James Madison’s Prescient Warning

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Republicans want to raise taxes on the poor to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. CEOs are using taxpayer funded bailouts to rake in obscene salaries and bonuses. The wealthy fund play-for-pay think tanks that spit out position papers that support their benefactors’ desire to get wealthier. Certain media enterprises push messages such as corporate tax holidays and corporate deregulation that enhance the wealth of the few at the expense of the many.

Professor G. William Domhoff calculates that 1% of the nation’s population owns 43%, and 10% owns 83%, of the nation’s financial wealth. This is the scenario that James Madison warned of, in an essay published in the New York Post.

Madison wrote:

We are free today substantially but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. A republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when that day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions.

The quote is included in the 1972 book entitled The Great Quotations: The Wit and Wisdom of the Ages. The book was written by George Seldes who spent thirty years researching the book for accuracy.

Madison was a firm believer in meritocracy. In Federalist no. 57, he wrote:

Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession, is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people.

When the wealthy use their money and power to influence governmental policy to enhance their wealth and power, meritocracy is replaced by a sense of entitlement. Paul Krugman wrote about the Angry Rich “who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away.” In The Wail of the 1%, when the privileged class loses its privileges, they get angry.

Madison’s words ring true today and we ignore his warning at the Republic’s peril. The “best elements in the country” cannot be found in the field of Republican candidates nor in the current occupant of the White House.

H/T: Rick Ungar.

62 thoughts on “James Madison’s Prescient Warning”

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.

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  3. Thanks to all of you who have posted links, articles, letters and videos on this thread … I have learned a great deal.

  4. From OWS web-page;

    Reader-submitted Form Letter for Politicians.

    by Occupy Wall Street on Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 5:10pm

    Dear Elected Official:

    I appreciate all of the decisions you’ve made to support those who are not high earning CEOs and the other folks that make up the 1% that hold most of the wealth in the US. The middle class makes up the majority of citizens in the US. In response to Occupy Wall Street protests, pleaseinform me of any legislation you are willing to sponsor to address the following issues:

    1.Failure to hold corporate and bank executives accountable for activities that lead to the need for a bailout. The continued and exorbitant bonuses/salaries should be illegal until all bailout funds have been paid and then regulated.
    2.The stripping of employees’ right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
    3.Foreclosures processed and completed without the production of the original mortgage.
    4.The consistent outsourcing of labor and reduction in US workers’ healthcare and pay.
    5.The court approval of corporations having the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility
    6.The spending of millions of dollars on corporate legal teams that find ways to excuse health insurance commitments/contracts
    7.The continued perpetuation of inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
    8.Corporations determining economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce
    9.15.Donations of large sums of money to politicians who are supposed to regulate the corporations (conflict of interest)
    10.The covering up of oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit
    11.The corporate control of the media which purposefully keeps people misinformed and fearful
    12.The blocking of alternate forms of energy which keeps the US dependent on oil
    13.The perpetuation of colonialism at home and abroad
    14.The poisoning of our food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
    15.Profits made from the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals.
    16.The increasing level of student debt on education loans
    17.The selling of American’s privacy as a commodity
    18.The use of the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press
    19.The deliberately refusal to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit
    20.The blocking of generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit
    21.The acceptance of private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt
    22.The participation in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas
    23.The continued creation of weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contract

    I hope that you will be willing to sponsor legislation to rectify some of these problems and any others that have created gross inequities in our country. I also hope that you will facilitate changes in our economic and political systems that will create more equity with regards to tax rates. The continued funding of overtime for police officers can be halted with your immediate action.

    I am willing to meet to discuss any of these issues. Please let me know of any way I can assist.



    Phone number

  5. rafflaw,

    Are you sure people wouldn’t like to buy used food? There wouldn’t be a tax on it according to Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.

  6. Swarthmore,
    I would imagine that the 999 plan will die a quick death once people realize who Cain is taxing and who he is not taxing.

  7. Elaine M.1, October 15, 2011 at 11:12 am


    and Blouise1, October 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm ; yes, I hope so!

    and I am much drawn to this; “No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession, is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people.”

  8. “If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise

    and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and

    the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly

    guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter,

    will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.”

    James Madison, 1792 “Property”

    In other words political and economic freedom are required for human liberty. One or the other is not sufficient for freedom.

  9. “That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the

    property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is

    violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of

    the rest. A magistrate issuing his warrants to a press gang, would be in his

    proper functions in Turkey or Indostan, under appellations proverbial of the

    most compleat despotism.”

    James Madison, 1792 “Property”


  10. Maybe the Oxford Dictionary can clear this up, but surely Madison was not talking about pathogens when he referred to “germ” but to the essence of the seed from which the plant grows. Madison’s prescience was about people and power, not bioscience.

  11. “I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty.”

    Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, July 1785

    “The right of property is the guardian of every other right and to deprive a people of this, is in fact to deprive them of their liberty.”

    Arthur Lee, An Appeal to the Justice and Interest of the People of Great Britain, in the Present Dispute with America, quoted in James W. Ely, The Guardian of Every Other Right: A Constitutional History of Property Rights, Third Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)

    “In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be

    equally said to have a property in his rights.”

    James Madison, 1792 “Property”

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