Federalist No. 10’s Legacy: The Rise of Partisan Antipathy and How It Is Controlled

“Lock her up”, “not my president”, “Hitlary”, “make Russia great again” “today’s illegals, tomorrow’s democrats”, and “Benedict Donald”. These are just a few attacks that circulated throughout the country during and after the 2016 presidential election. A 2014 Pew Research Center study has shown that the overlap of political values between Republicans and Democrats has diminished greatly since 1994. Donald Trump is a president unlike others in many ways. One key difference is that he has stuck with divisive policies supported by his core base that propelled him to victory. Most presidents in recent decades have enjoyed a stable approval rating above 50% through their first year in office. This has not been the case for Trump. Although trump was elected into office and has catered to a strong, yet non-majority group, many of his efforts have been curbed by the countries other representatives: members of congress. If James Madison could speak to us today regarding his writing of Federalist No. 10, I’d imagine his message would be roughly equivalent to this: “I told you so!”


One of the best writings related to the political climate we are in today is James Madison’s Federalist No. 10, an essay which offers remedies to handle “factions”, or groups of citizens that have interests that are not in line with the rights of the whole community. Madison states that these factions/parties can obtain so much mutual animosity that they would rather frustrate and oppress the other than work for the common good. Madison argues that you cannot get rid of these factions, as their roots come from within human nature, but you can curtail them through a republic, or as others would say, a representative democracy. The people will elect their representatives who will posses wisdom to best perceive the true interests of the country. Has this worked as intended?

One of the key reasons Donald Trump had an energized base of supporters that voted was his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The senate was unable to create a repeal and replacement bill that would pass, so they opted to try to simply repeal large components of Obamacare for now. While they had the votes (a 52 seat majority), 3 Republicans went against the grain (Murkowski, Collins, and McCain). Why? Susan Collins stated that “this approach will not provide the market stability and premium relief that is needed”, Lisa Murkowski stated “their [her constituents] personal situation may be made worse under the legislation considered this week”, and John McCain stated “I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to trust each other, stop the political gamesmanship, and put the healthcare needs of the American people first”. In essence, they argued that the “skinny repeal” remedy would make things worse for the country. Whether one agrees with repealing key parts of Obamacare or not, the reasoning given by these senators, that is, that the current repeal would not benefit the country, is exactly what Madison claimed a republic would create.

While our representative democracy aided Donald Trump in winning the election without receiving a majority of the vote, it now dilutes his ability to pass key policy actions through congress, which represents large swathes of Americans. The political climate of the United States has transformed into harsh rhetoric and animosity, but the representative government structure has made government more stable and less perceptible to rhetorical mud slinging. The next time we see a protest or rally for or against certain politicians or values, let’s remind ourselves that what might result in the legislative process is often reasonable and takes what is best for the country into account.

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12 Responses to Federalist No. 10’s Legacy: The Rise of Partisan Antipathy and How It Is Controlled

  1. jackbuck1 says:

    I think you have a great understanding of James Madison’s paper. It is scary that we live in a United States so divided. There is a bunch of scary rhetoric that is being thrown around on both sides of the aisle. I did want to ask you a question with this post in mind. Do you think that this could be stopped if we had more than two major parties? In my opinion this divide that you show in the picture is due to the fact that there are not enough opinions/options in the political arena.
    I think this would be stopped if we had a more progressive way to represent the country. I think one of the major contributors of this division is that people do not feel represented. This in turn creates this political apathy and people do not believe in the system and do not vote or care to vote because nothing changes. How can we have faith in the system if it is not willing to change for us. It seems like the United States government has stopped listing to its people and I think this is one of the key reasons that Trump got elected. He was so different and the people that voted for him in the thought that he would be better, but he ended up being way worse and this is why he has been attacked so much. In my opinion his supporters are starting to get mad at him and his approval rating is in the basement. He does not represent the people. I think because he got elected we are seeing this polarizing of the American population. Maybe if we had a more progressive system he would never had been allowed to become the president.
    We as a society seem to be the ones left behind in a hyper conservative state. We refuse to change anything and when we try to become more progressive. The government cannot get anything done. I think most people want the United States to change but because of the archaic system that we have in place inhibits us to move past these petty problems.

