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On the Size and Nature of the American Republic

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After the American Revolution, a great debate ensued over the size and nature of the proposed American Republic. There were those who stressed a small republic constituted by 13 confederated states. There were also political thinkers who sought the establishment of a large, heterogeneous republic (comprised of different classes of people with different interests). To differentiate the specifics of the two contending views, there is a need to examine two prominent American figures who represented the differing views. Brutus represented those who want to establish a small confederated republic.

James Madison represented the other group. Brutus on the Size of the American Republic For Brutus, a free republic would be unsuccessful if it was of immense extent (both geographically and politically). The increasing number of inhabitants as well as the increasing needs of a large republic put strains on the government. The consequence for him was clear: such large republic would, in time, fall to anarchy. He cited the argument of baron de Montesquieu as the basis of his view: “It is natural to a republic to have a small territory, otherwise it cannot lone subsist.

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In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think that he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to grandeur on the ruins of his country”. For Brutus, the establishment of a large republic inevitably results to the concentration of power and wealth to the hands of the few. Because moderation is more or less absent in these people, their power and wealth are used to oppress the people.

As time progresses, the oppression becomes more and more manifested in the deteriorating conditions of the people. The republic will soon bow to the power of the ruling and oppressive class of citizens. In addition, because of the immense extent of the republic, the needs and demands (and dreams) of the people are lost in the myriads of a thousand interests. Some needs and views are sacrificed to the so-called “general will” which for Brutus was a vague concept. The negotiation of interests becomes a battle for power or authority.

Those who occupy a significant position in government (or those who have contacts in the government) will have their views and interests magnified in the halls of the legislative branch. Thus, the true needs of the people are easily distorted. In addition, if the republic is small, the public good is easier taken into account by the government. It is easily comprehended by every citizen (subject to criticism). The interests, then, of the people are better protected because the abuses are of insignificant nature.

Brutus cited the case of the Grecian and Roman republics as examples to strengthen his argument. In the beginning, these republics were of small size. Their governments were simple but democratic in form. Every need and view of citizens was taken into account, making governance a matter of citizen consent. In due time, however, these republics expanded their domains. Rome, for example, acquired territories from several wars against Carthage and some Asian kingdoms. The result was: their governments transformed from that of free government to those of tyrannical (and abusive) ones.

Brutus on Authority The construction of a tyrannical government, with supreme authority vested on one person, would inevitably result to the destruction of the peoples’ authority. The people would not be able to exercise their rights and duties. They would not be able to force the government to account for its misdeeds. Public accountability would vanish; the person in power would project himself as an infallible leader, incapable of committing any mistakes while in office. Thus, the large republic would crumble.

The remnants of democracy, made significant in democratic institutions, would vanish from history. The restoration of democracy, for Brutus, would be achieved through another bloody revolution, much greater in extent than the previous one. Brutus on Homogeneity With regard to homogeneity, in a free republic, “the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar”. If such was not the case, clashes would be unending. Antagonisms would develop among groups of people competing for power and wealth.

This would inevitably result to the malfunctioning of the government. It would not be able to serve the people in its true capacity. The deadlock among competing groups would necessitate again the establishment of a despotic government, to which no citizen would proscribe to. Basis on Human Nature Thus, because the climate (social, political, and economic situation of states) of the United States was varied, there was a need to establish confederated states, governed by a nominal federal head of state.

Here were the things that Brutus considered: 1) the interests of the states (correspondingly its people) were largely varied, 2) the customs and traditions of the states also varied, and 3) the states had differing opinions of the nature and extent of the proposed American republic. These considerations, for Brutus, were enough to justify the establishment of a small republic, for heterogeneous and discordant principles were clearly present. Brutus Fears on Some Provisions in the US Constitutions Brutus was well aware of some provisions in the US Constitutions which called for the establishment of a large republic.

For example, the vesting of the power to draw and approve treaties on the president and the senate was an incursion to the rights of the states to determine foreign policies. The drawing of foreign policies of supra-legislative bodies was a characterization of legislative tyrannies (as in the case of France). The status of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces was also questioned by Brutus. If the president held the power to unquestionably command the army, then there was a high chance that he would use it to maintain his position.

For Brutus, these powers of the “national government” were vestiges of tyrannical governments; governments established to preserve order to a large state. Madison on the Size of the American Republic Before Madison presented his arguments as to the proper size and nature of the American Republic, he drew a sharp distinction between a democracy and a republic. Democracy is a state governed by direct democracy; that is, the decisions of the government are directed by the people. Its actions are based on the needs and demands of the sovereign will of the citizens.

Thus, every citizen is required to participate in the affairs of the state. Political participation is therefore maximized in democracies. A republic, on the other hand, is characterized by the delegation or representation of the will of the people to elected delegates. The election of delegates will allow the people to choose the person who can best discern the public good. In addition, a large republic will usually offer the citizens more choices, so there will be a greater chance for quality candidates to be chosen to represent the public. Thus, Madison favored the establishment of a large republic that would govern the 13 states.

Madison’s Rejection of Homogeneity as the Basis of the Republic Madison rejected homogeneity as the basis for the establishment of a republic. According to him, even pure democracies like Athens became avenues of torment and clashes of opinion. A pure democracy, such as that proposed by Brutus was not a guarantee to the protection and advancement of citizens’ interests. He believed that homogeneity existed in a vacuum; that is, it was no guarantee that a general reduction in the extent of a state (population) would inevitably to the perfection and assimilation of beliefs, passions, and interests (Madison, 1787).

Even in a small republic, passions and interest were highly varied. Thus, human nature could not be rearranged by arranging the political atmosphere to which a human being is situated. A state, small or large, would be comprised of citizens having different opinions, interests, and passions. Madison also discussed the nature of factions in a state. For Madison, factions destroy the liberty of the individual to participate in the affairs of the state. Factions retard the functioning of the government, thus inefficiently delivering services to the people.

Factions could be disastrous if the majority belong to a faction (the tyranny of the majority). If the majority succumbed to the will of the unreasonable passions, then the state would become a tool of oppression of the minority. Even if the minority presented strong arguments (reasonable) of a particular policy and the majority refused to allow such policy to be implemented, then such policy would not be implemented. If this was the case of the state, then the government would be inefficiently and ineffectively ruled by an oppressive group of people. Madison’s Solution to the Problem of Factions

Madison presented two solutions for the “factions” problem. The first solution was to destroy the conditions which were essential to the establishment of factions. The second solution was to give every citizen the same view, passions, and interests. For Madison, only the first solution was feasible. By establishment safety nets in governance (there were some provisions in the US constitution that guarantee the rights and interests of the minority), the effects of factionalism would be minimized (it would be impossible to totally eradicate factionalism in a diverse nation).

These safety nets took the form of negotiated mediums; that is, avenues where interests could be aggregated. Madison as the First Pluralist Madison proposed the establishment of second-in-importance agencies to take note of the interests of the minority. Even in supra-legislative bodies like the House of Representatives and the Senate, Madison proposed the institutionalization of lobbying methods. The purpose of which was to give every citizen (or group of citizens) the chance to air their views and interests.

For Madison, aggregation of interests was the key to maintaining a large heterogeneous republic. Thus, Madison was usually called the “first pluralist. ” In recent years, however, the so-called interplay between federalist and anti-federalist perspectives was essentially rooted from the increasing powers of the “national government. ” Some people wanted a less strong central government to effectively serve the needs of the citizens. There are those who argued that a strong central government is essential to procure the best services for the people.

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On the Size and Nature of the American Republic. (2016, Aug 10). Retrieved from

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