The Federalists and the Philadelphia Convention – Abbeville Institute

We have before us The Federalist Number 10. I’d like to say a word about The Federalist. As you know, it was here (in Philadelphia) that the Constitution, that infamous document, was signed. It was a document that was already well on its road to destruction in my mind. When people ask me, “Well, when did the Constitution die?” I say, “September 17th, 1787, when the convention ended.” The Framers and signers of the Constitution went away with sort of different notions about what they had done, and shortly after the Constitution was sent through the Congress to the States for ratification, the Federalists, Mr. Alexander Hamilton, Mr. James Madison, and Mr. John Jay began a series of newspaper articles in New York to convince a State that was two-thirds Anti-Federalist that the Constitution was a good idea. And those papers, which became known thanks to Clinton Rosser as the Federalist Papers but more affectionately, The Federalist, appeared as the definitive statement of American politics for a long period of time. And those papers were a systematic treatment of the various issues and concerns that the Federalists wanted people to understand were the way properly to understand it. Those familiar with those papers know that the world was spared gracefully by God of having to read more by Mr. Jay by his having been hit in the head by a brick through his carriage (which truly was a missile from God), and that left really Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison to write most of the Papers. And you will recall from the first Federalist that Mr. Hamilton said “that it seems to be reserved to the people of this country to decide by their conduct and example, whether governments forever would depend upon accident and force or whether they could be a consequence of reflection and choice.” Now, Mr. Hamilton, a lawyer and no mean one at that (at least in one use of the word mean), spoke about the debate over the Constitution and made very clear that he thought people hoped to evince the justness of their claims by the loudness of their declamations. Now, Mr. Hamilton assured us that unlike the opponents of the Constitution, one could trust what the Federalists said: “My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast, but my arguments are laid out clear and plain for everyone to see. Honesty disdains ambiguity.” Now, that’s about as Machiavellian a statement as you could begin a series of papers with, and it was followed by a series by Jay calling for oneness. Federalist Number 10 was preceded by the notorious Federalist Number 9 (not unexpectedly by Mr. Hamilton). And Mr. Hamilton began to talk in Number 9 about enlarging the orbit; Number 10 is about the question of size. One of the great questions that was raised by the Anti-Federalists was, “How big is too big? Just who is going to buy the notion that you can have a government that runs from New England to Georgia and still maintain Liberty?” So that was the problem, really, that they faced. However they defined Federalism, the Anti-Federalists’ concern was about separation of powers. There was probably some consensus about decentralization of power, but size was the real issue.

Federalist Number 10 is a model essay. Now, those who have heard me talk about Number 10 before haven’t come to hear me repeat what I’ve said, but to imagine that I can say in the confines of an hour what I spent nine hours talking about: The opening paragraph. So, considering there are twenty-three paragraphs, we’d better hurry. This is an almost perfect essay. It is an essay that has an introduction. It has a body. It has a conclusion. It is marked by the Madisonian two-step. “There are two ways of dealing with this problem, there are two ways of dealing with that.” You can hardly ever be lost, but if you follow me, you will soon be in that condition. Being a modern essay, it has certain characteristics. “Modern essay” in contrast with an ancient essay, and an ancient essay might be something like Plato’s Republic, which begins with that kind of mushy doxa and continues to paradoxa, and it leads to more and more conclusions. Those familiar with the Republic know the question opens with something small, like: “What is justice?” And then it goes on and on and on, and as the first book rolls to a close, we hear, Socrates say: “Like a glutton, never having settled anything, we have really learned nothing.”

Well, moderns didn’t like that, you see, because moderns like to have definitions. They like to have a problem that they can invent. So, the problem that Mr. Madison invents, he says in the opening line of Federalist Number 10: “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 factions.” Now, right away the question is: “Well, who are these factions, Mr. Madison? “He surely couldn’t be talking about himself since we know no honourable man from Virginia could possibly be a faction. So, he’s not just interested in faction; he’s interested in the violence of faction. Now, you know, one of the charges against this very interesting essay is that there wasn’t anybody who took this argument seriously. And I suspect not even Mr. Madison, (although he repeated it so often, I suspect either the heavy drink or his mind really did cause him to believe what he announced over and over and over to no response). You know, generally, if you say something and no one responds you say: “Well, I think I’ll stop mentioning that.” But not Mr. Madison. He’s a quick Virginian and he’s not about to be outdone by less intelligent people.

So, Mr. Madison has this problem of the violence of faction. Now you will remember one of the things the Founding Fathers seemed to have forgotten about, (which is a little surprising), is political parties, because it does seem that you didn’t have to have come very far from Britain to have understood that interests and factions were a critical part of the British model, why they thought this wouldn’t be a problem. As we all know, by 1801 it was a very real problem, at least if we asked Mr. Jefferson (who took thirty-two votes to be elected President of the United States by the House of Representatives): “Do you think we have a party problem here in America?” The answer is “yes,” by 1800. He was very clear: “Parties were very much alive.” So, what exactly does Madison mean by faction? Now, fortunately being a very modern essay, he provides an answer:

“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, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

