Monday, November 14, 2011

Back to Constitutional Basics: Madison On Class Warfare

James Madison was the Father of the U.S. Constitution. Madison, more than any other of the Constitutional framers, insisted on limited government. Madison argued that the Constitution’s task was to limit the powers of government:  “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Few today know that Madison’s greatest fear was of an “overbearing majority” that would act against minorities. Madison and the other founding fathers used the separation of powers and the protection of private property (the Fifth Amendment) to rein in out-of-control majorities. In Madison’s words: “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

What minorities might fear the majority? In a burst of what today might be regarded as political incorrectness, Madison wrote: “The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.”

In other words, people have different skills, education and talents. Hence income and wealth will be unevenly distributed. The majority will have less income and wealth than the fortunate minority and it “must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.”

Government must protect minorities against unfair laws: “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”

If we translate the Father of the Constitution into modern English, we can say that Madison warned about class-warfare appeals to an overbearing and jealous majority.  This was Madison’s fear.

We are about to enter Madison’s nightmare. Although class-warfare appeals are as old as the hills, we now have an income tax system in which soon a majority of the population will pay no income taxes. Those we do not pay income taxes, but receive benefits from the state will be “overbearing” in their support of higher taxes on the “rich.” They will be unable to view the problem of this type of approach from Madison’s eagle-nest view.

They do not understand that such policies can kill the golden goose.


  1. The ink had hardly dried on that great blueprint of checks and balances, as those that are driven by greed and lust for power began their incremental destruction of our Constitution.
    Blame both your representatives and the oligarchy of banksters and big corporate monopolies that bribe them into violating their oath to OBEY and protect the Constitution.
    Only a return to the original organic Constitution and an end to the "big government" paradigm can we return to a viable republic and the "American Dream".

  2. 16th and 17th Amendments. The trouble starts there. Just took a while to get to this moment.

    Nice piece.

  3. An excellent article. Should be required reading for our Constitutional Professor in Chief, Obama who has started a class warfare and tacitly supports the OWS Occupy Wall Street movement.

  4. Nice post. I just finished reading Richard Brookhiser's biography of James Madison. It's an absolute must read for those interested in the philosophical development of fundamental constitutional principles, especially from Madison's point of view.