In several articles in the National Gazette, James Madison adjusts his earlier views on parties and public opinion, and advances a republican critique of Hamilton's policies (see From Bullets to Ballots, pp. 66-72).
Much has been said, and not without reason, against a consolidation of the states into one government. Omitting lesser objections, two consequences would probably flow from such a change in our political system, which would justify the cautions used against it. First, it would be impossible to avoid the dilemma of either relinquishing the present energy and responsibility of a single executive magistrate for some plural substitute, which by dividing so great a trust might lessen the danger of it, or suffering so great an accumulation of powers in the hands of that officer as might by degrees transform him into a monarch. The incompetency of one legislature to regulate all the various objects belonging to the local governments would evidently force a transfer of many of them to the executive department, whilst the increasing splendor and number of its prerogatives supplied by this source might prove excitements to ambition too powerful for a sober execution of the elective plan, and consequently strengthen the pretexts for a hereditary designation of the magistrate. Second, were the state governments abolished, the same space of country that would produce an undue growth of the executive power would prevent that control on the legislative body which is essential to a faithful discharge of its trust; neither the voice nor the sense of ten or twenty millions of people, spread through so many latitudes as are comprehended within the United States, could ever be combined or called into effect if deprived of those local organs through which both can now be conveyed. In such a state of things, the impossibility of acting together might be succeeded by the inefficacy of partial expressions of the public mind and this, at length, by a universal silence and insensibility, leaving the whole government to that self-directed course which, it must be owned, is the natural propensity of every government.
But if a consolidation of the states into one government be an event so justly to be avoided, it is not less to be desired, on the other hand, that a consolidation should prevail in their interests and affections. . . . In proportion as uniformity is found to prevail in the interests and sentiments of the several states, will be the practicability of accommodating legislative regulations to them, and thereby of withholding new and dangerous prerogatives from the executive. Again, the greater the mutual confidence and affection of all parts of the Union, the more likely they will be to concur amicably or to differ with moderation in the elective designation of the chief magistrate, and by such examples to guard and adorn the vital principle of our republican constitution. Lastly, the less the supposed difference of interests and the greater the concord and confidence throughout the great body of the people, the more readily must they sympathize with each other, the more seasonably can they interpose a common manifestation of their sentiments, the more certainly will they take the alarm at usurpation or oppression, and the more effectually will they consolidate their defense of the public liberty.
Here, then, is a proper object presented, both to those who are most jealously attached to the separate authority reserved to the states and to those who may be more inclined to contemplate the people of America in the light of one
nation. Let the former continue to watch against every encroachment which might lead to a gradual consolidation of the states into one government. Let the latter employ their utmost zeal, by eradicating local prejudices and mistaken rivalships, to consolidate the affairs of the states into one harmonious interest; and let it be the patriotic study of all to maintain the various authorities established by our complicated system, each in its respective constitutional sphere, and to erect over the whole one paramount empire of reason, benevolence, and brotherly affection.
Public opinion sets bounds to every government, and is the real sovereign in every free one.
As there are cases where the public opinion must be obeyed by the government; so there are cases, where not being fixed, it may be influenced by the government. This distinction, if kept in view, would prevent or decide many debates on the respect due from the government to the sentiments of the people.
In proportion as government is influenced by opinion, it must be so, by whatever influences opinion. This decides the question concerning a Constitutional Declaration of Rights, which requires an influence on government, by becoming a part of the public opinion.
The larger a country, the less easy for its real opinion to be ascertained, and the less difficult to be counterfeited; when ascertained or presumed, the more respectable it is in the eyes of individuals. This is favorable to the authority of government. For the same reason, the more extensive a country, the more insignificant is each individual in his own eyes. This may be unfavorable to liberty.
Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments, as good roads, domestic commerce, a free press, and particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people, and Representatives going from, and returning among every part of them, is equivalent to a contraction of territorial limits, and is favorable to liberty, where these may be too extensive.
In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them. The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all; 2. By witholding unnecessary opportunities from a few to increase the inequality of property by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches; 3. By the silent operation of laws which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort; 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expense of another; 5. By making
one party a check on the other so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented nor their views accommodated. If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism.
