The Federalist Papers

by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison

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What is the summary of Federalist Paper 10?

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Federalist 10 concerns the influence of factions, which James Madison, the author, defines in this way:

...[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.

While some might reach the conclusion that Madison was referring to political parties, his definition is closer to that of modern interest groups. He especially drew distinctions between people who owned property and those who did not. The point is that these groups would place their own particular interest ahead of that of the people and the nation as a whole. This was a concern of many eighteenth-century political theorists, one seen as fatal to republics. This led some to conclude that a republican form of government would not be able to rule a country as large in territory as the new United States. Given the size and the diversity of peoples and economies, many thought the nation would collapse into chaos, which might give way to a tyrant.

One of the key insights of this particular essay is that Madison views the existence of factions as inevitable given human nature. Therefore it is pointless to argue that people will submit to the common good out of patriotism or self-sacrifice. Moreover, in a republic, where people have the liberty to pursue their interest through political ends, this issue was inevitable. Only a tyrannical government would eliminate factions. "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires," he writes in Federalist 10.

Madison expands on this very issue in Federalist 51, where he describes the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution. In Federalist 10, as in the essay published later in the collection, he explains how the Constitution will attempt to control the effects of faction. He argues that the criticism that the nation is too big for a republic is completely wrong. Rather, the size of the republic will actually keep one faction from being able to gain a majority, since there are so many interests in such a large expanse of land. "The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States," he writes, "but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States" because the people in those states did not share their interest.

In short, Madison turns a criticism of the Constitution, and the government it would create, on its head, writing that a common critique of the government is actually a strength, one that enables it to address an intractable problem posed by human nature.

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Federalist Paper 10 is basically a treatise against factions. James Madison argues in it that the Union will help guard against factions, which would create civil unrest.

Madison first admits that "popular governments" are susceptible to factions. Being aware of the risk, however, the federalists can construct a union that will not fall victim to factions. Madison takes a moment to define a faction as a group of citizens whose aims are antithetical to the common good or to other groups of citizens. He then goes on to propose two ways of dealing with factions: eliminating the causes and managing the effects.

Right away, Madison says that we can't eliminate the causes because the only ways to do so are to remove freedom of thought and action or to make everyone have the same opinions. Both of these "solutions" work against what the union is trying to achieve, so we must instead focus on managing the effects of factions to ensure no faction gains too much power or can begin to negatively affect other citizens.

Madison then breaks down the ways we can control the potential effects of factions. First of all, if the faction is not the majority, the "republican principle" is enough to manage the faction: they will not win a majority vote. Madison proposes a republic as the panacea for the ills of factions. He explains that representatives will speak for the interests of the citizens. The structure of the overall union will work to mitigate any "factious leaders" that may gain influence in their local areas of power. Madison seeks to convince the reader that the republic proposed by the federalists will be the best way for the people to have a voice and to avoid being taken advantage of. He also argues that the union he and his co-authors envision will be carefully constructed to avoid the pitfalls of other democratic unions that have failed.

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Federalist Paper 10 is one of the most popular and recognizable of the collection. It is one of history's most highly praised pieces of American political writing. The paper itself was written by James Madison for the collection of papers arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution. The original thirteen colonies fell under much disagreement about the Constitution, so the Federalist Papers were published in order to sway the opinions of the public and the politicians.

Paper 10 continues on the subject of the previous paper: factions. Factions are groups of citizens, and can be both dangerous and necessary. Madison believed that factions are unavoidable because men, by nature, seek out other men who hold similar opinions and desires. However, he feared factions that held negative ideals and worked against the best interests of society.

One of the most popular contemporary interpretations of Paper 10 takes the advice on factions to extend to political parties in general. By this token, Madison suggests that political parties are dangerous because they can work against the public, but he sees no way to halt them from forming. Instead, he suggests a representative republic form of government (where men vote for representatives who vote for laws). Choosing that form instead of a direct, true democracy ensures that the factions that gain power will not have the ability to harm the rights of others.

The paper itself suggests that the government must either limit the forming of factions or control their effects. He says that the only ways to prevent the forming of factions are to eliminate liberty or to create a homogenous society, and since both are impossible, the government must choose to control the effects of the factions.

Madison argues that a republic system of government will help to prevent the harm caused by factions because a large republic contains many interests that need to be represented without being overshadowed by highly populated/likeminded areas.

In summary, Madison wrote Federalist Paper 10 to argue that a representative republic system will prevent factions from attaining too much power and going against the best interests of the public.


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