Dan BlazoMC 271, Section 1 Stokes 23 March 2005 Influenced by Republicanism, but not a True Republican The philosophy of a republican form of government was certainly not a creation of James Madison and the Federalists. The idea of such a government has been around since the beginning of political philosophy. While the definition has changed over the centuries, certain constants continue to define a strictly republican regime. The goals and priorities of a republic are distinct yet dissimilar from those of James Madison's philosophy. Generally, a republican government is defined as one which idealizes the public interests as the highest good and imposes a duty on each citizen to work toward the public interests before individual ones.
Due to the influence of natural rights philosophers, Madison's ideas are not strictly republican despite the fact that he considers them to be so. Not long before Madison, a French philosopher named Montesquieu wrote several works about classical republicanism. One major claim he stood by was the age-old idea that "political virtue means self-renunciation". In other words, the goal of politics is for individuals to devalue selfish interests and instead work to achieve the interests of the entire community. Montesquieu believed that a just government should ensure the interests of the public and pay little attention to the concerns of the individual. This type of virtue is similar to that of ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle.
While Madison strays from the goals of Montesquieu's government, he adopts many of his ideas involving the creation of a just government that protects the public. Montesquieu's emphasis on the separation of government into three divisions is an idea that Madison adapted in the Constitution. In the "republican" government, checks and balances are necessary to keep the government working for the people instead of the reverse. The wisest of men are to represent the people's interests and understand these interests to be those of the community as a whole. Madison may have adopted the separation of powers idea from philosophers such as Montesquieu and Locke, but there are several more prerequisites required to compose a truly republican government.
While the Anti-Federalists were not classical republicans either, they did make some valid arguments as to why the beliefs of the Federalists were not consistently republican. A core belief of the Anti-Federalists was the ideal of a small community whose representatives were directly involved with the people. This strong sense of community was believed to unite the people in common interests and therefore r enunciate individuality. In this setting, the government would continue to serve the people and uphold the republican virtues. Politicians would face great responsibility and obligation to serve because they were to represent their respective communities. Madison's union would deny the sovereignty of states and further remove the government from peoples' lives.
Therefore, politicians would have fewer obligations to serve the people and the people would have less of a relationship with their government. In Federalist 10, Madison explains the apparent advantages of integrating many small factions and their influences on government. As the argument goes, having many factions will reduce the probability of the formation of a majority faction that could oppress minorities. Madison explains this when he writes, "Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens" (Madison 10). Anti-Federalists believed that a smaller homogeneous community could accomplish more and better serve the public good. Brutus explains this when he writes:" In a republic, the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar.
If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions and the representatives of one part will be constantly striving against those of the other. This will retard the operation of government and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good" (13) The diversity of factions which Madison praises and encourages is anti-republican because it discourages an involved, familiar government which is the basis for civic virtue. A citizen will not feel the obligation to achieve the common goals of his republic if the republic itself contains all types of people with various interests. Anti-Federalists believed that increasing the size of the republic to the entire union would take away individual liberties and the right to govern oneself because the factions of other states have equal power in governing one's own state (in national government, which was to be far more powerful than state governments).
Also, the Anti-Federalist Brutus claims that "people will not be likely to have confidence in their rulers" in such a large state where politicians are strangers to most of their electorate (Brutus 7). A reoccurring theme in Madison's writings is the distrust of mankind. In Federalist 10, Madison claims that self love is "sown into the nature of man" and in 51 he concludes that the necessity for government comes from the simple fact that not all men are "angels". In other words, the duty of government is to protect its citizens from each other. This distrust in human nature is an idea that can be traced back to Machiavelli. In fact, Madison seems to be paying close attention to Machiavelli's passage in his work on republics which states, "Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it" (Machiavelli 291).
Machiavelli broke away from classical political philosophy with his bold claims about the faults of human nature. While he preferred republican governments, his alterations to classical republicanism end up creating a new type of government altogether. Madison, like Montesquieu, despised despotism and sought to avoid it at high costs. In order to avoid such tyranny, Madison believed that a union of the states would make it very difficult for a person or faction to gain the power required for tyranny. By pulling government further away from the people and losing the sense of community, the interests of individuals become the first priority in the society. While it is foreseeable that the interests will balance each other out, the virtues of a republic are no longer sought.
This is because the individual liberties are not allowed to be temporarily restricted even when the public good demands it. Even the Anti-Federalists are undemocratic in this sense because their proposed Bill of Rights allows even more individu al liberties to stand unrestricted. Madison might argue that the public good is dependant on the civil liberties of citizens because the natural rights of men are more important than the advancement of society. A government that promotes such a free society will surely result in inequalities among the people. John Locke and James Madison see the attainment of property as a natural right and economic inequality as natural and acceptable.
