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TO — — 1 mad. mss. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 9 (1819-1836) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 9.
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TO — —1mad. mss.
You justly take alarm at the new doctrine that a majority Govt. is of all other Govts. the most oppressive. The doctrine strikes at the root of Republicanism, and if pursued into its consequences, must terminate in absolute monarchy, with a standing military force; such alone being impartial between its subjects, and alone capable of overpowering majorities as well as minorities.
But it is said that a majority Govt. is dangerous only where there is a difference in the interest of the classes or sections composing the community; that this difference will generally be greatest in communities of the greatest extent; and that such is the extent of the U. S. and the discordance of interests in them, that a majority cannot be trusted with power over a minority.
Formerly, the opinion prevailed that a Republican Govt was in its nature limited to a small sphere; and was in its true character only when the sphere was so small that the people could, in a body, exercise the Govt over themselves.
The history of the ancient Republics, and those of a more modern date, had demonstrated the evils incident to popular assemblages, so quickly formed, so susceptible of contagious passions, so exposed to the misguidance of eloquent & ambitious leaders; and so apt to be tempted by the facility of forming interested majorities, into measures unjust and oppressive to the minor parties.
The introduction of the representative principle into modern Govts. particularly of G. B. and her colonial offsprings, had shown the practicability of popular Govts. in a larger sphere, and that the enlargement of the sphere was a cure for many of the evils inseparable from the popular forms in small communities.
It remained for the people of the U. S., by combining a federal with a republican organization, to enlarge still more the sphere of representative Govt and by convenient partitions & distributions of power, to provide the better for internal justice & order, whilst it afforded the best protection agst. external dangers.
Experience & reflection may be said not only to have exploded the old error, that repubn Govts. could only exist within a small compas, but to have established the important truth, that as representative Govts. are necessary substitutes for popular assemblages; so an association of free communities, each possessing a responsible Govt under a collective authority also responsible, by enlarging the practicable sphere of popular governments, promises a consummation of all the reasonable hopes of the patrons of free Govt
It was long since observed by Montesquieu, has been often repeated since, and, may it not be added, illustrated within the U. S. that in a confederal system, if one of its members happens to stray into pernicious measures, it will be reclaimed by the frowns & the good examples of the others, before the evil example will have infected the others.
But whatever opinions may be formed on the general subjects of confederal systems, or the interpretation of our own, every friend to Republican Govt. ought to raise his voice agst the sweeping denunciation of majority Govts as the most tyrannical and intolerable of all Govts
The Patrons of this new heresy will attempt in vain to mask its anti-republicanism under a contrast between the extent and the discordant interests of the Union, and the limited dimensions and sameness of interests within its members. Passing by the great extent of some of the States, and the fact that these cannot be charged with more unjust & oppressive majorities than the smaller States, it may be observed that the extent of the Union, divided as the powers of Govt. are between it and its members, is found to be within the compass of a successful administration of all the departments of Govt. notwithstanding the objections & anticipations founded on its extent when the Constitution was submitted to the people. It is true that the sphere of action has been and will be not a little enlarged by the territories embraced by the Union. But it will not be denied, that the improvements already made in internal navigation by canals & steamboats, and in turnpikes & railroads, have virtually brought the most distant parts of the Union, in its present extent, much closer together than they were at the date of the Federal Constitution. It is not too much to say, that the facility and quickness of intercommunication throughout the Union is greater now than it formerly was between the remote parts of the State of Virginia.
