Federalist Papers Summary 14
The Federalist Essays Summary No 14: James Madison November 30, 1787
One cannot read this paper without asking whether a Republic form of government versus a pure Democracy is the correct choice today given that the reasons for choosing a Republic enumerated in the paper no longer apply. This question is returned to after summarizing the content of the paper.
The paper returns to the issue of whether a republic can extend over a large area which critics argue against. Critics seem to confuse a republic with a democracy which was the form of government in the ancient Greek and Italian turbulent periods. The distinction between a democracy and a republic is “that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy consequently will be confined to a small spot. A republic many be extended over a large region.” In other words “the natural limit of a democracy is that distance from the central point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand”. With a republic only a representative rather than the entire citizenry need to reach the central point.
America does not extend over so great an area that a representative can not reach this central point from anywhere within the current border of the Atlantic, and the Mississippi, and the southern and northern latitudes. Proof is by comparisons to European countries of similar or larger size with representative forms of government. Four observations that “place light still more satisfactory” on this subject are given.
First, States still maintain governments to preside over matters not given to the general government. Second, the draft Constitution’s immediate object is to unite the thirteen States but allow the addition of others, third, roads and canals and other infrastructure will improve travel, and fourth States on the frontier facing foreign nations will have more reason to take advantage of the general government and thus have representatives that travel that far.
In the final paragraph he calls on the good sense of the people to reject arguments that the new form of government is a novelty, wild and impossible to accomplish. He reminds them of the great accomplishments of the American people during the revolution and in forming “the design of a great confederacy which is now incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate” which is the act of your Convention, the draft Constitution.
Returning to the issue of whether today the territorial size of the Union is a reason for a republic over a pure democracy, the answer is clearly no but only because of the very recent development of the internet. It would be possible for every person to vote “in person” on every bill before our Congress without travelling to Washington DC. However the earlier arguments of how a republic with representatives chosen for merit and character protects the liberty of the people from factions and minority rights from majorities still apply as does the “confusion of a multitude” inherent in votes being cast by millions of everyday citizens on every issue before the government. We can still be thankful for the wisdom of our founders and resist any attempt to form a pure democracy.
Federalist Papers Summary 14 Written by Donald Mellon