    • widemike says:

      Thank you for your commentary!

      Do I think the rhetoric could be stopped if there were more than two major parties? Not necessarily. I do believe that America’s political duopoly does drown out less mainstream opinions and that more major parties may decrease apathy.. The UK and Canada’s election turnout is around the upper sixties and the United States highest in recent years was 58% in 2008. This isn’t much higher.

      I believe unproductive and divisive rhetoric would continue even if there were more parties. We as a country seem to focus on what we like to hear and ignore what we do not like. Television and the internet have exacerbated this. Left leaning individuals are more likely to watch MSNBC and not Fox News and conservative leaning individuals are more likely to do the opposite. It’s human nature to gravitate towards what one finds enjoyment in. I lean left and don’t mind watching MSNBC or CNN, however I do make the attempt to view Fox News as well. The thing is, however, that I often don’t like what I hear and would rather not watch.

      One could expand this cable news example to society as a whole. It takes effort to hear out differing opinions that you might not agree with, and many do not take this initiative. It’s much easier for both sides to tell the other that they are wrong and hate America. As Alexis de Tocqueville stated in Democracy In America (1835), “democratic nations often hate those in whose hands the central power is vested; but they always love that power itself” (Volume 2, Chapter 3). We certainly have faith in the system when “our side” wins. If we as a country spent more time having thoughtful and in-depth conversations with those we do not agree with rather than yell at each other CNN style, with its love of left and right wing pundits, we would have a more fruitful political climate for all.

      As to your statement that the US government has stopped listening to its people, I disagree. I see our representatives in congress responding to us, but being gridlocked due to the country being ideologically divided. I do think, however, that the cloud of reelection that hangs over congress does inhibit some voting decisions and that a term limit would certainly encourage members to get things done. Perhaps government does not represent “the people” because a large portion does not vote, or maybe a large portion does not vote because government does not represent them.

      It has been observed that while Americans dislike congress as a whole, a majority approve of individual house and senate members, particularly their representative. Because of this I do not believe government has stopped listening to its people, but rather that the frustration is due to how the system was set up.

      Gallup polled America from September 6th to the 9th in 1974 on whether Nixon should be granted a pardon by president ford by President Ford if he was found guilty. Only 38% of Americans said that he should be pardoned. Twelve years later in 1986 Gallup polled Americans again and found that a majority of Americans (54) said Ford had done the right thing in granting Nixon a pardon (http://www.gallup.com/vault/218198/gallup-vault-pardon-took-decade-forgive.aspx?g_source=POLITICS&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles). In the heat of the moment people get riled up, but as time passes they may find that they accept their representatives (in this case the President) decision. This ties back to federalist No. 10’s emphasis on trusting our representatives to make the right choice. Hopefully we’ll look back in twelve years and think that the current political climate wasn’t as bad as we once thought!

  2. garrettcecich says:

    Great post,
    While we’re on the subject of McCain, I remember during the 2008 election during one of his rallies, a citizen remarked that they were worried about Obama because he was an alleged Muslim from Kenya (which sounded just as crazy then as it does now), and McCain shot her down and told the crowd that they had been taught that the other side is evil or out to destroy America and her values, when in reality, he and Obama were simply “two men who respect each other, the country, and the people, but who also just happen to disagree on policy”. Whether or not we agree with McCain’s stance on specific policy points, we have a base of evidence that he is not the selfish republican he is often made out to be by more liberal sources. This calls to mind what Madison says in Federalist #10 about our tendency to act and think factiously, that is to say that we act and think as if we were on the good side and those who disagree with us are against the common good. Madison was right about it then, and he’s still right about it today.

