James Madison on the mischievous effects of mutable government in The Federalist no. 62 (1788)

James Madison

Found in The Federalist (Gideon ed.)

James Madison (1751-1836) in The Federalist (1788) Essay 62 outlines some of the "mischievous effects of a mutable government" which constantly changes the law to suit its own needs or the needs of its supporters:

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood: if they be repealed or revised before they are promulg[at]ed, or undergo such incessant changes, that no man who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.

Liberty Fund has and excellent edition of The Federalist with several aides for the reader to better understand the arguments in the text. In essay no. 62 James Madison raises the very interesting point that citizens will find it very difficult to obey the law if it is constantly changing (“mutable government”), either by growing enormously in size to be beyond the grasp ordinary people, or by being incoherent, or being repealed or revised before they are promulgated. We even have the situation where massive and complicated laws are passed without having been read or debated by the legislators themselves, let alone discussed in the press and by the people. When this sad state has been reached, the law itself, as Madison eloquently says, “poisons the blessings of liberty.”