Understanding Federalist 10: Analysis and Evaluation

April 9th, 2014

By Charles Cooper

Download the full lesson plan as a PDF

Get the related handout: Teacher key Federalist 10 flowchart

Objective | Students will understand the arguments set forth by Publius in Federalist 10 by reviewing and memorizing the document’s terms. Students will also scrutinize the text by mapping the argument sequentially in a concept (tree) map. Finally, students will judge the overall message set forth in Federalist 10 by writing a letter to the editor either as a supporter or a detractor of the message.

Length | This lesson can be broken into two 45-minute sections. If teachers are on block scheduling (classes that meet for an hour and a half), then they will be able to complete this lesson, with proper preparation, in one session.   

Common Core State Standards Addressed | Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.5 Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 11–12:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Materials | Copies of Federalist 10 (PDF) for each student, legal-sized sheets of paper for student groups or online flow chart creators if technology is available, Teacher key Federalist 10 flowchart

Teacher Background Information

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the penname Publius. Publius Valerius Publicola (died 503 BC) was one of the first republican statesmen of ancient Rome. He helped to overthrow the last king of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, and to establish the Roman Republic. Later, when the people of Rome began to mistrust him for flaunting his power and riches by building his home on a well-known landmark, he tore down his house and rebuilt it on lower lands.

The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays written by Publius with the goal of convincing the pivotal states of New York and Virginia to ratify the new U.S. Constitution, drafted after the failure of the Articles of Confederation. Federalist 10 (written by Madison) is perhaps the best known of the essays. It continues the discussion of a question first broached in Federalist 9 (written by Hamilton): how to address the destructive role of faction in popular government (that is, a political society where the people rule).

As defined by Madison, a faction is a number of citizens, whether a majority or minority, who are united and activated “by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” It is important to note that Madison does not suggest that all political groups (for example, political parties) are factions. Rather a faction is a group of citizens with interests that are contrary to the rights of others or the interests of the community as a whole.

The tendency to form factions is deeply woven into human nature, Madison argues. It is an outgrowth or consequence of people being born with different physical and mental capacities. To remove the causes of faction, there are only two options: destroy the liberty that allows for differences of opinion or give every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests. The first cure is worse than the disease, and the second is neither desirable nor possible.

Property rights originate from the diverse faculties and abilities of men, and the protection of these rights is the first object of government. But the resulting “various and unequal distribution of property” is also the cause of the oldest and most common form of faction. The rich and poor, creditors and debtors, have different interests from one another. Madison feared that these various economic factions might band together and attempt to subvert the law to promote their own interests. In a democracy, where the poor are more numerous, they might plunder the wealthy few. Alternatively, the rich might use their political power to exploit the poor.

This analysis leads to a dilemma: How can self-interested individuals administering governmental powers be prevented from using those powers to destroy the freedoms that government is supposed to protect? Madison warns against relying on impartial and “enlightened statesmen” to solve the problem. We must assume that less disinterested leaders will sometimes occupy the seats of power. Thus, a “system” of government is needed to take the place of enlightened individuals. In this system, no man should be a judge in his own plight. People who judge cases of which they are a part cannot be trusted. The system of government must act to limit the power of all players and, thereby, limit the power of the government itself.

How can government address the problem of factions? If the causes of faction cannot be removed, Madison argues, then we must try to control the negative effects of faction.

Minority factions can be controlled by the majority, and are thus not a threat to civil society. However, if a faction is or becomes a majority, it can threaten the legitimate rights of the minority. Majority faction, then, is the biggest threat to popular government. The rest of Federalist 10 addresses the need to control majority factions.

The solution is not to be found in direct democracy, Madison warns. A “pure democracy”—where every citizen gets to vote on every issue—is especially susceptible to majority faction. In order to work, direct democracies must be small, making it easier for a majority faction to arise and to influence government.

This leads Madison to his solution to the problem of faction: republican government. Republican (or representative) government has two advantages: 1) Representatives can help to “refine and enlarge the public views,” and 2) Republics can be larger than pure democracies, making it more difficult for a majority faction to emerge.

