The Federalist Papers are a series of papers authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay from October 1787 to May 1788, immediately prior to the French Revolution. They are often examined to determine the original intent of the founding fathers in drafting the U.S. Constitution, and in particular the intended model of the U.S. government when it comes to direct democracy and republics. The claim is commonly made that the founders opposed direct democracy as a "tyranny of the majority" or "mob rule" but as discussed at Democracy, such an interpretation is flawed and inaccurate.
|“||"The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed United States Constitution, which was drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. In lobbying for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. For this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were each members of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers are often used today to help interpret the intentions of those drafting the Constitution."
Tyranny of the Majority / Mob Rule
- See also Democracy
Several of the founders refer to a "tyranny of the majority" or "mob rule" in the Federalist Papers or other early writings. However, this is in the context of their concern over the chaos occurring in Europe; specifically the uprisings which would lead to the French Revolution (1787-1788), where an angry mob of people was rampaging across France, killing all members of the aristocracy. For years, the aggrieved commoners would hunt down and publicly execute thousands of the French nobility via guillotine.
This was not a critique of voting booth democracy but literal 'mob rule' where people, losing all capacity for reason through 'crowd psychology' give way to their baser instincts in a state of "tyranny and anarchy."
|“||"AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations. The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected. Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations. By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."
-James Madison, Federalist No. 10: "The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection"
"A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy... Should a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty."
-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 9: "The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection"
"The army under such circumstances may usefully aid the magistrate to suppress a small faction, or an occasional mob, or insurrection; but it will be unable to enforce encroachments against the united efforts of the great body of the people. In a country in the predicament last described, the contrary of all this happens. The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant defense. The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories, often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors. The transition from this disposition to that of considering them masters, is neither remote nor difficult; but it is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such impressions, to make a bold or effectual resistance to usurpations supported by the military power."
-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 8: "The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States"
"As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions? Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next. It may be suggested, that a people spread over an extensive region cannot, like the crowded inhabitants of a small district, be subject to the infection of violent passions, or to the danger of combining in pursuit of unjust measures. I am far from denying that this is a distinction of peculiar importance. I have, on the contrary, endeavored in a former paper to show, that it is one of the principal recommendations of a confederated republic. At the same time, this advantage ought not to be considered as superseding the use of auxiliary precautions. It may even be remarked, that the same extended situation, which will exempt the people of America from some of the dangers incident to lesser republics, will expose them to the inconveniency of remaining for a longer time under the influence of those misrepresentations which the combined industry of interested men may succeed in distributing among them."
-Federalist No. 63: "The Senate Continued"
"The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."
-Federalist No. 55: "The Total Number of the House of Representatives"
Alternative: Tyranny of the Minority
The alternative, tyranny of the minority, has always proven a greater, more consistent threat to freedom than a tyranny of the majority. There are numerous cases which could be given of a few elite authoritarian leaders ordering horrific atrocities whereas one would be hard pressed to identify cases where such evils have been perpetrated by large groups of people making democratic decisions. As pointed out recently by Neil Gorsuch, the alternative of a 'tyranny of a few' is far less preferable and not what the founders envisioned:
|“||"'I say the country is owned by We The People. We wrote a Constitution, we put down what we wanted to put in it. We can amend it when we wish and it is not up to nine people to tell 330 million Americans how to live.' In a new book, 'A Republic, If You Can Keep It,' he puts it another way: Under originalism a judge can't add or subtract rights 'willy nilly.' 'If you want to change the Constitution, you can do it,' he says. For critics of that approach -- those who see a broader role for the courts -- he sternly says: 'I say get involved. This is a republic. This is not a tyranny of a few.'"
-Justice Neil Gorsuch
- Congress.gov (n.d.). "About the Federalist Papers." USA.gov.
- Hamilton, A. (1787, November 20). "The Federalist Papers No. 9: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection." Congress.gov.
- Madison, J. (1787, November 23). "The Federalist Papers No. 10: The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection." Congress.gov.
- Hamilton, A. (1787, November 20). "The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States." Congress.gov.
- Hamilton, A. or Madison, J. (1788, February 26). "The Federalist Papers No. 63: The Senate Continued." Congress.gov.
- Hamilton, A. or Madison, J. (1788 February 15). "The Total Number of the House of Representatives." Congress.gov.
- De Vogue, A. (2019, September 10). "'Do You Really Want Me to Rule the Country?': Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court's Right Turn and Racing Mascots in the Halls." CNN Politics.