James Madison's Montpelier We The People Fall 2013 - Page 7

By 1786 the American experiment with self-government was on the verge of failure. The U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to accomplish the most basic governing functions. The state governments, increasingly in conflict with one another, were incapable or unwilling to maintain internal order and protect individual rights. A mere decade after independence, the spirit of the American Revolution had given way to fears of disintegration. America desperately needed to be reunified under a common cause. In this same year, a 35-year-old James Madison stole away to Montpelier with hundreds of books collected over many years of study. In the quiet recesses of his family home, Madison took it upon himself to find a way to save the young United States from ruin. In search of a solution to his country’s problems, Madison grappled with one of the most enigmatic questions of all time: how can a nation sustain liberty without sacrificing order and justice? In the quiet recesses of his family home, Madison took it upon himself to find a way to save the young United States from ruin. Towards this goal, Madison critically examined over the course of just a few months more than 2,000 years of political thought. With his mind filled with the history of confederacies and the ideas of political geniuses from Plato to Locke, Madison spent much of the next year traveling and rallying support for the proposed Federal Convention in Philadelphia, including an important visit with George Washington at Mount Vernon where he convinced the famous general to attend the convention. Before Madison arrived in Philadelphia in May 1787, he had a diagnosis for America’s ills. t h e g r e at e s t c h a l l e n g e t o d e m o c r a c y: “ T h e p e o p l e t h e m s e Lv e s ” In Vices of the Political System of the United States, a memorandum he wrote in April 1787 as part of his preparation and study, Madison concluded that the root cause of America’s difficulties was “the people themselves.” That is, Madison was concerned about the tendency of people to form factions—special interest groups opposed to the rights of others. Madison discovered the source of the American Confederacy’s disorder in the depths of human nature. Madison discerned that the inherent flaw in all past democracies was the constant threat of the tyranny of the majority who would act out of “apparent interest or common passion,” uniting against the rights and interests of the minority or individuals. Ironically, Madison’s solution to this problem was more factions—more interests, more opinions competing with one another, counteracting one another, and resisting the formation of a tyrannical majority. He theorized that the immense size of America would be a barrier to the formation of a majority faction. In what he called an “extended republic,” a central government would represent the diverse interests of the people, thereby reducing the likelihood of majority factions and keeping the gov