“Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done.” James Madison
This is an incredibly prescient letter. A good example of Madison’s wisdom would be the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The Missouri Compromise (1820) prohibited slavery above Parallel 36°30′, and pro-slavery forces used the Kansas-Nebraska Act to repeal the Missouri Compromise and allow new states to decide the slavery issue by popular vote. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was the strongest proponent of the bill, saying, “The great principle of self-government is at stake, and surely the people of this country are never going to decide that the principle upon which our whole republican system rests is vicious and wrong.” Douglas appealed to egalitarian impulses to expand slavery—a tactic that cloaked malevolence in a pretext of democracy.
Fortunately, Senator Douglas’ crass appeal to the South for a planned presidential run energized an embryotic Republican Party. The new party pitted Abraham Lincoln against Douglas in his next Senate race, but Douglas won that time. However, Lincoln defeated Douglas for president two years later in 1859.
The point is that Madison was right: “the real power lies in the majority of the community” and “restrictions however strongly marked on paper will never be regarded when opposed to the decided sense of the public.” Douglas said, “The great principle of self-government is at stake.” This was a manipulation of the truth. The Founders fervently believed in self-governance, but they created representative self-government, not democracy. There are many other examples in American history, but the Kansas-Nebraska Act is a textbook illustration showing why the Founders avoided egalitarianism. They knew from personal experience that minority rights were not safe in a pure democracy.