Federalist 51 is a daunting prospect for interpretation. It is short and concise, as are most of the Federalist Papers, but it seems to change subject from its initial discussion of partition of powers in the government to methods of preventing the tyranny of the majority by the creation of a large number of competing factions. This is however not the case. The theme of partitioning powers is constant through the paper, even in the second section when it appears otherwise. This apparent disconnect is accounted for by the fact that the people and by extension the factions which they form are internal to the government. That is to say, the partition of powers laid out in the constitution is complemented by the partition of powers among the various factions. When one reads Federalist 51 with this understanding it becomes a more coherent document.
There are two expedients which Madison proposes to maintain the partition of power as proposed in the constitution. Both rest upon the supposition of competition between people being the normal state of affairs. The first of these, which is a natural outgrowth of the structure of government already, is to give each department of government power separate from the other departments. This will check the various departments because those who make up the departments will be unwilling to give up power and thus will fight usurpations by the other departments. The second method is to have so many factions as to make any one of them unable to gain a majority and in doing so impose tyranny upon the minority. This is to be achieved by sheer size of territory and number of people included under the federal government, which is to be of such a size and include so many diverse groups that it cannot help but be composed of a number of factions too great to allow for a majority.
Part of the problem with the first provision, in terms of Federalist 51, is that it begs the question, in a way. The question Madison puts forth is specifically this:
“To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution?”[Madison, Federalist 51]
The question, essentially, is what will make sure that the different branches of governments do not encroach upon each others power. Yet, later we find that it is in fact the very partitioning of power among the branches that will ensure the separation of powers. Or, to be more specific, the natural political ambition of man given the context of a government so organized will keep each branch in check. As Madison says: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” This is problematic in the context of Federalist 51 because, though Madison sees government as “the greatest of all reflections on human nature,”[ibid.] he also says that the expedients are to be internal to the governmental structure, and it is a great leap to say that government is a reflection of human nature and mean that human nature is interior to government structure. Part of the problematic aspect of Federalist 51 is that the question with which it begins is not really the question it wishes to ask. Or, if it is the question it wishes to ask, it is not the question it ultimately answers. The question it answers is what structural aspects are necessary to keep government from becoming tyrannical.
It takes as its one of its suppositions that men are flawed, or “are no angels,” and uses this to explain why the partition of power in the method laid out will stop power from accruing in one branch, which would lead to tyranny. Moreover, the second provision, sheer size as a way to increase the number of different factions, seems to be wholly outside the discussion of separation of powers. Indeed, the discussion in the paper switches tracks in the last paragraph, from a discussion of separation of power, to one of how to stop a majority in the social realm from seizing control and tyrannizing the minority. However, the opposite is the case. While it is true that the discussion of factions does not specifically mention the idea of separation of powers it is a manifestation on the social level of said separation. In the same way that the government structure is formed to play each branch off each other, in a formalized way, having a large republic, and thus a great number of factions, causes a similar competition for power. This competition does not seem to be a part of the government because it is prior to the government. These factions are not formed by the government, with possible exceptions, but are those groups for which the government is formed.
“Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.”[Madison]
In this quote Madison connects Liberty and Justice. Moreover he notes that even strong factions, analogous to the strong man, desire the protection of a government because of “the uncertainty of their condition.” This evokes the earlier claim that government is a reflection of human nature.
Despite the fact that the factions appears to be external to the government structure, it is not. In the words of Abraham Lincoln it is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” That is to say that because it is a republican form of government the people are not external to the government, they are the constituents of the government. This may be a difficult claim to support, but without this view to connect the two sections of the paper it would seem that Madison simply decided to switch topics, which, while possible, would be unlikely. This does appear to contradict the language which Madison uses, specifically when he says: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” This appears prima facie to rule out the idea fore mentioned, but it does not. To say that a government must first control the governed is to say in this context that it must bind people together into a governed mass, it must form a polity. Then to say that it must control itself means that that polity must constitute itself in such a way so as to minimize the possibility of tyranny. So the great number of factions are in fact internal to the government structure, by nature of being composed of men. Madison uses similar language of submission to government in numerous places, in the earlier quote about the weaker and stronger places, but he never explicitly rules out the people as an internal aspect of the government.
Even in the Constitution, which Madison defends in his paper, the preamble says that the people “ordain and establish this Constitution,” and the Constitution then lays out the way in which power is to be distributed, that is that way in which the polity has chosen constitute itself. It does not put itself above the people. It establishes the method by which the people will organize themselves so as to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The power rests with the people, they have merely organized themselves in such a way as to secure their liberty. There is further evidence of this interpretation when Madison says “by creating a will in the community independent of the majority.” This would mean that it would be possible to have a government outside of the people, a monarchy or tyranny, but Madison rejects this.
A response to this interpretation would likely be that though Madison does not clearly say that the people are not the government, the language he uses clearly implies it. This is a valid criticism, but given the two possibilities: one, that Federalist 51 has the constant thread of forming a government using mens’ ambition as a method to ensure liberty and that said government includes the people; or, two, that Madison switches to an obliquely related topic in the second half, almost seeming to ramble on. Though one could suppose it is not impossible that Madison merely had to fill column inches in the newspaper in which the Federalist Paper was first printed, the first option seems more likely.
So we see that we must accept that when Madison speaks of the partition of powers he refers not only to the plan laid out in the Constitution, but also to the masses of people. This is because the masses of people are in fact a part of the government. The reasoning for this partition is because men are naturally ambitious, and thus the form of government must follow this fact. Despite the fact that he does not clearly state that the people are part of the government, it must necessarily be true is we are to accept Federalist 51 as a coherent argument.