In all political societies, different interests and parties arise out of the nature of things, and the great art of politicians lies in making them checks and balances to each other. Let us then increase these natural distinctions by favoring an inequality of property; and let us add to them artificial distinctions, by establishing kings and nobles and plebians. We shall then have the more checks to oppose to each other: we shall then have the more scales and the more weights to perfect and maintain the equilibrium. This is as little the voice of reason as it is that of republicanism.
From the expediency, in politics, of making natural parties mutual checks on each other, to infer the propriety of creating artificial parties, in order to form them into mutual checks, is not less absurd than it would be, in ethics, to say that new vices ought to be promoted, where they would counteract each other, because this use may be made of existing vices.
Power being found by universal experience liable to abuses, a distribution of it into separate departments has become a first principle of free governments. By this contrivance, the portion entrusted to the same hands being less, there is less room to abuse what is granted; and the different hands being interested, each in maintaining its own, there is less opportunity to usurp what is not granted. Hence the merited praise of governments modelled on a partition of their powers into legislative, executive, and judiciary, and a repartition of the legislative into different houses.
The political system of the United States claims still higher praise. The power delegated by the people is first divided between the general government and the state governments, each of which is then subdivided into legislative, executive, and judiciary departments. And as in a single government these departments are to be kept separate and safe, by a defensive armour for each; so, it is to be hoped, do the two governments possess each the means of preventing or correcting unconstitutional encroachments of the other.
Should this improvement on the theory of free government not be marred in the execution, it may prove the best legacy ever left by lawgivers to their country, and the best lesson ever given to the world by its benefactors. If a
security against power lies in the division of it into parts mutually controlling each other, the security must increase with the increase of the parts into which the whole can be conveniently formed.
It must not be denied that the task of forming and maintaining a division of power between different governments is greater than among different departments of the same government, because it may be more easy (though sufficiently difficult) to separate, by proper definitions, the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers, which are more distinct in their nature, than to discriminate by precise enumerations one class of legislative powers from another class, one class of executive from another class, and one class of judiciary from another class, where the powers being of a more kindred nature, their boundaries are more obscure and run more into each other.
If the task be difficult, however, it must by no means be abandoned. Those who would pronounce it impossible offer no alternative to their country but schism or consolidation, both of them bad, but the latter the worst, since it is the high road to monarchy, than which nothing worse, in the eye of republicans, could result from the anarchy implied in the former.
Those who love their country, its repose, and its republicanism, will therefore study to avoid the alternative, by elucidating and guarding the limits which define the two governments, by inculcating moderation in the exercise of the powers of both, and particularly a mutual abstinence from such as might nurse present jealousies or engender greater.
In bestowing the eulogies due to the partitions and internal checks of power, it ought not the less to be remembered that they are neither the sole nor the chief palladium of constitutional liberty. The people, who are the authors of this blessing, must also be its guardians. Their eyes must be ever ready to mark, their voice to pronounce, and their arm to repel or repair aggressions on
the authority of their constitutions, the highest authority next to their own, because the immediate work of their own, and the most sacred part of their property, as recognizing and recording the title to every other.
No government is perhaps reducible to a sole principle of operation. Where the theory approaches nearest to this character, different and often heterogeneous principles mingle their influence in the administration. It is useful nevertheless to analyze the several kinds of government, and to characterize them by the spirit which predominates in each.
Montesquieu has resolved the great operative principles of government into fear, honor, and virtue, applying the first to pure despotisms, the second to regular monarchies, and the third to republics. The portion of truth blended with the ingenuity of this system sufficiently justifies the admiration bestowed on its author. Its accuracy however can never be defended against the criticisms which it has encountered. Montesquieu was in politics not a Newton or a Locke, who established immortal systems, the one in matter, the other in mind. He was in his particular science what Bacon was in universal science: He lifted the veil from the venerable errors which enslaved opinion and pointed the way to those luminous truths of which he had but a glimpse himself.
May not governments be properly divided, according to their predominant spirit and principles, into three species of which the following are examples?
