Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 6, 2012

Federalist No.10: Dangers of Faction

From my American govt class in summer 2011

The Federalist Papers were written as a means of persuading the citizens of the United States to support the adoption of the Constitution. A critical part of those papers, #10, was focused on explaining the dangers of faction. What is faction? What are its causes and effects? Do the Founding Fathers seek to eliminate the cause or the effect and how do they do so in the framework of the Constitution?

James Madison wrote Federalist No. 10 with one concern in mind: faction. In Madison’s era, factions represented dangers to the nation as a whole. He knew, however, that factions were inevitable due to a tyrannous monarch or a self interested majority. The effects of factions could result in the end of a nation. Factions, to Madison, needed to be controlled. One must understand what a faction is to understand its implications.
Madison was concerned with how factions could affect the nations as a whole. According to Samuel Kernell, Gary C. Jacobson, and Thad Kousser (2008), Madison defines a faction as “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” (p.84). The key phrase to the word faction is “often adverse to the rights of other citizens” or “tyrannical.” A minority faction can exist in the form of a tyrannical monarch, which can be adverse to the rights of the people. However, a tyrannical monarch would not continue for long. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “a minority faction may ‘clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution” (p.85). The monarch may hinder the administration through his manipulations and tricks, or agitate a society with his foolish ways, but The Constitution will not allow an unfair monarch to get away with much. According to Amendment 1 of the bill of rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Amendment 1).
The monarch was a concern for Madison because of fear of tyranny. However, Madison was not just concerned about the monarch but also the majority as they were capable of being just as oppressive as the monarch. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “democracy, however, introduces its own special brand of factional tyranny—that emanating from a self interested majority” (p.85). Self interested meaning all about their own interest, not society’s as a whole. Small states were concerned over large states ruling over them for example. The majority of people in the Virginia Plan came from large states, and small states were concerned about having their concerns rejected. The minority hated reform because they suffered at the hands of King George III and wanted to be in charge of themselves. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “in Madison’s era, many people especially those opposed to reform—ranted that majority rule equaled mob rule” (p.85). With a majority faction, the effects can be problematic because of fear of oppression. Factions can not only be caused by a monarch or self interested majority, but also economic factors.
The unequal distribution of property was a cause for faction. The majority of people in the late eighteenth century was without property. There was only a few who did. Faction was inevitable with the unequal distribution. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society, whether that be a landed interest, manufactured, mercantile, or moneyed interests, with many lesser interests growing up of necessity in civilized nations, and divided them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views” (p.85). Everyone is in different classes, whether it is lower, middle, or upper. Class did factor into what one grew up interested in. Factions were inevitable because of the liberty of people to make choices. With factions inevitable, Madison thought of two ways to eliminate factions, and figure out what to do if the faction could not be rid of altogether.
Madison thought of two ways to eliminate factions but both of them would only make things worse: authoritarianism and conformism. Authoritarianism would mean that one had to suppress all of his or her feelings towards something, and let that anger fester inside. They would not be allowed to express their deepest concerns and disgust towards someone or something. All authoritarianism would do is make things worse because after a while, the person with concern or disgust will not be able to suppress their feelings, and will explode in a terrible way. This may be towards someone or something that may not have anything to do with the problem, or die due to the festering anger of not practicing his or her liberties. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue that “authoritarianism, a form of government that actively suppresses factions, is a remedy that would be worse than the disease” (p.84). The second option would be conformism, which means that everyone, has to behave a certain way according to someone’s rules, or else be punished. The problem with that is people are not robots, but have free will. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), Madison states that “as long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed” (p.746). Every person has been given humanity and uniqueness, and therefore, is prone to faction because not everyone has the same goals or values. Factions do have consequences.
Factions have effects ranging from a temporary interruption in the life of society to fear of government. With the concern of majority faction, Madison addressed his concern. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “Madison believed representation dilutes the faction spirit, and although he does not trust politicians to be more virtuous than their constituents, he recognizes that they will tend to moderate their views to appeal to a diverse constituency if elected” (p.85). What this means is a politician would be wise to be open to different views to have good relations with society as a whole. Factions were a concern in Madison’s day, but he realized that according to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) “if the causes of faction cannot be removed without snuffing out liberty, then one must control their effects” (p.85). Four years after the Constitution was first written, there was a Bill of Rights that considered the concern of factions. Madison knew he could not get rid of factions altogether, so in the First Amendment (1791) it states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Amendment 1).
No religion was forced on one another or freedom of speech prohibited. This was liberty. According to Madison knew that factions were inevitable because liberty was present.
Factions were a concern for Madison. They can be formed for various reasons such as to overthrow a tyrannical monarch, the desire of one person to do something he or she is passionate about, or out of economic woes. Madison was especially concerned for when the majority ruled and the fear of oppression. He did trust that the politicians would moderate their views for the sake of good relations. Factions are inevitable though.

Kernell, Samuel, Gary C. Jacobson, and Thad Kousser. (2008). The Logic of American Politics. Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C: CQ Press

The U.S. Constitution from The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. Retrieved August 4, 2011 from



  1. Very interesting subject, appreciate it for posting.

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