But if majority Govts. as such, are so formidable, look at the scope for abuses of their power within the individual States, in their division into creditors & debtors, in the distribution of taxes, in the conflicting interests, whether real or supposed, of different parts of the State, in the case of improving roads, cutting canals, &c., to say nothing of many other sources of discordant interests or of party contests, which exist or wd arise if the States were separated from each other. It seems to be forgotten, that the abuses committed within the individual States previous to the present Constitution, by interested or misguided majorities, were among the prominent causes of its adoption, and particularly led to the provision contained in it which prohibits paper emissions and the violations of contracts, and which gives an appellate supremacy to the judicial department of the U. S. Those who framed and ratified the Constitution believed that as power was less likely to be abused by majorities in representative Govts than in democracies, where the people assembled in mass, and less likely in the larger than in the smaller communities, under a representative Govt. inferred also, that by dividing the powers of Govt. and thereby enlarging the practicable sphere of government, unjust majorities would be formed with still more difficulty, and be therefore the less to be dreaded, and whatever may have been the just complaints of unequal laws and sectional partialities under the majority Govt. of the U. S. it may be confidently observed that the abuses have been less frequent and less palpable than those which disfigured the administrations of the State Govts while all the effective powers of sovereignty were separately exercised by them. If bargaining interests and views have created majorities under the federal system, what, it may be asked, was the case in this respect antecedent to this system, and what but for this would now be the case in the State Govts. It has been said that all Govt is an evil. It wd be more proper to say that the necessity of any Govt is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Govt. is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect; and here the general question must be between a republican Governt in which the majority rule the minority, and a Govt in which a lesser number or the least number rule the majority. If the republican form is, as all of us agree, to be preferred, the final question must be, what is the structure of it that will best guard against precipitate counsels and factious combinations for unjust purposes, without a sacrifice of the fundamental principle of Republicanism. Those who denounce majority Govts. altogether because they may have an interest in abusing their power, denounce at the same time all Republican Govt and must maintain that minority governments would feel less of the bias of interest or the seductions of power.
As a source of discordant interests within particular States, reference may be made to the diversity in the applications of agricultural labour, more or less visible in all of them. Take for example Virginia herself. Her products for market are in one district Indian corn and cotton; in another, chiefly tobacco; in another, tobo. and wheat; in another, chiefly wheat, rye, and live stock. This diversity of agricultural interests, though greater in Virga than elsewhere, prevails in different degrees within most of the States.
Virga. is a striking example also of a diversity of interests, real or supposed, in the great and agitating subjects of roads and water communications, the improvements of which are little needed in some parts of the State, tho’ of the greatest importance in others; and in the parts needing them much disagreement exists as to the times, modes, & the degrees of the public patronage; leaving room for an abuse of power by majorities, and for majorities made up by affinities of interests, losing sight of the just & general interest.
Even in the great distinctions of interest and of policy generated by the existence of slavery, is it much less between the Eastern & Western districts of Virginia than between the Southern & Northern sections of the Union? If proof were necessary, it would be found in the proceedings of the Virga Convention of 1829-30, and in the Debates of her Legislature in 1830-31. Never were questions more uniformly or more tenaciously decided between the North & South in Congs, than they were on those occasions between the West & the East of Virginia.
But let us bring this question to the test of the tariff itself [out of which it has grown,] and under the influences of which it has been inculcated, that a permanent incompatibility of interests exists in the regulations of foreign commerce between the agricultural and the manufacturing population, rendering it unsafe for the former to be under a majority power when patronizing the latter.
In all countries, the mass of people become, sooner or later, divided mainly into the class which raises food and raw materials, and the class which provides cloathing & the other necessaries and conveniences of life. As hands fail of profitable employment in the culture of the earth, they enter into the latter class. Hence, in the old world, we find the nations everywhere formed into these grand divisions, one or the other being a decided majority of the whole, and the regulations of their relative interests among the most arduous tasks of the Govt. Although the mutuality of interest in the interchanges useful to both may, in one view, be a bond of amity & union, yet when the imposition of taxes whether internal or external takes place, as it must do, the difficulty of equalizing the burden and adjusting the interests between the two classes is always more or less felt. When imposts on foreign commerce have a protective as well as a revenue object, the task of adjustment assumes a peculiar arduousness.
This view of the subject is exemplified in all its features by the fiscal & protective legislation of G. B. and it is worthy of special remark that there the advocates of the protective policy belong to the landed interest; and not as in the U. S. to the manufacturing interest; though in some particulars both interests are suitors for protection agst foreign competition.
But so far as abuses of power are engendered by a division of a community into the agricultural & manufacturing interests and by the necessary ascendency of one or the other as it may comprize the majority, the question to be decided is whether the danger of oppression from this source must not soon arise within the several States themselves, and render a majority Govt as unavoidable an evil in the States individually; as it is represented to be in the States collectively.