First. A government operating by a permanent military force, which at once maintains the government and is maintained by it; which is at once the cause of burdens on the people and of submission in the people to their burdens. Such have been the governments under which human nature has groaned through every age. Such are the governments which still oppress it in almost every country of Europe, the quarter of the globe which calls itself the pattern of civilization and the pride of humanity.
Secondly. A government operating by corrupt influence; substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty; converting its pecuniary dispensations into bounties to favorites or bribes to opponents; accommodating its measures to the avidity of a part of the nation instead of the benefit of the whole: in a word, enlisting an army of interested partisans, whose tongues, whose pens, whose intrigues, and whose active combinations, by supplying the terror of the sword, may support a real domination of the few under an apparent liberty of the many. Such a government, wherever to be found, is an impostor. It is happy for the new world that it is not on the west side of the Atlantic. It will be both happy and honorable for the United States if they never descend to mimic the costly pageantry of its form, nor betray themselves into the venal spirit of its administration.
Thirdly. A government deriving its energy from the will of the society, and operating by the reason of its measures on the understanding and interest of the society. Such is the government for which philosophy has been searching,
and humanity been sighing, from the most remote ages. Such are the republican governments which it is the glory of America to have invented, and her unrivalled happiness to possess. May her glory be completed by every improvement on the theory which experience may teach; and her happiness be perpetuated by a system of administration corresponding with the purity of the theory.
A perfect theory on this subject would be useful, not because it could be reduced to practice by any plan of legislation, or ought to be attempted by violence on the will or property of individuals, but because it would be a monition against empirical experiments by power, and a model to which the free choice of occupations by the people might gradually approximate the order of society.
The best distribution is that which would most favor health, virtue, intelligence and competency in the greatest number of citizens. It is needless to add to these objects liberty and safety. The first is presupposed by them. The last must result from them.
The life of the husbandman is pre-eminently suited to the comfort and happiness of the individual. Health, the first of blessings, is an appurtenance of his property and his employment. Virtue, the health of the soul, is another part of his patrimony, and no less favored by his situation. Intelligence may be cultivated in this as well as in any other walk of life. If the mind be less susceptible of polish in retirement than in a crowd, it is more capable of profound and comprehensive efforts. Is it more ignorant of some things? It has a compensation in its ignorance of others. Competency is more universally the lot of those who dwell in the country, when liberty is at the same time their lot. The extremes both of want and of waste have other abodes. 'Tis not the country that peoples either the Bridewells or the Bedlams. These mansions of wretchedness are tenanted from the distresses and vices of overgrown cities.
The condition to which the blessings of life are most denied is that of the sailor. His health is continually assailed and his span shortened by the stormy element to which he belongs. His virtue, at no time aided, is occasionally exposed to every scene that can poison it. His mind, like his body, is imprisoned within the bark that transports him. Though traversing and circumnavigating the globe, he sees nothing but the same vague objects of nature, the same monotonous occurrences in ports and docks; and at home in his vessel, what new ideas can shoot from the unvaried use of the ropes and the rudder, or from the society of comrades as ignorant as himself. In the supply of his wants he often feels a scarcity, seldom more than a bare sustenance; and if his ultimate prospects do not embitter the present moment, it is because he never looks beyond it. How unfortunate that in the intercourse
by which nations are enlightened and refined, and their means of safety extended, the immediate agents should be distinguished by the hardest condition of humanity.
The great interval between the two extremes is, with a few exceptions, filled by those who work the materials furnished by the earth in its natural or cultivated state.
It is fortunate in general, and particularly for this country, that so much of the ordinary and most essential consumption takes place in fabrics which can be prepared in every family, and which constitute indeed the natural ally of agriculture. The former is the work within doors, as the latter is without; and each being done by hands or at times that can be spared from the other, the most is made of every thing.
The class of citizens who provide at once their own food and their own raiment may be viewed as the most truly independent and happy. They are more: they are the best basis of public liberty, and the strongest bulwark of public safety. It follows that the greater the proportion of this class to the whole society, the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be the society itself.
