Conversely, what is the advantage of the abolition of representative
government to be replaced by a tyranny of the majority, a democratic
republic only nominally?
The legislative process is deliberately difficult. It was designed
thus to be a check upon the potential tyranny of the majority that the
framers of the Constitution feared, a majority that inevitably must
oppress the minority and destroy individual rights. The power to
obstruct is a protection against the abuse of power.
John Adams, Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United
States 1787 Works 6:6--8, 114, 116--17
"An excellent writer has said, somewhat incautiously, that "a people
will never oppress themselves, or invade their own rights." This
compliment, if applied to human nature, or to mankind, or to any
nation or people in being or in memory, is more than has been merited.
If it should be admitted that a people will not unanimously agree to
oppress themselves, it is as much as is ever, and more than is always,
true. All kinds of experience show, that great numbers of individuals
do oppress great numbers of other individuals; that parties often, if
not always, oppress other parties, and majorities almost universally
minorities. All that this observation can mean then, consistently with
any color of fact, is, that the people will never unanimously agree to
oppress themselves. But if one party agrees to oppress another, or the
majority the minority, the people still oppress themselves, for one
part of them oppress another.
"The people never think of usurping over other men's rights."
What can this mean? Does it mean that the people never unanimously
think of usurping over other men's rights? This would be trifling; for
there would, by the supposition, be no other men's rights to usurp.
But if the people never, jointly nor severally, think of usurping the
rights of others, what occasion can there be for any government at
all? Are there no robberies, burglaries, murders, adulteries, thefts,
nor cheats? Is not every crime a usurpation over other men's rights?
Is not a great part, I will not say the greatest part, of men detected
every day in some disposition or other, stronger or weaker, more or
less, to usurp over other men's rights? There are some few, indeed,
whose whole lives and conversations show that, in every thought, word,
and action, they conscientiously respect the rights of others. There
is a larger body still, who, in the general tenor of their thoughts
and actions, discover similar principles and feelings, yet frequently
err. If we should extend our candor so far as to own, that the
majority of men are generally under the dominion of benevolence and
good intentions, yet, it must be confessed, that a vast majority
frequently transgress; and, what is more directly to the point, not
only a majority, but almost all, confine their benevolence to their
families, relations, personal friends, parish, village, city, county,
province, and that very few, indeed, extend it impartially to the
whole community. Now, grant but this truth, and the question is
decided. If a majority are capable of preferring their own private
interest, or that of their families, counties, and party, to that of
the nation collectively, some provision must be made in the
constitution, in favor of justice, to compel all to respect the common
right, the public good, the universal law, in preference to all
private and partial considerations."
GOVERNMENT--HUMAN NATURE & POLITICAL POWER
"RE: Human Nature, Original Sin, & the Need for Limitations on the
Power of Popular & Legislative Majorities.
"Though we allow benevolence and generous affections to exist in the
human breast, yet every moral theorist will admit the selfish passions
in the generality of men to be the strongest. ...Self-interest,
private avidity, ambition and avarice will exist in every state of
society and under every form of government....
To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their
favor and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve
all history and universal experience; it is to disbelieve Revelation
and the Word of God, which informs us the heart is deceitful in all
things and desperately wicked. There is no man so blind as not to see,
that to talk of founding a government upon a supposition that nations
and great bodies of men, left to themselves, will practice a course of
self-denial, is either to babble like a new-born infant, or to deceive
like an unprincipled imposter....
There is, then, no possible way of defending the minority ... from the
tyranny of the majority, but by giving the former a negative on [a
veto over governmental decisions and actions proposed by] the latter."
John Adams, A DEFENSE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA (1787-1788)."
Federalist No. 10
"By a faction, I understand 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
There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by
removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.
There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the
one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence;
the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same
passions, and the same interests.
It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it
was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire,
an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be
less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life,
because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the
annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it
imparts to fire its destructive agency.
The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise.
As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty
to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the
connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions
and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and
the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.
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. From the protection of different and
unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different
degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the
influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective
proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and
we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity,
according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for
different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and
many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an
attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for
pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose
fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn,
divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and
rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to
co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of
mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial
occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions
have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite
their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source
of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.
Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed
distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who
are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a
manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest,
with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations,
and divide them into different classes, actuated by different
sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering
interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves
the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary
operations of the government."
"It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to
adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to
the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.
Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without
taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely
prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in
disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.
The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction
cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means
of controlling its EFFECTS.
If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by
the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its
sinister views by regular vote. It 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. When a majority is
included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other
hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both
the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public
good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at
the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular
government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are
directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this
form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it
has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of
By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only.
Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at
the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such
coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and
local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of
oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to
coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be
relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the
injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in
proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as
their efficacy becomes needful.
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure
democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of
citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can
admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or
interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the
whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government
itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the
weaker party or an obnoxious individual."
Federalist No. 51
"Second. 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. There are but two methods of providing against this
evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the
majority that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending
in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will
render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very
improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all
governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority.
This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power
independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the
major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly
be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified
in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in
it will be derived from and dependent on the society, 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. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity
of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The
degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of
interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent
of country and number of people comprehended under the same