James Madison: Government should “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

I often hear people in the US who feel that law and policy favor corporate interests or the wealthy say that the Constitution or the US government’s become “corrupted” over time.  This isn’t how the US government was supposed to be, the nature of the establishment was fundamentally good but has changed over time.  This view makes sense considering the almost religious reverence the Constitution holds in US political culture.

James Madison, the leading author of the Constitution, sometimes called by constitutional scholars the “Father of the Constitution,” however, intended for this to occur.  While debating the constitution in 1787 he said that,

“The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.”

In other words, wealth (“landed interests”) will be increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands through markets (“various means of trade and manufactures”).  The wealthy, therefore, would be outvoted in a democratic system and government would be overrun by the majority of working people.  To prevent the working class from attaining political power and expropriating the property and wealth of the rich (“an agrarian law”), we have to “wisely” ensure that government “protect the minority” of the rich against the majority of the poor.

Things like the Koch Brother’s influence in Wisconsin Government sponsored union busting, or the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United decision that corporations can donate without restriction to election campaigns aren’t, in fact, exceptional in American politics, but are part-and-parcel of the systems design.

The solution, therefore, is to radically change the system, from the ground up–to organize a revolutionary movement that will place the majority of working people of all sexes, races, nationalities, and sexualities into political power and influence over the “minority of the opulent.”

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2 Responses to James Madison: Government should “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

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