Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Federalist 51 – Balance of Power

Madison’s general discussion of balance of power as it is addressed in the proposed Constitution reflects his views on securing liberties for individuals and minority segments while limiting the power of government and seeing that it derives its power from the people and is responsive to the collective needs.

He describes the purpose of government as ‘justice.’ And states that, ‘if men were angels, government would be unnecessary.’

It is impressive to see with 20-20 hindsight how well we have been served by the US Constitution, and although it has been amended from time to time, the bulk of the framework remains intact.

Madison begins by asking how power is to be partitioned in the government. He answers, “by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.”

He goes on to argue that the branches of government should be designed to have a ‘will of their own.’ “…and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.”

He goes on to say that if this principle were rigorously adhered to all appointments would be made by the people. He then goes on to offer a specific example, selection of federal judges, which because of the specialized qualifications required the best mode of choice should be the one that best ‘secures these qualifications.’ Further as the federal bench appointments are appointments for life it will, ‘soon destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.’ Meaning that the judges will not be beholden to the body that appointed them and that there is less cause for concern that they will behave in a biased manner once appointed.

He specifically states that the separate branches and departments of government should be constituted so that, ‘each department has the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.’

“Ambition must be made to counterattack ambition.”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

“But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature.”

“..you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Always concerned about a tyranny of the majority, he writes, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Regarding the apparent dominant role of the legislative branch, he writes, “The remedy for inconveniency is to dived the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.”

Specifically in defense of the proposed American constitution, he argues, “ In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other; at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

On protecting the rights of a minority interest, “…the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.”

So Madison reaffirms his long standing belief that religious freedom is an essential ingredient in the American model. He is essentially arguing in favor a diverse pluralistic society. He might well have been pleased to see how diverse the United States has become two hundred years later.

He sums up in a philosophic tone, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever had been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

He goes on to argue that it individual states were broken off from the Confederation that they would suffer internal factions that the people would soon call for some third power to intercede on their behalf.

Madison believed that the larger the society the more capable it would be of self-governing, and that the proposed constitution offered a “judicious modification and mixture of the federal principle.”

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