That Virginia must soon become manufacturing as well as agricultural, and be divided into these two great interests, is obvious & certain. Manufactures grow out of the labour not needed for agriculture, and labour will cease to be so needed or employed as its products satisfy & satiate the demands for domestic use & for foreign markets. Whatever be the abundance or fertility of the soil, it will not be cultivated when its fruits must perish on hand for want of a market. And is it not manifest that this must be henceforward more & more the case in this State particularly? The earth produces at this time as much as is called for by the home & the foreign markets; while the labouring population, notwithstanding the emigration to the West and the S. West, is fast increasing. Nor can we shut our eyes to the fact, that the rapid increase of the exports of flour & Tobo from a new & more fertile soil will be continually lessening the demand on Virginia for her two great staples, and be forcing her, by the inability to pay for imports by exports, to provide within herself substitutes for the former.
Under every aspect of the subject, it is clear that Virginia must be speedily a manufacturing as well as an agricultural State; that the people will be formed into the same great classes here as elsewhere; that the case of the tariff must of course among other conflicting cases real or supposed be decided by the republican rule of majorities; and, consequently, if majority govts as such, be the worst of Govts those who think & say so cannot be within the pale of the republican faith. They must either join the avowed disciples of aristocracy, oligarchy or monarchy, or look for a Utopia exhibiting a perfect homogeneousness of interests, opinions & feelings nowhere yet found in civilized communities. Into how many parts must Virginia be split before the semblance of such a condition could be found in any of them. In the smallest of the fragments, there would soon be added to previous sources of discord a manufacturing and an agricultural class, with the difficulty experienced in adjusting their relative interests in the regulation of foreign commerce if any, or if none in equalising the burden of internal improvement and of taxation within them. On the supposition that these difficulties could be surmounted, how many other sources of discords to be decided by the majority would remain. Let those who doubt it consult the records of corporations of every size such even as have the greatest apparent simplicity & identity of pursuits and interests.1
In reference to the conflicts of interests between the agricultural and manufacturing States, it is a consoling anticipation that, as far as the legislative encouragements to one may not involve an actual or early compensation to the other, it will accelerate a state of things in which the conflict between them will cease and be succeeded by an interchange of the products profitable to both; converting a source of discord among the States into a new cement of the Union, and giving to the country a supply of its essential wants independent of contingencies and vicissitudes incident to foreign commerce.
It may be objected to majority governments, that the majority, as formed by the Constitution, may be a minority when compared with the popular majority. This is likely to be the case more or less in all elective governments. It is so in many of the States. It will always be so where property is combined with population in the election and apportionment of representation. It must be still more the case with confederacies, in which the members, however unequal in population, have equal votes in the administration of the government. In the compound system of the United States, though much less than in mere confederacies, it also necessarily exists to a certain extent. That this departure from the rule of equality, creating a political and constitutional majority in contradistinction to a numerical majority of the people, may be abused in various degrees oppressive to the majority of the people, is certain; and in modes and degrees so oppressive as to justify ultra or anti-constitutional resorts to adequate relief is equally certain. Still the constitutional majority must be acquiesced in by the constitutional minority, while the Constitution exists. The moment that arrangement is successfully frustrated, the Constitution is at an end. The only remedy, therefore, for the oppressed minority is in the amendment of the Constitution or a subversion of the Constitution. This inference is unavoidable. While the Constitution is in force, the power created by it, whether a popular minority or majority, must be the legitimate power, and obeyed as the only alternative to the dissolution of all government. It is a favourable consideration, in the impossibility of securing in all cases a coincidence of the constitutional and numerical majority, that when the former is the minority, the existence of a numerical majority with justice on its side, and its influence on public opinion, will be a salutary control on the abuse of power by a minority constitutionally possessing it: a control generally of adequate force, where a military force, the disturber of all the ordinary movements of free governments, is not on the side of the minority.
The result of the whole is, that we must refer to the monitory reflection that no government of human device and human administration can be perfect; that that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government; that the abuses of all other governments have led to the preference of republican government as the best of all governments, because the least imperfect; that the vital principle of republican government is the lex majoris partis, the will of the majority; that if the will of a majority cannot be trusted where there are diversified and conflicting interests, it can be trusted nowhere, because such interests exist everywhere; that if the manufacturing and agricultural interests be of all interests the most conflicting in the most important operations of government, and a majority government over them be the most intolerable of all governments, it must be as intolerable within the States as it is represented to be in the United States; and, finally, that the advocates of the doctrine, to be consistent, must reject it in the former as well as in the latter, and seek a refuge under an authority master of both.
