Quotes Supporting Principle Twelve

From The American Ideal...


[As to Bill of Rights] Repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State. In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current . . . In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents. (Emphasis per original.)

James Madison (Letter to Jefferson, in Paris, 1788)

Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people, by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations: but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes. If we consider the peculiar situation of the United States, and what are the sources of that diversity of sentiment which pervades its inhabitants, we shall find great danger to fear, that the same causes may terminate here, in the same fatal effects, which they produced in those republics. This danger ought to be wisely guarded against.

James Madison (Va. Ratifying Convention, 1788)

It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil . . . [The existence of "an hereditary or self-appointed authority" superior to the majority, to the people; or, in the alternative, the existence of so many conflicting interests among the citizens as to constitute a safeguard against any dominant majority likely to become oppressive] . . . The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from, and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

The Federalist (No. 51, by Madison)


But in every distinct house of these states, the members are equal in their vote; the most ayes make the affirmative vote, and most no's the negative: They don't weigh the intellectual furniture, or other distinguishing qualifications of the several voters in the scales of the golden rule of fellowship; they only add up the ayes, and the no's, and so determine the suffrage of the house.

Rev. John Wise (Regarding church organizations.) (A Vindication etc., 1717)


[The Constitution was designed to remedy existing injustices perpetrated] by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

The Federalist (No. 10, by Madison)


The idea of a constitution, limiting and superintending the operations of legislative authority, seems not to have been accurately understood in Britain. There are, at least, no traces of practice conformable to such a principle. The British Constitution is just what the British Parliament pleases . . . To control the power and conduct of the legislature, by an overruling constitution, was an improvement in the science and practice of government reserved to the American States.  (Emphasis added.)

James Wilson (In the Pa. Ratifying Convention, 1788)


If a majority are capable of preferring their own private interest, or that of their families, counties, and party, to that of the nation collectively, some provision must be made in the constitution, in favor of justice? to compel all to respect the common right, the public good, the universal law, in preference to all private and partial considerations. And that the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world. To remedy the dangers attendant upon the arbitrary use of power, checks, however multiplied, will scarcely avail without an explicit admission of some limitation of the right of the majority to exercise sovereign authority over the individual citizen . . . In popular governments, minorities constantly run much greater risk of suffering from arbitrary power than in absolute monarchies . . . [Majority in control of government manipulates public sentiment to suit its aims].

John Adams ("On Government," 1778)


I believe . . . that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society . . .

Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Dupont de Nemours, 1816)

I have seen with deep concern the afflicting oppression under which the republican citizens of Connecticut suffer from an unjust majority. The truths expressed in your letter have been long exposed to the nation through the channel of the public papers, and are the more readily believed because most of the States during the momentary ascendancy of kindred majorities in them, have seen the same spirit of oppression prevail.

President Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Thomas Seymour, 1807) (Note: "republican" refers presumably to the Republican Party, which Jefferson founded and headed, in opposition to the Federalist Party.)

[As to the all-powerful legislature in Virginia] All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the republic of Venice· As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others . . . [But in forming, in 1776, new State governments (by mere acts of legislatures) the legislatures were made all-powerful and have dominated the Executive and the Judiciary] . . . And this is done with no ill intention. The views of the present members are perfectly upright . . . [But before long it will be different] . . . Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess, or may assume. (Emphasis per original. )

Thomas Jefferson ("Notes on the State of Virginia," 1782)