James Madison: Protecting the Rights and Possessions of the Minority from the Passions of the Majority
“[I]n all cases where the majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger.”
Comment: Today we consider the words of James Madison on the subject of minority and majority rights. James Madison is known as “the Father of the Constitution,” because his Virginia Plan provided the basic framework and guiding principles of the Constitution. He was also, as an elected Representative in the House, sponsor of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
Madison’s words serve as a guiding light in times of doubt and uncertainty about the role of government in our Republic. Today, it would seem that those who believe government should be used to provide all manner of services and “standards of living” for its citizens are on the side of the angels. They are “are united by a common interest or passion” to expropriate more of the earnings of its citizens in order to institute social programs for all. However, as the majority gains the unimpeded ability to confiscate the income of some of the citizens, who are defined as “wealthy,” in order to pay for these services, a very basic principle is violated. The government ceases to protect the rights and possessions of a certain group of people, who are called “rich,” and begins to use its force to seize more and more of what they have. This is a problem, because as soon as this is done to the “rich,” the argument is effectively made – and won – that government may seize half (or more) of the possessions of all citizens.
One potential solution to the problem of allowing an unrestricted majority to pluck the rights and possessions of a minority is to move toward instituting a flat tax. This would bring simplification of the tax code and the protection of upper income couples, while introducing neutrality into the tax system towards the earnings and rights of both the minority and the majority.