Real Clear  Politics
Real Clear Books

November 14, 2016  
James Madison's Large  Republic
By _Michael J.  Klarman_ 

Madison’s theory of the large republic—that better  government 
decision-making would occur over a larger geographic area, both  because a 
multiplicity of interests would exist and because  representatives would have 
greater opportunities to “refine and enlarge” their  constituents’ views 
through a system of indirect elections, large  constituencies, and lengthy 
in office—was in fact mainly inspired by his  wish to design a system that 
would suppress paper money emissions and debtor  relief laws. Madison 
essentially admitted as much during one very candid moment  at the convention, 
when he noted that the fundamental challenge facing a  republican form of 
government was figuring out how to prevent power “slid[ing]  into the hands” of 
those who “sigh for a more equal distribution of  [property].”
To an astonishing  degree, the drafting and ratification of the 
Constitution were shaped by  conflicts of interest that derived from fairly 
episodes and disputes.  While such conflicts would quickly recede in 
significance, the Constitution they  shaped has lasted for centuries. 
The controversy over  Jay’s willingness to bargain away the American claim 
to free navigation of the  Mississippi River profoundly influenced 
southerners’ thinking on issues as  diverse as the value of the union, how to 
apportion representation in Congress,  and the limits that should be placed on 
national government’s powers over  commerce and treaty making. Yet the issue 
itself was largely a moot point by the  time the ratification process had 
concluded. Opposition to British creditors’  collecting on their prewar debts—
another fairly transient issue—rendered the  federal court system, in the 
words of Edmund Randolph, “the most vulnerable and  odious part of the 
Constitution” to Virginians. New York’s ability to extract  tax revenue from 
neighboring states through import duties—not a transient issue  but an 
particularistic one—had an enormous effect both on the ways in  which 
delegates to the Philadelphia convention from New Jersey and Connecticut  
about expanding congressional power over taxes and trade and on the  
posture of those states toward ratification of the Constitution. 
The rebellion of  taxpayers and debtors led by Daniel Shays and others in 
Massachusetts in 1786–  87 profoundly influenced the Philadelphia convention 
and the Constitution. The  insurrection generated vital support in 
Massachusetts for sending a delegation  to the convention, and it may have 
Washington’s decision to  participate. Still more important, Shays’s 
Rebellion influenced the views of  many convention delegates on how powerful 
responsive to populist influence  the new federal government should be. In 
his conversations with New England  congressional delegates on the eve of the 
convention, William Grayson of  Virginia had been shocked to discover the 
extent of their support “for a very  strong government” and their “wish to 
prostrate all the state legislature[s] and  form a general system out of the 
whole.” Mason, too, was astonished when he  arrived in Philadelphia at the “
extraordinary” extent to which the New  Englanders had become 
antirepublican. At the convention itself, delegates  constantly alluded to 
Rebellion. Gerry was referring to it when he  declared that the people of New 
England had “the wildest ideas of government in  the world,” and so was 
Hamilton when he noted “the amazing violence and  turbulence of the democratic 

Reprinted from _THE FRAMERS’ COUP: The Making of the United States  
  by Michael J.  Klarman with permission 
from Oxford University Press.  Copyright ©  2016 by Oxford University Press.

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