Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution

"The Problem of Majority Tyranny and the Necessity of Union"

Overview

The national government under the Articles of Confederation was weak, and most political power remained in the hands of the states, where the state legislatures dominated. These virtually unchecked state legislatures passed laws that were characterized by their multiplicity, mutability, and essential injustice. This experience of a weak national government, on the one hand, and democratic tyranny or majority faction, on the other, taught the Founders that liberty is threatened by government that is too strong, but also by government that is too weak.

The Federalist Papers argue that the Constitution solves the problems of a weak national government and majority faction. Federalist 10 proposes a two-fold solution to the problem of majority faction: representation and the extended sphere. Representation will serve to “refine and enlarge the public views,” and in turn makes possible the extended sphere. The larger amount of territory and greater number of citizens in this extended sphere will produce a “multiplicity of interests,” which will make it difficult, though not impossible, for a majority to feel an unjust impulse. If an unjust majority impulse does arise, the extended sphere will make it difficult for the majority to turn its unjust impulse into public policy or law.

Lecture

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Recommended Readings

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is liberty threatened by a government that is too weak?
  2. What is a faction?
  3. How does a multiplicity of interests contribute to solving the problem of faction?

Q & A Session

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Mickey Craig is the William and Berniece Grewcock Professor of Politics and Chairman and Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, where he has been teaching since 1986. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Arkansas State University, and both his Masters of Arts and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School.