Home National Politics James Madison Responds to Senate Gun Votes, Reminds America of the Dangers...

James Madison Responds to Senate Gun Votes, Reminds America of the Dangers of Faction


Following yesterday’s disgraceful votes in the U.S. Senate, which went against the vast majority (90% in the case of background checks, smaller majorities in the case of limits on the number of bullets, assault weapons, etc.), I thought a few thoughts from Founding Father James Madison might be relevant.

It was November 22, 1787, but it might as well have been yesterday, when Madison talked about the need for safeguards against domestic factions, like uh…the NRA? Here’s Founding Father James Madison, speaking to us across the ages:

*”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 community.” (That describes the NRA and other gun groups, which have a huge edge in passion over the MUCH larger number of Americans who want reasonable limits on gun ownership, firepower, etc. in this country, to a “t.”)

*”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.” (You can say THAT again!)

*”…the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” (That’s the question; in this case, they weren’t removed OR controlled in their “adverse” 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.”  (That’s the answer right there: we need to toss out the Senators holding these “sinister views,” who are attempting to “mask” their “violence under the forms of the Constitution.”)

*”In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.” (The question today is, does this remedy still work in an era of massive corporate power and essentially unlimited ability of wealthy interests to purchase and subvert our political system? Did the Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, ever foresee Citizens United? Did they ever foresee the 2nd Amendment, which stressed well-ordered militias in the context of an agrarian society with no standing army, with low-accuracy and low-firepower muskets (no assault rifles with 100-bullet magazines or whatever in 1787), and with the imminent threat of war with the most powerful empire on earth, being twisted the way it has been by the Scalia/Alito/Thomas/Roberts Supreme Court? I doubt it. So now, the question is, can the system created by James Madison et al nearly 230 years ago adapt, and ultimately survive, at a time when the country is so wildly different – economically, technologically, you name it – from the 1770s? We’ll find out, but I’d also remind everyone that it’s OUR responsibility as citizens to fight for the vision of America we believe in. Nobody else is going to do it for us. But one thing’s for sure: the monomaniacally-focused factions which Madison warned about are still here, whether it’s the NRA or whoever, and we’ve still got to figure out how to deal with their subversion of our Republic…)

P.S. One question: can the power of one faction (e.g., Michael Bloomberg and perhaps $100 million, $500 million of his money spent in the 2013 and 2014 elections) counteract the power of another faction (the gun lobby)?


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