This latter solution (called the “enlargement of the orbit” in Federalist 9) is Madison’s most novel argument. By “extend[ing] the sphere” to “take in a greater variety of parties and interests,” republican government makes it less likely that any one faction will achieve majority status and power.  (In other words, the solution for the problem of faction is the multiplication of factions.) A large republic is harder to subvert or tyrannize than a smaller one. A large republic will also be more economically diverse. Factions therefore proliferate. With so many differing and varied interests, no one group of people will be able to overtake the others. Instead, large republics are governed by fleeting and loosely adhering majorities.

A number of advantages result from this enlargement of the orbit:

  • A larger population makes it more difficult for a corrupt candidate to woo a large number of voters by devious means.
  • A more expansive country ensures that local or statewide biases do not spread to other parts of the country.
  • A large number of representatives, from different parts of the country, and who are held accountable by frequent elections, will have a difficult time conspiring together to the detriment of the people they represent and the country as a whole.

In sum, under this new system of government, “ambition [is] made to counteract ambition” (Federalist 51). As the editors of WSPWH write:

Political struggle will be moderated not by moral and religious instruction aimed at making citizens more moderate and virtuous, but instead by the moderating effects of multiplicity and the requirements of effective commercial activity. By design, America’s greatest bulwark against the danger of majority faction is the large commercial republic and competition of rival interests in pursuit of gain and personal advancement.

What assumptions about human nature inform this ingenious solution? Why is heterogeneity preferable to homogeneity, and what, if any, might be its defects or costs? What sort of human character—with what sorts of passions, virtues, and vices—is produced by a large commercial republic? The Anti-Federalists, who opposed the large federal union, held that freedom can be experienced and preserved only in small communities, in which citizens know one another, are like-minded, and actively participate in public life. Might they have been right? Does our federal system, through its division of authority among national, state, and local powers, manage to secure the advantages of both bigness and smallness? What should we think today about the relation among commerce, freedom, and stability?

Class Activity

Warm-Up (10 minutes) | Students will spend a timed three minutes addressing the following prompt: To how many different groups or possible factions, defined by common passions, opinions, or interests, do you belong?  Give examples, like male/female, region, race, religion, ethnicity, favorite sport, and so on.  Ask students to rank these groups from “most important” to “least important” according to their own views. Which ones do they identify with the most? Why? Have your students trade papers with a partner. Students will read their partners’ responses. 

Give students two minutes and have each write down how many potential “factions” (according to Madison’s definition) he or she shares with his or her partner. Also ask them to identify areas where they do not overlap with their fellow classmates. 

Finally, spend five minutes leading a whole-class discussion. How many groups are present in the class? Does the entire class belong to the same group or hold a common belief that all share (e.g., love of country or freedom, for example)? Where do these similarities and differences originate? How might a potential tyrant or ambitious politician play on these similarities and differences? What danger might this represent to the nation if no common ground is found?

Teachers should then provide context to students by delving into the background information on the Federalist Papers, in general, and Federalist 10, in particular. 

Examining the Primary Source (35 minutes) | Break students into a few groups. Have each group tackle a few paragraphs, moving from the beginning of the paper to the end. Students should do a quick scan of their part of the document with a highlighter, pen, or pencil in hand. Students should read through their section of the paper and make note of words that stand out or may hinder comprehension. Come back together and discuss the terms that they made note of as well as the following key terms:

  • Faction
  • Republic
  • Democracy
  • Impulse of passion or interest
  • Latent
  • Enlightened
  • Zeal

Students should still be in their sequenced groups. Give each group a legal-sized sheet of paper, or larger, to make a flow map of Madison’s argument. (If technology is available, you might replace the sheets of paper with online flow chart makers, such as Padlet.com or Prezi.com, an online presentation resource). The first paragraph describes the crisis of the Articles of Confederation and the resulting infighting between the states. This serves as an introduction to the problem of faction that Madison will address, and helps create a sense of urgency that compels us to take the solutions offered by Madison seriously.

Each group should be an expert in their portion of Federalist 10. Their sectional flow maps of Federalist 10 will be put together with the other groups’ sections so the entire argument is mapped (alternatively, if students are able to, or if you have enough time, you may want each group mapping the entire Federalist 10 essay and comparing their results afterward). Taking the first paragraph as an introduction, the flow chart should start with the second paragraph, which defines “faction,” and branch out from there. It should end with the republican form of government as the solution to faction. Students should not read each paragraph in minute detail. They should keep in mind the key points of each passage and fit that into their flow map.

