R. bill and one Senate bill—to be used in tomorrow’s role playing scenario.
4. That night students should read and study their cards and selected bills, determine whether the bills will be beneficial or harmful to their constituents, and prepare two arguments in support of or against the bill to be presented in class the next day.
1. Make sure students have affixed their name tags so everyone knows the state they represent.
2. Divide the students into a “chamber” for the House of Representatives and a “chamber” for the Senate (opposite corners of the room will work fine).
3. Each house should elect a leader: the House should elect a “Speaker” and the Senate a “President” (this is done by simple majority vote). The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate will keep time and call for votes when necessary. They will also count the votes and declare whether each bill passes (a simple majority in each house is necessary for the bill to pass).
4. Have the leader of each house read aloud the bill their house will be considering. After reading, the leader should allow fifteen minutes of informal discussion among the members of their house. During this time, teachers have the option of allowing students to approach members of the other house to inform them of the proceedings in their own house.
5. After approximately fifteen minutes, each leader will call their house to order and allow approximately 5-10 minutes for discussion. The leader will call on individual members to speak and state why they are for or against the bill.
6. After discussion, the leader will call for a vote on the bill. The leader will call on each member for their vote, and each member will say “Yes” or “No.” The leader will record the votes and announce whether the bill has passed or not.
7. If a bill fails to pass, it is “dead.”
8. If a bill passes one house, it goes to the other house for their consideration. Repeat from step #4 above.
9. If a bill passes both houses, it must be approved by the President of the United States. The teacher may act as President, or they have the option of allowing students to cast a secret ballot (written on paper and the name of the voter is not included) for a President. The person with the most votes for President shall be elected. The President may either veto the bill or approve it (in which case it becomes a Law or Act).
10. If time permits, teachers have the option of continuing on to the judicial review phase. If a bill is approved by the President of the United States, it must withstand judicial review by the Supreme Court. The teacher may act as the Supreme Court, or they can have the President nominate three students to serve as Justices. The students will then act as the Senate and cast a secret ballot (written on paper with no names) voting yes or no for each of the President’s nominees for Supreme Court Justices (a simple majority is necessary for appointment). Once appointed, two out of three Justices may uphold the Law as constitutional, or strike it down as unconstitutional. The Justices should offer an Opinion to the class explaning their reasons for upholding or overturning the law. Note to teachers: If time does not permit for judicial proceedings, or if class size is not conducive to such proceedings, teachers may choose to discuss the role of the Supreme Court in reviewing laws rather than engaging in debate.
11. If time permits, more bills may be introduced.
After completing this lesson, students should be able to write brief (1-2 paragraph) answers to the following questions:
Students should also be able to debate the themes addressed in this lesson, and write a longer (2-3 pages) essay answering the following question: Does James Madison’s plan to extend the republic offer a viable solution to the danger of majority faction?
1. Divide the class into small groups and have each one develop a thesis statement that encompasses the various elements of this lesson. They should be given roughly 15 minutes to do this. Once they have done so, each group should write its thesis statement on the board, and as a class discuss which is the best and why. The entire class can then be given a homework assignment to write an essay that defends the statement.
2. Allow students to prepare a podcast (or other recording) of a speech that addresses the questions above. Students should also be able to identify and explain the significance of the following concepts:
Teachers can extend this lesson by having students use the individuals and concepts in the “Assessment” section to prepare flash cards (Cardstock or note cards will work). The front of the card should have the name of the individual or the concept. The back of the card should have a description of the individual and his beliefs or an explanation of the concept. When completed, place students in pairs and allow time to practice with the flashcards in preparation for a quiz or test using the assessment questions.
1-2 class periods