After the undeniable failure of the Articles of Confederation, it was clear to the Founding Fathers and the rest of the country that a new, stable, and strong central government was imperative to the country’s further existence. Faced with the challenge of creating such a government were men such as James Madison, author of Federalist Paper #10. This paper, along with the many others produced by Madison along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, laid out the groundwork for how the government would be set up and function. The tenth of these papers focused on the issue of factions, something Madison feared could destroy government and liberty. To address this problem, Madison stated that a democratic republic was necessary, rather than a true democracy. Although as Madison predicted faction would inevitably form, the new system of government was effective in reducing their detrimental effects. In two domestic and two foreign events in America’s history Madison’s theories are still accurate.
A foreign event that will most certainly always have a lasting and large effect on America is the Vietnam War. When President Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961, a communist movement in North Vietnam had begun to spread to South Vietnam. President Kennedy, and most of the US for that matter strongly feared an idea known as the domino effect. This theory states that if one country falls to communism it puts others close to it at a huge risk as well. Many feared that just like dominos, countries might fall one after another to a type of government the US thought of as dangerous and undesirable. Most of the country took well to the US intervention initially, however as tensions and violence increased, along with the deaths of American soldiers, public resentment for the Vietnam War rose. Soon cries of, “Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” (Government and Politics) became commonplace. Representing this idea and the growing resentment were a faction of moderate and liberal senators, guided by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright. Just as Madison predicted, a faction had formed when a difference of opinion arose. As Madison stated, disagreements are inevitable, therefore, so are factions. However, many felt it was important that this faction be made powerless quickly. In undermining the Vietnam War, these people felt it was subversive of the US government and its efforts to free the people of South Vietnam from communism. The danger became all too clear when Fulbright, accompanied by senators John Sherman Cooper and Jacob Javits attempted to impede the president’s ability to make war. Now not only was this faction in dispute of a single event, it was now in direct conflict with a power almost 200 years old and listed explicitly in the constitution. These senators did manage to pass a law that made the President subject to more restrictions and more dependent on the senate. Some believe that Madison would have strongly disapproved of a faction being able to accomplish their goals. However, others would contend that this law did exactly what Madison stated was also important in American government: widening the scope. Madison stated that a republic would function well because it was large. By having so many people, groups or factions with bad intentions would never get enough supporters to accomplish their goals. The War Powers Act passed by congress helped to ensure that one man would not be able risk American’s lives. Congress would have to be informed of any military actions, making it less likely that the President would execute a risky decision. However, despite a positive legislative outcome, the results in Vietnam were mediocre at best. This combined with the different factions either supporting or opposing the war, contributed to many American’s losing faith and trust in their government.
A second foreign policy event that is still extremely controversial is the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Ayatollah Khomeini, the shah of Iran was diagnosed with lymphoma and asked to be treated by US doctors. Previously, he had denounced America as “The Great Satan” and “Enemy of Islam” (U-Shistory.com). However despite his hateful remarks, he was admitted to Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City for treatment. This turned out to be the “straw that broke the camels back” (U-Shistory.com). On November 4, 1979, 500 Iranian students attacked the American Embassy in Tehran. The students took 61 Americans hostage, holding them for 444 days. Current President Carter opened up negotiations, but refused the Iranian’s demands. The crisis soon became a nightmare when a failed rescue mission resulted in the loss of American soldiers. The failure of returning the hostages to American soil combined with high inflation and unemployment was making Carter’s presidency a bad one. However, in October of the election year, in which Ronald Reagan was running against the current president, Carter saw an opportunity to save his presidency and the election as well. New negotiations were looking more hopeful, and it became a strong possibility that the hostages would be freed prior to the polls opening. The Reagan Camp however, obviously did not want this “October Surprise” to happen. It is alleged that William Casey, director of the Reagan campaign, and members of the CIA met secretly in Europe with Iranians to negotiate the hostages’ release. The release however, was not to be made until after the election. This group or faction of people was preoccupied with their own self-interests. In an attempt to gain a tactical advantage in a presidential election, they possibly delayed the release of hostages who had been taken prisoner for more than a year. These allegations do seem to be true, because within minutes of Reagan winning the election, the hostages were released. Madison was certainly right that these events were the result of “unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations” (Federalist Paper #10). Whether or not the delayed release influenced the election significantly will never be completely known. However, what is certain is the risk just a few men were able to take with many American lives. Although Madison’s republic was not able to detect and deter the faction before it accomplished its stealthy and unwholesome goals, it cannot exactly receive blame here. The faction was obviously not well known or public. Instead it was as secretive as it was odious. Surely, had it been discovered and made public, its goals would have never been realized.