TO THOMAS S. GRIMKE.mad. mss.
Montpr, Jany. 6, 1834.
Your letter of the 21st of Augst last was duly recd, and I must leave the delay of this acknowledgment of it to your indulgent explanation. I regret the delay itself less than the scanty supply of autographs requested from me. The truth is that my files have been so often resorted to on such occasions, within a few years past, that they have become quite barren, especially in the case of names most distinguished. There is a difficulty also, not readily suggesting itself, in the circumstance, that wherever letters do not end on the first or third page, the mere name cannot be cut off without the mutilation of a written page. Another circumstance is that I have found it convenient to spare my pigeon holes, by tearing off the superscribed parts where they could be separated; so that autographs have been deprived even of that resource.
You wish to be informed of the errors in your pamphlet alluded to in my last. The first related to the proposition of Doctor Franklin in favor of a religious service in the Federal Convention. The proposition was received and treated with the respect due to it; but the lapse of time which had preceded, with considerations growing out of it, had the effect of limiting what was done, to a reference of the proposition to a highly respectable Committee. This issue of it may be traced in the printed Journal. The Quaker usage, never discontinued in the State and the place where the Convention held its sittings, might not have been without an influence as might also, the discord of religious opinions within the Convention, as well as among the clergy of the spot. The error into which you had fallen may have been confirmed by a communication in the National Intelligencer some years ago, said to have been received through a respectable channel from a member of the Convention. That the communication was erroneous is certain; whether from misapprehension or misrecollection, uncertain.
The other error lies in the view which your note L for the 18th page, gives of Mr. Pinckney’s draft of a Constitution for the U. S., and its conformity to that adopted by the Convention. It appears that the Draft laid by Mr. P. before the Convention, was like some other important Documents, not among its preserved proceedings. And you are not aware that insuperable evidence exists, that the Draft in the published Journal, could not, in a number of instances, material as well as minute, be the same with that laid before the Convention. Take for an example of the former, the Article relating to the House of Representatives more than any, the corner stone of the Fabric. That the election of it by the people as proposed by the printed Draft in the Journal, could not be the mode of Election proposed in the lost Draft, must be inferred from the face of the Journal itself; for on the 6th of June, but a few days after the lost Draft, was presented to the Convention, Mr. P. moved to strike the word “people” out of Mr. Randolph’s proposition; and to “Resolve that the members of the first branck of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the Legislatures of the several States. But there is other and most conclusive proof, that an election of the House of Representatives, by the people, could not have been the mode proposed by him. There are a number of other points in the published Draft, some conforming most literally to the adopted Constitution, which it is ascertainable, could not have been the same in the Draft laid before the Convention. The Conformity & even identity of the Draft in the Journal, with the adopted Constitution, on points & details the result of conflicts and compromizes of opinion apparent in the Journal, have excited an embarrassing curiosity often expressed to myself or in my presence. The subject is in several respects a delicate one, and it is my wish that what is now said of it may be understood as yielded to your earnest request, and as entirely confined to yourself. I knew Mr. P. well, and was always on a footing of friendship with him. But this consideration ought not to weigh against justice to others, as well as against truth on a subject like that of the Constitution of the U. S.
The propositions of Mr. Randolph were the result of a Consultation among the seven Virginia Deputies, of which he, being at the time Governor of the State was the organ. The propositions were prepared on the supposition that, considering the prominent agency of Virga in bringing about the Convention, some initiative step might be expected from that quarter. It was meant that they should sketch a real and adequate Govt. for the Union, but without committing the parties agst. a freedom in discussing & deciding on any of them. The Journal shews that they were in fact the basis of the deliberations & proceedings of the Convention. And I am persuaded that altho not in a developed & organized form, they sufficiently contemplated it; and moreover that they embraced a fuller outline of an adequate system, than the plan laid before the Convention, variant as that, ascertainably must have been, from the Draft now in print.
Memo.—No provision in the Draft of Mr. P. printed in the Journal for the mode of Electing the President of the U. S.
[1 ]The draft does not state to whom the letter was addressed. Probably it was not sent at all and was meant as a memorandum for posthumous use.
[1 ]The rest of the draft is not among the Madison MSS. and is supplied from the Works of Madison (Cong. Ed.).