Saturday, October 19, 2019

James Madison warning against democracy at the Constitutional Convention

Recently, there's been a lot of blathering about how our country should become more democratic. There is special fury aimed at the Electoral College. One conservative defense is that the Framers never intended the United States to be a pure democracy. Many times this rational is thrown up without explaining why the framers believed democracy destroyed liberty. Since James Madison has been referred to as the Father of the Constitution, I'll let him explain the dangers of  democracy. 

(As a background note, at the time of the Constitutional convention, Madison didn't technically own slaves. His father owned Montpieler and its slave labor force. This is not an excuse, but an explaintion of why he might have felt free to use slavery to illustrate his point.)

Madison made comments similar to the following on June 6th, 1787.

Excerpt from Tempest at Dawn

Madison made a few more comments on the role of the national government but then could not contain himself. Without preamble, Madison charged into new terrain. “Gentleman, all societies divide into different sects, factions, and interests. Conflicts grow between the rich and poor, debtors and creditors, landed and commercial interests, this district against that district, followers of this political leader or that political leader, disciples of this religion or that religion.

“When a majority unites by passion or common interest, the minority is in grave danger. What can restrain a majority? Not respect for others, nor conscience. In Greece and Rome, the patricians and plebeians alternately oppressed each other—with equal ferocity. We’ve seen the mere distinction of color, in our supposed enlightened time, furnish the grounds for the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”

With this last, startled gasps escaped from various corners of the room. Madison tried to ignore the reaction. His indictment of slavery had been unpremeditated, but now that it had escaped his lips, he couldn’t recall it.

“Who imposed these unjust laws? The majority. Debtors defraud creditors. The holders of one type of property throw a heavier tax on other types of property. When a majority has the opportunity, they will always threaten the rights of the minority.” Madison shifted his gaze across the sea of delegates. “Make no mistake, in a republic, the majority always has opportunity!”
The real story of our nation's founding.