James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

By Robert J. Morgan | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Political Liberty

Madison's discussion of the right to vote and to form political parties on which the enjoyment of political liberty depend shows that these rights were essential elements in his conception of constitutional rights. He had very little opportunity to discuss either at the Convention of 1787. He did offer, however, a brief defense in The Federalist of the Framers' decision to leave the regulation of this right to the states with only a minimal restriction on them. It is widely believed that his remarks in the tenth essay showed him to be an opponent of political parties as were his leading contemporaries. His apparent conversion to parties a few years later is commonly treated as a puzzle. A few scholars have concluded, however, that he accurately predicted the rise of political parties that would secure moderate majority rule because of the social diversity of their respective members. The tenth essay has been interpreted, also, to prove that Madison predicted the rise of political interest groups. 1 In fact, he regarded both the right to vote and to form political parties to be essential to the enjoyment of political liberty.


THE RIGHT TO VOTE

In discussing a constitution for Kentucky in 1785 Madison said that it is a matter of "great delicacy and of critical importance" to fix the right to vote in a constitution at the time of its original framing. 2 The people living under it will enjoy what Montesquieu called political liberty only if there is a proper distribution of powers within the government. They will enjoy a tranquil state of mind, if they believe that the law-making power is vested in a legislature in which they are represented effectively. 3 Madison apparently believed that the attainment of republican liberty is a special case which is made difficult because of the differentiation of interests in a modern society. Conflict between interests occurs in all societies, but more so in densely populated ones. In particular, there is class conflict between the rich who are few and the poor who are many. It has always occurred and will continue to do so into an indefinite future. This being the case, neither class can enjoy political liberty if all persons are given the right to vote and to be represented equally in the legislature, or if one class is effectively denied these rights. In a republic both classes have rights which

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James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Legal Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Notes xvii
  • Part I - Power 1
  • Chapter 1 - To Improve and Perpetuate the Union 3
  • Notes 28
  • Chapter 2 - A Proper Energy in the Executive 31
  • Notes 51
  • Chapter 3 - The True Principles of Republican Government 55
  • Notes 79
  • Chapter 4 - Supporting and Restraining the Executive 83
  • Notes 111
  • Part II - Rights 115
  • Chapter 5 - Political Liberty 117
  • Notes 128
  • Chapter 6 - A Few Obvious Truths 131
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 7 - The Very Essence of Free and Responsible Government 163
  • Notes 185
  • Chapter 8 - The Framers' Muse 189
  • Notes 202
  • Selected Bibliography 205
  • Index 213
  • About the Author 219
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