A classical republican, however, understands great disparity in property to be disadvantageous to civic virtue because it greatly divides the state into groups with varying interests. As Montesquieu wrote, "In the state of nature... all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the law" (Montesquieu 145). The proposed constitution, however, fails to protect the poor and powerless enough to make them as powerful in their government as the rich. James Madison's philosophy can be seen as a fusion of classical republicanism and natural rights philosophy. Essentially, the Federalist platform consists of ideas from Montesquieu and John Locke.
The word "republic" was a popular term which tended to mean a just and fair government during the 18th century. "Democratic", however, implied a government ruled by the poor and was unpopular during Madison's time. So even though his views were a combination of the two, Madison chose to call himself a "republican". The natural rights theorists before him focused on individual freedoms, or natural rights, that any government was obligated to offer.
John Locke claimed that all men were naturally guaranteed the rights of "life, liberty, and property" and that a government's main responsibility was to protect these rights (Locke 16). The natural rights government is run by the people and works directly for the people. A republican government represents the people but insists that its citizens work for the public good. A republic is intended to promote the common good of its citizens, which is more easily done when the citizens have similar interests and backgrounds. On the contrary, as Aristotle put it, "The basis of a democratic state is liberty" (Aristotle 93). It is clear that Madison's priorities were more democratic as he ensured the "natural" rights to citizens so they could act as individuals.
Despite the recognition of natural rights, Madison believed in the institution of slavery. Most Anti-Federalists opposed this institution and saw it as anti-republican. A republic that is meant to embrace virtue and support the common good has no room for the anti-virtuous practice of slavery. It is true that a republic is concerned with the interests of the majority of citizens, but it is also concerned with basic rights of minorities. The specific interests of a minority such as African-Americans may be of little significance in a republic, but the right to political equality should be universal. However, Montesquieu and many other republicans believed in slavery as well.
This is contradictory to the republican beliefs and can only be explained with racism and economic bias. Anti-Federalists encouraged religious tests for voting or holding office because of the virtue embodied in their religions. Most Anti-Federalists came from Puritan backgrounds and viewed religion as an interest for the common good. While they didn't want to see a Jew or a Turk in office, they still were against religious persecution and exhibited this stance in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Madison agreed that a Bill of Rights was necessary and encouraged freedom of religion as well. He chose not to legally impose religion on the people even though his philosophical role models such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes often used religion as a basis for argumentation. It is interesting to note that the Federalists form arguments against "direct democracies" in which the people themselves make their own laws. Ironically, even the Anti-Federalists agreed that direct democracies were impractical and never argued in favor of them. In fact, the Anti-Federalists were more republican than the Federalists in many ways. The claims against direct democracy show the notoriety behind the term "democracy" and the need for the Federalists to formally remove themselves from such an idea.
Nonetheless, democratic ideas dominate the Federalist philosophy. Anti-Federalists accuse the Federalists of lowering the goals and expectations of men and explain, "A republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous" (Centinel 47). When the body of people consists of feuding factions concerned only for themselves, virtue is simply not present. It can be concluded that Anti-Federalists had more trust in human nature than the Federalists, as they saw self-renunciation as a possible civic virtue for citizens to share. The main reason the Federalists sought to form a union was to protect the rights of all citizens.
The main reason the Anti-Federalists favored a confederacy was to promote the will of the majority and the advancement of a virtuous society. Clearly the Anti-Federalists were more republican in this sense. The belief that government's responsibility is to promote virtue has been around for thousands of years. Only in modern philosophy is the belief that government should lower its goals and serve the people as protectors of individual rights. This new belief cannot simply be categorized as republican, even though much if its platform comes from republicanism. Madison saw the republican idea of representation as an efficient way to govern the nation.
In his new form of government, he incorporated the republican ideals of separation of powers and equal representation along with democratic beliefs such as legal equality and civil liberties (among white men, at least). His intentions were to promote the public good, but through a different means than his predecessors. As with other natural rights philosophers, he saw these rights as non-negotiable. Whilst protecting the natural rights of citizens, he set up a government designed to avoid despotism and promote the general welfare of the state.
Aristotle. The Politics of Aristotle. The University of North Carolina Press; North Carolina. 1997.
Ketchum, Ralph. The Anti-Federalist Papers. Signet Classics; New York. 2003.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Government. Boobs-Merrill Educational Publishing; Indiana. 1977.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. Discourses on Livy. The University of Chicago Press; Chicago. 1998.
Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Dover Publications Inc. ; 1973.
Rossiter, Clinton; Hamilton, Alexander; Madison, James; Jay, John; Keller, Charles R. The Federalist Papers. 2003.