  3. Pete says:

    Since Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 Presidential race was fueled to a large degree by his campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), how would Madison view the 3 US Senators who voted against their party and against the wishes of the of their constituents who supported the President’s pledge.
    Murkowski from a state that Trump led the popular vote by 51% to 36%, Collins where Clinton led with 48% to Trump’s 45%, and McCain’s Arizona where Trump had almost 50% of the popular vote with Clinton just over 45%.
    Who are the factions in this case? The majority of voters that supported Trump or the minority (McCain) who may have had a possible personal reason for causing the President not to able to gain a Congressional victory.

    • LukaKolomejac says:

      I can’t speak for Madison, but following his writings in Federalist No. 10, Madison would view these 3 US senators as acting in the best interest of the country, and not the party they represent. Madison might acknowledge that trump won by 15%, 3%, and 5% in these states, but he might also acknowledge that an estimated 45% of eligible voters in the United States did not turnout and that they took these non-voters into account.

      In this case, Murkowski, Collins, and McCain went against the wishes of Trump voters, or Trump he has referred to them, those who see themselves as “the forgotten men and women of our country – people who work hard but no longer have a voice: I am your voice”. What types of voters are in this faction? Obviously a broad range of people who come from all walks of life, otherwise he would not have won. These three senators have considered the other “forgotten men and women”, those who literally did not vote, who are a significant part of the country. I am not saying that all who did not vote in the election are against repealing Obamacare, but merely that these voters, and the country as a whole, were taken into account. Had Trump received more votes than Hillary in the election, he would still only have a plurality, and not majority, when you take into account eligible voters that did not vote.

      • Pete Mazenauer says:

        How would Madison view the 3 Senators “as acting in the best interests of the country” when Trump won 30 states (clearly a polarity), and 304 votes in the Electoral College (clearly a polarity). All of the 48 Democratic Senators voted along party lines, does that mean each and every one was acting in the best interest of the country? McCain and Murkowski both voted to repeal and replace Obamacare, and pledged to continue that fight while campaigning for reelection. Was that because they were aware the majority of the voters in their states supported repeal and replace and yet when it made it to a meaning vote they suddenly realized that it was in the country’s best interest not to do it? Madison was absoluly correct when he said “as long as men hold differing opinions, have differing amounts of wealth….they will sometimes work against the public interest, and infringe upon the rights of others”.

  4. dasboot01 says:

    I really enjoyed how you brought an old document from James Madison’s Federalist No. 10 and worked it into today’s political landscape. For awhile you could make an argument that the factions were clear cut with Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other but with the sheer inefficiency of Congress today there clearly needs to be a shift in voting tendencies among members in Congress.
    Your graphic shows how ideologies of both parties have grown farther and farther apart but yet with the vote on the appeal of Obamacare, some Republicans jumped ship. These Republicans are being ridiculed by their parties and there is a chance that they will be ousted out of their party around the time of reelections. I feel however these splinter groups will become more popular within parties in the near future creating more factions.
    The main force that has prevented the formation of more factions within the parties has been fear of being ousted among their parties and angering their constituents. With such a high profile Senator such as John McCain going against party values, this can motivate others to do the same and help party ideologies overlap again.

  5. jacobdsaaevdra says:

    I completely agree that certain parts of our country are definitely becoming more partisan and harsh rhetoric has been the tool they have used. However i think it is important to not overstate just how much most of the country actually agrees on many core issues. Indeed it is not that us as citizens have been getting more partisan but the parties themselves that have become more partisan. Us having this two party system where you have to vote for one or the other makes it seem like we are more polarized the we actually are. However, I do strongly agree that the checks and balance that were originally put in place by the founders has indeed worked wonders to check some of the more abrasive policies that Trump might have pushed forward otherwise.

