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The Federalist No. 10

The Federalist Papers

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Feb 16, 2011, 12:22am Top

Published November 23, 1787. After three papers by Jay and six by Hamilton, we are treated in #10 to Madison's first of the series. The tone differs from the preseeding papers: it is less dogmatic and more respectful of the reader's intelligence, judgement and ability to follow an argument. Not less learned, but somehow friendlier.

Madison focuses at once on his single message : the "Union as a safeguard agianst Domestic Faction and insurrection", and in a sophisticated theoretical argument in a common-sense framework, describes how the proposed constitution will prevent the control of domestic by "faction, through checks on the interests of one group by the interests of others--Madison's famous "checks and balances."

Instead of "faction we would these days probably refer to "interst groups", even "special interest groups", maybe "voting blocks", but Madison meant something different and specific: "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, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Actually, these days we might just say "political party."

Interestingly, and surprising (to me), Madison sees the main role of government as protecting those human faculties which develop into dofferences in property ownership--wealth. He doesn't argue for the protection of wealth from, say, redistribution, but rather for protection of the practices by which a person so inclined could gather wealth.

There's no evidence that #10 was all that well-received at the time it was written, according to Maier in Ratification--it was not widely republished nor commented on as much as some other of these papers--but it is now the most read (because the most often assigned) and referenced of all the 85 Federalist Papers, is considered on of the masterworks of American political writing, and like the Declaration of Independance and the Constitution, has achieved sacred status in some circles.

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