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Federalist Papers


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AP Government

    Between 1787 and 1788 a series of eighty-five Federalist Papers were written to help achieve ratification.  These papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, who jointly signed under the name Publius.  Though Madison only wrote twenty-six and co-wrote three, his writings were perhaps the most influential of the Federalist Papers.  Madison explained many aspects of the Constitution through the Federalist Papers, including reasons for factions, republics, and separation of powers.

     Madison described a faction in the Federalist no. 10 as a group who united and actuated by some common impulse or passion that was adverse to the rights of other citizens.  He believed that factions would indefinitely form, but that they had to be controlled.  To do this, the government would have to either get rid of the impulse or passion that caused the faction, or control the faction itself.  He sought the latter.  Madison wished to use factions against each other as a means to allow constant competition.  This competition would prevent an overwhelming majority from forming and becoming tyrannical.  During the late eighteenth century, such factions included artisans, merchants, farmers, and religious groups, such as the Puritans or the Quakers.  Today, factions are called special interest groups.  Such groups include environmentalists, the NRA, and groups supporting abortion.  All these groups asserted their own interests, which they sought to promote.  Madison utilized his idea of a faction in many of his later arguments.

     Madison supported a large republic.  He, unlike many of the time, thought that a large republic would be more effective than a small one.  In a large republic differences would flourish.  In a large republic, factions would form.  The more diverse an area, the more likely unpopular opinions would be heard, or agreed on.  By allowing such a large area to be under the same government, factions would be allowed to form and prosper.  In this, no domineering majority could form, and it would be more likely for each individual to find others with similar ideas.

     He furthered his ideology of a large republic to support separation of powers.  Under the Constitution, the branches of the federal government would be split into three parts.  A set of checks and balances would then allow each branch to monitor the actions of the other branches.  He claimed that government was the greatest of all reflections on human nature.  Human nature, he believed, was factious by nature.  Madison believed that the government itself could form a faction of sorts, and in order to prevent this, it had to be divided.  The government itself could act as a large republic, under the influence of individual interests.  This made separation of powers essential.  Not only was this division necessary, but each part must be able to check the other parts.  In the Federalist no. 51, Madison wrote that You must fist enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.  Through checks and balances, he hoped to achieve the control itself aspect.  By allowing each branch certain powers, and restrictions within the branches, no branch could gain supremacy nor become tyrannical.

     Through Madisons many ideas and writings, many key aspects of the Constitution were explained.  Factions were not only tolerable; they could be used beneficially.  Through factions, a large republic was possible.  Moreover, by using separation of powers, each branch of government would have enough power to operate, but its actions would be checked by the other branches to prevent a dominating branch.  Though his writings did not have an overwhelming effect on the outcome of the ratification controversy, they would later be used as an explanation to many parts of the Constitution.