When the founders of this country were debating how much power was to be vested in the federal government, three prominent citizens worked together to anonymously write the Federalist Papers. These documents, written by James Madison, the fourth president; John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Alexander Hamilton, an influential cabinet member; provided arguments in favor of a strong federal branch.
The Federalist Number 10, in particular, provided for Madison’s strong desires to preempt what he called the “tyranny of the majority” through methods and institutions which were placed into the structure of the new government. Madison wrote in the Federalist No. 10, “It may be concludedthat such [uncontrolled] democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths.”
Madison’s theory of the tyranny of the majority has one major aspect, which obviously relates to the infringement of minority rights. Madison felt that if a majority was allowed too much power, it would begin to ignore the minority’s right to have a voice and an active part in the government. This would occur very easily, according to Madison and the others, because they felt that when a group has the majority and answers to no one in policy making, it is usually seen as an unnecessary chore to seek out the minority opinion and give it consideration.
Madison also developed two methods with which to deal with his fears of an abusive, tyrannical majority. He called the first one refinement, which is the interposition of structures between citizens and political outcomes. The name for the other is enlargement, which says the government should actively work to expand the economy, in turn naturally creating multiple interests.
There are three major examples of refinement in the Constitution, all involving methods of election. Each of the three also deal with a different branch of the federal government. The first is the Electoral College, which concerns the Executive Branch of government.
Although the given reason for an electoral college, was that the electorate of the time was not “intelligent, educated, or informed” enough to make the best decision, this is obviously an example of refinement. In this case, the Electoral College is another step, or structure, between the people’s vote and the actual election of the president and vice president. Although citizens directly participate through casting their votes, the Electoral College preempts this participation by being the true elector of the president. Technically, the Electoral College may even elect someone other that who was popularly elected by the people.
The method of refinement which deals with the legislative branch is the method for electing senators. Although it was eventually changed by the 17th amendment, the U.S. Senate was originally elected by the state legislators. This is another method to take direct power out of the hands of the people, and put it in the hands of the “more educated” legislators.
The final instance of refinement in the Constitution is the executive appointment of federal judges, with a lifetime tenure. This was done to ensure that an angry majority, or mob as Madison thought, would not be permitted to elect one of their own into a position of deciding the legality of things. Madison viewed this as dangerous because a federal judge can-to a large extent-interpret what the Constitution really says. If a member of the “tyrannical majority” was allowed to do this, he could completely ignore the interests of others, and hand down rulings which only favored his faction.
Throughout history, though, two of these methods of refinement have been weakened through change in those institutions.
The Electoral College now elects the president and vice-president as a single ticket, as opposed to separately. This has weakened the body, by not allowing for different parties to be elected to the same administration. One party will hold both offices, and therefore have more power.
As mentioned earlier, the U.S. Senate is now popularly elected by the citizens of each state, as opposed to the state legislatures. This would again seem to give more power to the majority.
Enlargement was promoted in the Constitution through more abstract methods. The first being the promotion of economic opportunities, such as trade and finance. The other was the creation of the House of Representatives.
When economic opportunities are expanded, the possibility of a more varied “elite” exists. This is because if there are numerous ways to become wealthy and powerful, more people will find a method to take advantage of.
The potential for expanded economic opportunities lies Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. This article, among other things, gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several Statesto coin money, regulate the value therof, and of foreign coinand the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises” This give the legislature a broad set of guidelines which allow it to promote economic opportunities.
The creation of the House of Representatives may be the most obvious of the methods Madison used. The House has the shortest term of any national government body, and the most members. This makes its members more accountable to the people, and provides for a greater voice among the local interests.