James Madison Federalist Papers No. 55: Divine Ideal in American Republicanism

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American Politics & Heritage, Quotes & Letters

James Madison, lead drafter of the Constitution stated once, that the philosophy of American Republicanism admits the existence of qualities in man in a higher degree, i.e., built on a spiritual Ideal of man’s nature. This is in keeping with Classical Republicanism. We recognize James Madison as a man who rejected the idea of racial superiority, who however failed to put true Republicanism in practice, concerning his beliefs in equality and liberty. Upon his death, James Madison failed to free his slaves on his Virginian plantation, upon which his livelihood, and family fortunes were based. In life, Madison proposed that Congress purchase all the slaves and liberate them, insisting that the enslaved population were entitled to a right to liberty, and that slavery was morally wrong. This Divine Ideal, he speaks of, is nothing but theosophic in its rudiment, and could not exist, without entirely degrading into self-evident contradiction, as a race-based Republic, given the complexity of the situation in the Americas and its populations, before and after the settlers.

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government (that of a Republic) presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.” (James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 55, Fed. 13., 1788)

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