Wednesday, December 20, 2017

'If Men Were Angels'---Federalist 51 For Modern Eyes and Ears

'Wonder if this American Democratic Republican
Experiment in self-governance will work?
(first published in North State Journal 12/20/17)

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? 

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. 

If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary either.


In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: 


You must first enable the government to control the governed; and then oblige it to control itself.”


How do we separate powers among 3 branches of our government? Each branch must have some ability to keep others in their proper place. It is a sad but honest reflection on human nature that such counterbalances are necessary to control abuses of government power.

The will of the people must be the primary control on government. However, human history shows the importance of using opposite and rival interests to frustrate the ill motives of some leaders.

To insure liberty, each branch should have a clear purpose of its own and as little influence on the selection of members of other branches as possible. Members of each branch should not be totally dependent on another branch for remuneration. If the executive or judiciary were not independent of Congress, their independence in every other function would be diminished.

Subordinate distributions of power of government should serve as a check on other departments to protect individual rights. The remedy is to divide the legislature into different branches and force competition among the branches to best govern.

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.


In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.

Strong legislative authority requires that it should be divided. The weak constitutional powers of the executive requires that it should be strengthened with veto power over the legislature.  The Senate should have the power to override a President since he may be lacking in courage or spirit or may be a tyrant.

The people should almost always select government officials. In the judiciary, however, we need highly-trained lawyers who should be selected in a way that guarantees we get the best judges possible.

There are two ways to form the United States: a single republic or a compound republic.

In a single republic, all power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government as in monarchies.

In our compound republic, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between state and federal governments, and then subdivided among distinct and separate departments. A double security arises to the rights of the people: the different state and federal governments will control each other, and at the same time, each will be controlled by itself.

A republic must guard the people against oppression by its elected leaders. It also must guard the minority interests against injustice from the majority.

If a majority is united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. Minority rights can be protected by: 1) creating a separate force outside of government to support the minority; or 2) having so many separate groups of citizens that an unjust majority will never happen.

The first method prevails in monarchies. A power independent of the government might support the rightful interests of the minor party but one day turn to support the oppressive majority party.

The United States will exemplify the federal combined republic.

Civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. The more interests and sects, the more security will abound for everyone.

If stronger factions can unite and oppress minority factions, anarchy will reign as in a state of nature.

Any government too weak to protect the rights of a minority today will be too weak to protect the rights of the majority tomorrow.

A small state on its own might one day be destroyed by its own internal factions. Without the protection offered the people of that state by their federal rights, they would be defenseless.

As the United States grows over time, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good, versus narrow sectarian or religious differences. The larger the society, the more duly capable it will be of republican self-government.

This view must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all friends of republican government'

(James Madison's Federalist 51 edited and paraphrased to some extent to match modern sensibilities and tone. 2/3rds of original language reduced to this version; roughly 50% of remaining text is original from Madison's masterpiece)


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