That’s his definition. Now, let’s ask ourselves what we think that means. Is the National Rifle Association a faction? Leave aside the question of what the “violence of faction” would be. I suppose the “violence of faction” would be if the NRA all armed themselves and showed up at the State House (as they did in the wilds of Pennsylvania) and said: “We want something done.” Now, that that might be considered a faction (one that’s armed, too), but is any interest that we can think of that goes to our current legislature a faction? Because one thing we must realize, I think, is that something looks different today than it did then. No one doubts that when you went to the legislature in the beginning, it was kind of small, not only in terms of the numbers of legislators, but in terms of the claims that were raised against the legislative body. I’m going to pick on the Democrat Party, because it’s so much clearer, but let me say that I don’t think there’s a plug nickel’s worth of difference between a big “R” Republican and a big “D” Democrat, except for who gets the goods out of the government. They both believe the definition of politics is: “The radical redistribution of previously stolen goods.” That’s their operating premise. “Somebody has gold, I’m going to get it and I’m going to give it to my friends.” They just happen to be different friends. That’s how the system works. So, when I say big “D” Democrats, I don’t mean just to pick on them, but if you see the Democratic Party, when it assembles it looks like the largest collection of misfits that could ever be gathered into one place. So, the Lesbian Left-handed Letter Opener Society joining with the with the Right-handed Chicano Lettuce Pickers, joining with such-and-such. And you get this array of claims, see, because they’re all going to go to the government to get something out of it. Now are those the kind of factions that Mr. Madison imagined?

Well, Mr. Madison says, “I’m trying to avoid the violence.” I don’t believe him. Let me make very clear that I don’t like Mr. Madison. I don’t trust him. He is from Virginia. He is not to be trusted. And if you read Federalist Number 45 and Number 46, I think Mr. Madison’s scheme was clear: He wanted to use force against the States. Now, those people who are in love with Mr. Madison, which is nearly everyone I’ve ever met and certainly everyone in Virginia. The only problem people in Virginia have is whether to love Mr. Jefferson more than Mr. Madison. It’s a schizophrenic state. Nevertheless, if you read Federalist 45, the real question is the use of force against the States. Now, if somebody comes to me and he lays a gun on the table and says: “I have a contract. Now don’t worry about the gun, it doesn’t have to do with anything, it’s just handy.” I reply: “I know, I carry one myself.” So, right away, I’m suspicious. It’s impossible to bring order to Madison’s thought. The only thing that makes Madison look stable is the fact that he’s running against Mr. Jefferson, that between the two of them, there is nothing they haven’t said. I think this Constitution is a conspiracy of Federalists in Virginia and South Carolina and Mr. Washington and the others are not happy with what comes out, but they’ll be happy with the result.

So, here’s the story. Here’s our legislature with all those interests who are coming together to get the goose that lays the golden egg, and Mr. Madison says: “I’ll tell you how to solve this problem of faction.” Now I still didn’t know what the problem is, because you’ll remember, “adverse to the rights of the other citizens.” The question is what is that? Because the citizen shows up and says: “I have a right, sir, to marry another man,” and I say, “Sir, do you confuse me with some dufus from Hawaii? Do you think for one minute, I will agree to such a thing? That it is a right, that is, it may be something that one is obligated to bestow upon other people in terms of honouring their particular arrangements?” Rights are not necessarily the proper term. Ask yourself what the permanent and aggregate interests of the community are, because on the surface, it seems to be clear that if we had stuck with what the original plan was – to provide for national defense and to do those kinds of things – we probably wouldn’t have gotten ourselves into the centralist nightmare that we’ve ended up with. As a matter of fact, we’re willing to argue that we’re not particularly good even at the things we claim we were going to do. Granted, we are safe, but I tell you that is more by the grace of God, than it is the planning of people who run the country. And for those of us who live in the Southeast, you can’t feel a bit safe as the entire border is overrun by 1 million illegal aliens a year while people in the country rest comfortably because they are bombing Afghanistan. It’s a very interesting question about what’s going on.

So, Mr. Madison says, “I have the solution,” and I say, “I don’t see the problem yet. I don’t have a problem. Leave me alone.” And he says: “This is what we do. We’re going to expand the sphere, see, because I am telling you we cannot remove the causes of faction. We just can’t do it. So, what we’re going do is we’re going to expand the sphere and we’re going to bring more and more factions.” So, right away I say: “Do you mean the Left-handed Lesbian Letter Openers? Is that the faction that you’re talking about bringing in?” He says: “Don’t be silly.” Mr. Madison’s notion is to increase the sphere. We’re going bring more people together and, of course, there’s going to be a delay in the decision-making. So, let’s imagine the argument is (incidentally it’s a false argument, as Mr. Hamilton makes very clear in Federalist 35), but let’s imagine there’s a bucket, and Mr. Madison believes this bucket is the political process, the society. The whole bucket is the society, and at the bottom of the bucket is a quantity of cement. Well, the cement is the society and above the cement are these marbles we’re putting in. We put these marbles into the bucket and then we turn it on. Now, in the cement, the society, there are three giant rods that are in the society: One is religion, one is family, and one is education. Around this bucket are two giant shields. The outer shield is limited government and the inner shield is Federalism. The outer shield says: “Government is restricted in what it can do and how it can go about doing what it is assigned to do.” And federalism, the outer shield, said in those days that there were certain things the State governments could do and certain things that the national government could not do. There were things States could do that were off limits to the general government. Now, as you know, Federalism received its heaviest blow in 1865. That’s the reason why Lord Acton could write to Robert E. Lee in 1866 and say: “I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”[1] Now, when you hear anybody on that side of the island compare the American War Between the States with the question of Waterloo, since the British are madly in love with themselves, one can’t imagine what that statement is! The problem that, as Isaac Berlin and the others argue, there is a confounding of Liberty. To set men free of slavery does not necessarily increase by one iota the liberty of the whole. The question of liberty is distinct from the question of equality, which is distinct from the question of justice, which is distinct from a whole set of other problems, and if we fuse them together as if they’re all one-and-the-same, we will not have made much progress.

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