  6. Ronald Amann says:

    Thank you for your blog entry. I am always fascinated to read the viewpoints held by my peers inside and outside of school. I agree fully with your sentiments that as Americans, we are living in an increasingly polarized political climate. I enjoyed the visual that you provided showing what appears to be a growing divide in ideology between the two main political parties in the United States. You are also correct in your assertion that it has been extraordinarily difficult for President Donald J. Trump to accomplish much of the “America first” platform his campaign relied heavily on and that ultimately catapulted him to the Oval Office in one of the largest upsets in the history of elections in our great democracy. I think that you have made a great argument for the ideas presented in Hamilton’s, Federalist #10 and that of our current political climate.
    For me, I believe that in penning the Federalist #10, Madison understood that these so-called “factions” were all but impossible to eradicate, and that whilst they may not represent the rights of all, they also do not necessarily need to be viewed as a threat to the rest of society. Hamilton’s faith for the budding American democracy lies in the commoner who he believes will be faithfully electing their representatives. While I too wonder what Hamilton would think of how things have turned out for representative government in the United States, I don’t think that he could have guessed that we as a nation would ever be as polarized against one another as where we are today. I think that in this essay, Hamilton makes the incorrect assumption that all eligible citizens will be engaged in the electoral process. This we now know is simply untrue of today’s American citizens. With some percentages of voter participation being less than 50 percent and none over 70 percent in the last 100 years, every election could have gone the other way if all of the eligible people to vote had actually gone to the polls. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 is but one example of this. Post-election results showed that Donald Trump was able to win the electoral college with just over 100,000 votes. With tens of millions sitting out of the most recent election, apathetic Americans have only themselves to thank for the election of Donald Trump as their commander in chief.
    For Hamilton, representative democracy would flourish in America, with the full participation of all of its members. Regardless of where you stand politically, I think that we can all agree that what we have today does not embody this pivotal ideal.

  7. manuelgama21 says:

    I think that you make a very interesting argument in favor of Madison’s idea of a republic and how it has worked to constraint most of the controversial ideas of Donald Trump. The recent negotiations between the Democrats in congress and Trump in coming into an agreement for the Dreamers is also a good argument in favor of what you talk about.

    The issue that I have with the form of the republic is that it is a double-edge sword. It can stop measures that one would protest, but also let good propositions to become a reality. The history of
    battles for health care reform is a good example of that, but I guess if you create a system that try to block bad ideas you inevitably will end up also blocking some good ones.

  8. bealpeyton says:

    Hey there,

    Great post, and I always enjoy seeing an appropriately applied and engaging graph. When it comes to the debate regarding political factions and their damaging effects on the political climate, there are two points that I feel are inevitably ignored, even though they are arguably the most critical. Firstly, people and pundits love to criticize the structure and norms of our two-party system, but I rarely ever hear of remedies to these problems. Should we gravitate towards a parliamentary system of government? What about rules and regulations that limit political monopolies and bolster smaller parties? Hell, even caps on polticial spending and contributions would lead to a closer playing field in terms of allowing two groups to dictate the political will of an entire nation. The second point, which is far simpler to me, is the the notion that our conutry is somehow the most divided or politically contentious it has ever been. Over the passed several decades? Definitely. Since our nation’s inception? I am not so sure. I mean, there was a Civil War fought at one point, spurred by there being practicially two countries within one. There are many other examples, as well, of how nasty and dividied the political landscape has been.

  9. lachew says:

    I think it’s fascinating that you chose to write about Madison’s Federalist 10. The grave warnings against factions—made by both Madison and Washington!—are incredibly ironic when we consider that, by and large, our fellow Western democracies do not operate under a two-party system.
    It’s also interesting to consider how a political scientist might have reacted to the election had an opposing “faction” carried the vote. If the United States had a President Sanders today, it’s likely that he would have found very little success in passing his policy proposals through Congress, due to the Republican majority in both houses. (If Clinton or any of the more moderate Republican candidates had won the primary and general elections, we’d likely see a similar result, although the victor’s “base” would have consisted of a more moderate population rather than fringe factions.)
    That we see politicians breaking from their party to “vote their conscience” is encouraging (in particular for members of the minority party) and demonstrates the ability of our representatives to “cool” our “factious tempers”.

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