Listen to the Founding Fathers

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, October 30, 2008

To those who think the Founding Fathers couldn’t foresee the problems we face today, look at a key document from then to see things differently: the Federalist Papers.

Written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, these newspaper columns were aimed at persuading the public to back a new constitution. They dealt with the arguments against the charter document, showing through fact and logic how those arguments were faulty.

To see how insightful these were, here’s a partial list of the topics they addressed: taxation, creation of a standing defense force, safeguards against government invasion of privacy, and so forth.

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One topic that concerned them greatly but does not usually figure in today’s debates was, in the words of Madison, “the violence of faction.”

Madison said: “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.”

Translating the early dialect shows that Madison saw real danger in groups of people who believed the same thing who were against the rights of other citizens or the good of society at large.

Sound familiar, Sen. Obama?

Critics contend that Barack Obama and his backers want to deny the rights of certain taxpayers by taking more of their income, which they say will harm the interests of the country as a whole. To wit, Madison writes, factions are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

Again, I ask, sound familiar, Sen. Obama?

As to the dangers of faction? Madison notes: “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice.”

Does Obama define tax justice now as taking from one group of people – the so-called rich – and giving to the middle class? Apparently so. And his arguments for who is rich keep changing, as does his views of the middle class. For instance, earlier this year he defended his tax plans, saying that it would only affect those making $300,000 a year.

Three months later, that figure had dropped to $250,000. Last month, it had become $200,000. And it doesn’t stop.

Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said over the weekend that the rich would be any family making $150,000 a year or more.

Madison’s best solution to the “violence of faction”?

“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.”

Citizens would do well to remember the words of a leading Founding Father – especially next Tuesday when they vote.

Chris Warden is a professor in Troy University’s Hall School of Journalism.