Niccolo Machiavelli and James Madison's Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

" (the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, edited by Gaillard Hunt and J.B. Scott New York, 1920, p. 329 as cited in Riemer 46) According to some historians, Madison's contribution to the consolidation of republicanism has been underrated: "Republican ideology - not economic interest, not social class, not sectional outlook - is the key to his political thought and actions. Theoretically and practically, he was always hostile to anti- and pseudo-republicanism. He was the most original, most understanding, and most effective champion of republicanism against its enemies. For this alone, Jeffersonian Democracy owes Madison a debt which has not been sufficiently acknowledged." (Ibid. 63)

James Madison was a firm believer in republicanism. However, he was always aware of the dangers besetting the American republican experiment. In the Virginia ratifying Convention he had declared: "From the first moment that my mind was capable of contemplating political subjects, I never, till this moment, ceased wishing success to a well regulated republican government." (James Madison as cited in Reimer 55). He wanted to refute one of the strongest arguments of the eighteenth century, i.e. that republican governments could only survive in geographically small, socially homogenous societies. Contesters of republicanism argued that in order for a republic to persist, it needed a rough equality of condition and similarity of interests which could enable citizens to maintain the virtue which represented the very basis of any republic (Rakove 1). In this context, virtue was defined as a willingness to subordinate private interest to public good, i.e. exactly what Machiavelli believed Florence had to do in order to become a republic. For Madison, virtue was always the foundation of government, endowed with a higher sanction than the mere will of the majority. Since it was easier to practice self-restraint in a relatively small and homogenous society, contemporaries supported the idea that the republican form of government had to be restricted to simple societies where the absence of competing interests helped citizens preserve the virtue that the republic needed.

On the topic of the nature of republicanism, Madison said: "When the people have formed a constitution, they retain those rights which they have not expressly delegated. It is a question whether what is thus retained can be legislated upon. Opinion are not the objects of legislation.... If we advert to the nature of republican government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people." (James Madison, Speech in Congress, November 27, 1794 as cited in Samples 4). Madison's great contribution to republicanism, and American history, was his refusal of this particular argument. He argued that the larger and more diverse a society was, the harder it would be for citizens to form factions, and protect their private interest. "In pure democracies, he claimed, such as ancient Athens, individuals quickly discovered common interests, formed factions, and oppressed their fellow citizens" (Samples 2).

By the end of the eighteenth century Madison was clearly in opposition to key features of the Federalist program. By 1792 it became clear to him that the distinction between republicans and anti-republicans had been clearly made. The Federalist program offered Madison the right impulse which he needed in order to formulate and develop his theory of republican opposition. The importance of this theory has been somewhat underrated (Reimer 58) considering that it would be an important tool against the advocates of nullification and secession (Idem.). Eighteenth century America was faced with a great transformation in political ideology. Post-Revolutionary America contemplated the challenges of nation-making on a continental scale in the 1780s. Americans were forced to acknowledge that they could no longer rely on the ideas that had justified the resistance to British power. The most important ideological challenge that was brought by this transformation was to reconcile individual rights with the common good (Matson; Onuf 497). In order for these two previously opposing concepts to be reconciled, Americans needed to reformulate traditional republican premises.

Free trade arguments became increasingly popular in the late colonial period. Mercantilists and free traders alike celebrated the beneficial effects of interest and consumption. The logic behind free trade was that a natural economy could be created by eliminating artificial political obstructions between the original production and ultimate acquisition and consumption of the wealth. This argument proved to be valid, as "the public interest would be defined through the uninhibited play of private interests in the marketplace" (Matson; Onuf 510). Wartime emergency was soon combined with republican ideology. This generated an Americanization of political economic thinking (Idem). America started to envision its great productive potential. This captured the sense that private enterprises served the public good.

The structure of national politics under the Confederation encouraged state leaders to see membership in the union as instrumental. The value of the union started to become more clear because it was identified with real interests, i.e. The needs of existing interest groups to exert influence over national policy, as well as the dream of economic growth which would have highly benefited from harmonizing interests.

Many Americans remained skeptical during the ratification controversy. However, the union was largely appealing. It had the power to legitimate the private pursuit of happiness in a new context which seemed to abound in opportunities. More traditional concerns such as that of preserving republicanism, and American independence were also tackled in the process. "The idea of union was not simply clever federalist rhetoric." (Ibid. 531) the union helped define what Americans hoped to receive as a consequence of the Revolution. By attempting to define their expectations, new meanings were born. The union was now defined by interest, and it became more "specific and concrete" (Idem). This union was now centered on the idea of individual and collective prosperity, an idea which entered "the realm of the mythic, revivifying the old language of American's manifest destiny." (Idem)

Works Cited

Banning, Lance. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Mansfield, Jr., Harvey C. "Machiavelli's Political Science." The American Political Science Review 75. 2 (Jun., 1981): 293-305.

Matson, Cathy and Peter Onuf. "Toward a Republican Empire: Interest and Ideology in Revolutionary America." American Quarterly 37. 4 (1985): 496-531.

McCormick, John P. "Machiavelli against Republicanism: On the Cambridge School's Guicciardinian Moments." Political Theory 31. 5 (Oct., 2003): 615-643.

Rakove, Jack N. "James Madison and the Extended Republic: Theory and Practice in American Politics."American…

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