In appreciating the regular branches of manufacturing and mechanical industry, their tendency must be compared with the principles laid down, and their merits graduated accordingly. Whatever is least favorable to vigor of body, to the faculties of the mind, or to the virtues or the utilities of life, instead of being forced or fostered by public authority, ought to be seen with regret as long as occupations more friendly to human happiness lie vacant.
The several professions of more elevated pretensions, the merchant, the lawyer, the physician, the philosopher, the divine, form a certain proportion of every civilized society, and readily adjust their numbers to its demands and its circumstances.
As it is the business of the contemplative statesman to trace the history of parties in a free country, so it is the duty of the citizen at all times to understand the actual state of them. Whenever this duty is omitted, an opportunity is given to designing men, by the use of artificial or nominal distinctions, to oppose and balance against each other those who never differed as to the end to be pursued, and may no longer differ as to the means of attaining it. The most interesting state of parties in the United States may be referred to three periods. Those who espoused the cause of independence and those who adhered to the British claims formed the parties of the first period, if, indeed, the disaffected class were considerable enough to deserve the name of a party. This state of things was superseded by the treaty of peace in 1783. From 1783 to 1787 there were parties in abundance, but being rather local than general, they are not within the present review.
The Federal Constitution, proposed in the latter year, gave birth to a second and most interesting division of the people. Everyone remembers it, because everyone was involved in it.
Among those who embraced the Constitution, the great body were unquestionably friends to republican liberty, tho' there were, no doubt, some who were openly or secretly attached to monarchy and aristocracy, and hoped to make the Constitution a cradle for these hereditary establishments.
Among those who opposed the Constitution, the great body were certainly well affected to the union and to good government, tho' there might be a few who had a leaning unfavorable to both. This state of parties was terminated by the regular and effectual establishment of the federal government in 1788; out of the administration of which, however, has arisen a third division, which being natural to most political societies, is likely to be of some duration
One of the divisions consists of those who, from particular interest, from natural temper, or from the habits of life, are more partial to the opulent than to the other classes of society; and having debauched themselves into a persuasion that mankind are incapable of governing themselves, it follows with them, of course, that government can be carried on only by the pageantry of rank, the influence of money and emoluments, and the terror of military force. Men of those sentiments must naturally wish to point the measures of government less to the interest of the many than of a few, and less to the reason of the many than to their weaknesses; hoping perhaps in proportion to the ardor of their zeal, that by giving such a turn to the administration, the government itself may by degrees be narrowed into fewer hands and approximated to a hereditary form.
The other division consists of those who, believing in the doctrine that mankind are capable of governing themselves and hating hereditary power as an insult to the reason and an outrage to the rights of man, are naturally offended at every public measure that does not appeal to the understanding and to the general interests of the community, or that is not strictly conformable to the principles and conducive to the preservation of republican government.
This being the real state of parties among us, an experienced and dispassionate observer will be at no loss to decide on the probable conduct of each.
The antirepublican party, as it may be called, being the weaker in point of numbers, will be induced by the most obvious motives to strengthen themselves with the men of influence, particularly of moneyed, which is the most active and insinuating influence. It will be equally their true policy to weaken their opponents by reviving exploded parties and taking advantage of all prejudices, local, political, and occupational, that may prevent or disturb a general coalition of sentiments.
The Republican party, as it may be termed, conscious that the mass of people in every part of the union, in every state, and of every occupation must at bottom be with them, both in interest and sentiment, will naturally find their account in burying all antecedent questions, in banishing every other distinction than that between enemies and friends to republican government, and in promoting a general harmony among the latter, wherever residing or however employed.
Whether the republican or the rival party will ultimately establish its ascendance is a problem which may be contemplated now; but which time alone can solve. On one hand experience shows that in politics as in war, stratagem is often an overmatch for numbers: and among more happy characteristics of our political situation, it is now well understood that there are peculiarities, some temporary, others more durable, which may favor that side in the contest. On the republican side, again, the superiority of numbers is so great, their sentiments are so decided, and the practice of making a common cause, where there is a common sentiment and common interest, in spight of circumstantial and artificial distinctions, is so well understood, that no temperate observer of human affairs will be surprised if the issue in the present instance should be reversed, and the government be administered in the spirit and form approved by the great body of the people.