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Madison Vs. Jefferson: On The Issue Of Constitutional Conflict In The Federalist Papers

1398 words - 6 pages

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson discuss the issue of constitutional conflict, specifically the encroachment by any one branch of the government on another. Jefferson proposes a method for resolving such a conflict between the Judicial, the Legislative, and/or the Executive branch of government. His proposal states that ``whenever any two of the three branches of government shall concur in opinion, each by the voices of two thirds of their whole number, that a convention is necessary for altering the constitution, or correcting breaches of it, a convention shall be called for the purpose" (Madison, No. 49 310).Jefferson has two reasons for making such a proposal. First, no one department can ever be a judge in such a constitutional conflict, because none of them "can pretend to [have] an exclusive or superior right of settling the boundaries between their respective powers" (Madison, No. 49 311). Secondly, appealing to the people to resolve constitutional conflicts is a reasonable course of action, since our republican form of government derives its power and legitimacy from the people. Who better to be the judge the central government, than the highest power in the land, the people? Therefore, without resorting to a convention made-up of the people, such encroachments could never be deterred nor redressed. Only they have right or ability to pass judgment and enforce their ruling.Madison strongly objects to Jefferson's proposal. One such objection concerns the effects repeated appeals would have on public's overall opinion of the government. The concern is that by frequently displaying the faults, conflicts, corruption, helplessness, and ineffectiveness in government, the people would no longer trust and respect their government. An opinion held in private and isolated from society is powerless and poses little or no danger to the established authority. However, such an opinion has the propensity to gain momentum and grow at an exponential rate. The fear is that this opinion could lead to instability, as more and more people adopt this viewpoint. Further, instability is likely to result, simply because the general populace is ruled by their passions, rather than "the voice of an enlightened reason" (Madison, No. 49 312). Thus, Madison reasons there is little to be gained and much to be lost by "disturbing the public tranquility by interesting too strongly the public passions" (Madison, No. 49 312).Another important objection of Madison, to Jefferson's proposal, is that the "decisions which would probably result from such appeals would not answer the purpose of maintaining the constitutional equilibrium of the government" (Madison, No. 49 312). That is, by trying to resolve constitutional questions by appealing to the people, the executive and judiciary branches of government, being relatively small and disconnected from the people, would be at a distinct disadvantage to the legislature.To substantiate the previous...

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