When complete, flow maps should be organized on a wall so they can be viewed and presented.  With teacher guidance, students should present one group at a time with an eye to the sequential argument. Does the flow map, indeed, flow? Is there a logical sequence behind the essay? Is the argument convincing? Why or why not? Is Madison, himself, an agent of a faction? How can you tell?

Among the questions you will want to answer are:

1. What is a faction, according to Madison?

2. Madison suggests that factions may be based on passions, on interests, and on opinions. Explain the differences, giving an example of each.

3. What is the most common and durable cause source of faction, according to Madison? Is this cause prevalent today?  Explain your response.

4. Explain the two ways Madison proposes for removing the causes of faction and the two ways of remedying the mischiefs of faction. Explain the challenges that lie in each proposal. 

5. Why is majority faction a serious problem for popular government?

6. Why is the “republican principle” better at controlling the effects of a minority faction or a majority faction?

7. Why is an extensive republic with more factions better than a small republic with few factions?

8. Explain what is unique about the republic proposed by the Constitution. Why does Madison regard it as well suited to control the effects of faction? How is it, in his words, “a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government”?

Analyzing a Primary Source (45 minutes) | Warm Up – Using the flow maps created earlier, students should be prepared to take notes and answer questions:

1. What were the historical circumstances of the Federalist Papers being written?

2. Why were New York and Virginia targeted by the Federalist Papers?

3. Would Madison agree with this statement: Might makes right?  Explain.

4. Why would Madison reason with the American people in this manner (i.e., publishing essays in a newspaper)? Why not simply gather supporters and overpower the opposition?

5. Why does Madison employ a seemingly distrusting rhetoric?  How does this further the cause of his message?

6. (Assuming you’ve covered the Declaration of Independence) Federalist 10 seems to take the history of democracies into account when offering a solution to the present problem. How does this correlate with the conceptions of natural right and the need for limited government in the Declaration of Independence? 

7. Is Madison’s argument that the root of faction is found in human nature persuasive?  Why or why not?  Are there modern examples of this?

8. Can human nature be changed to allow for a more positive or enlightened foundation of government to be established?

9. The surprising solution that an increase in factions (along with frequent elections and the expanded scope of our republic) is the solution to the problem of faction catches many first-time readers off guard. Is this really the only solution to the problem? Have we, hundreds of years later, found a better answer to the problem of faction? If your answer is yes, what is it or what might it be?

10. Shadows of this “low but solid ground” of mistrust of faction can be seen in our system of checks and balances, frequent elections, recalling elected officials, and federalism. It seems to work well for government. Does this distrust of power in our government institutions also trickle down and poison the cultural or social structure of society? If so, in what way(s)?

11. Does technology and the ability to contact and organize people quickly through social networking help to make our “extended republic” a little less extended? Does it subvert Madison’s argument or strengthen it?

This final discussion question will lead to an activity. Give students the remainder of class time to update Federalist 10 into modern language. Have students “report” back to Madison giving evidence of the successes and failures of the Federalist 10 solution in modern times. What has worked and what hasn’t worked concerning its thesis? Does expanding faction through an extended republic and containing it via frequent elections, a larger population, and representatives still work? 

Students don’t actually have to act out or film the assignment, but if an extra credit assignment or extension assignment is needed you might suggest the following:

1. If Madison were to attempt the same scheme today, what would it look like? Where do you see big divisions in our society that may be problematic to the future of our republic?

Have students use modern media to replicate Federalist 10. Remember, the Federalist Papers were a series of essays. How would that translate into today’s world? Would it be a commercial, a song, an infomercial, or something else? Who would pitch the argument? Who would the audience be? What tone (formal, informal) would be used? Which of the key terms mentioned above would need to be translated? How would Madison’s complaints and solutions be translated to today?

If technology is available, have some groups reinterpret Federalist 10 taking advantage of the following resources:

Exit Ticket (5 minutes) | Fully address the following prompt: Federalist 10 attempts to find a solution to the friction that naturally occurs in all societies by building upon “low, but solid ground.” In your estimation, did they succeed? Please fully explain your answer by matching one example from the text with one historical or current event.  

About the Author | Charles Cooper is the recipient of the 2012–13 Northwest ISD Teacher of the Year, 2012 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and 2011 Outstanding Educator of North Texas (North Central Texas College) awards. He is a high school and college government course instructor who incorporates philosophy, technology, and humor into his lessons whenever he can.

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