Other examples of Madison’s theories and their role in American history can be found in two domestic events. The Watergate scandal is perhaps one of the most corrupt events to take place on American soil. President Richard Nixon, along with other people within his staff, participated in burglary, wiretapping, campaign violations, and sabotage to secure their future power. The most horrendous crime among many others was a break-in into the democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex. The culprits included James W. McCord, Jr., a coordinator for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP), and E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a White House consultant. As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated, it became more and more clear that Nixon was involved with a cover-up. To many, this fact came as no surprise. In May 1969, President Nixon ordered wiretaps on seventeen people, including newsmen and White House aids. His explanation when confronted was that they were for “national security purposes”. In July 1970, Nixon supported the Huston plan, which called for increased domestic intelligence gathering. President, Nixon’s policies were those of repression, designed to eliminate any threats to his ideas or his presidency. Those protesting the Cold War were arrested and detained more frequently, and surveillance of these groups was increased.
Throughout the investigation into Watergate, Nixon was extremely uncooperative. The recording system he set up in the White House became a target of investigators, who requested to view the tapes. Nixon refused, and later when he was ordered to release them he attempted to give them an edited transcript instead. Some tapes were missing huge portions of them, which Nixon blamed on mechanical failure. What became evident was that Nixon was a member of a faction of his own. He and his staff, including those at the CRP were intent on staying in power. Just as Madison predicted in Federalist Paper #10, this faction had violated the liberty and freedoms of others, and wreaked havoc upon government. Nixon and his supporters were concerned with nothing but their drive for power. They raided private offices, attempted and succeeded at stealing private and confidential information, and engaged in repressive tactics to silence those that disagreed with them. Their activities put at risk one of the primary aspects of democracy, open and free elections. However, Madison’s theory that a democratic republic would be able to ameliorate and perhaps eradicate the effects of a faction was also correct. The nation was large enough that it stopped the spread of Nixon’s corruption. The amount of legislators was not small enough that they could all be convinced of Nixon’s innocence, nor was it too big in that the prosecution and investigation into Nixon was disorganized and impossible. Madison made the same distinction in Federalist Paper #10, and would have been pleased with the intense and relentless persecution of the faction made possible by an effective amount of legislators. Instead, government officials, along with the help of two fearless reporters, were able to discover the stealthy and illegal activities of the Nixon camp. The discoveries they made had a large effect on future elections, and paved the way for more democratic and moral behavior. Financial reforms were made that dictated the maximum amount contributors could give to presidential campaigns. Additionally, a main focus in the following elections was the character of the candidates, something many should have considered when they voted for Richard Nixon.
James Madison’s theories also relate strongly to another domestic issue, Reaganomics. This economic policy is named after the first person to employ this policy, Ronald Reagan. The policy consists of four basic principles. It provides tax deductions to support investment and production, cuts in spending to decrease the size of government, the eradication of federal laws restricting business expansion, and a concrete monetary system to control inflation. During his presidency, the economy did rebound from a recession. However, whether or not Reaganomics is still a viable or beneficial option is still a subject of hot debate. Many people contend that while the economy did bounce back and have a sustained amount of peacetime prosperity, the poor did not enjoy the benefits as much, if at all. In fact, the share of income going to the poorest 80% of the population fell to the lowest level since the mid 1940’s. Another problem arose with the deregulation of many businesses. In the mid 1980’s the savings and loans industry collapsed due to corruption and fraud, while in the aviation industry many airlines failed as well. Another issue, besides whether or not the policy was effective, is whether Reaganomics was just a part of the conservative agenda. It certainly fit well in that it supported less interference in government in addition to a decrease in government size as well.
As the republicans instituted their plan, which consisted of tax cuts, it meant that government revenue would be naturally decreased as less money flowed in from citizens. To compensate for the reduced revenue, congress was required to reduce spending. In this situation we have two different and competing factions trying to accomplish different goals. Their refusal to work together and do what was needed to execute the theory properly resulted in problems for the country. Because of the lack of reduction in government spending, many argue that Reaganomics was never really tried. However it is easy to tell that liberals in congress were overjoyed that the economic policy failed. “Now that Reaganomics seems to be failing, there is a window of opportunity for liberals,” says Lester Thurow, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The world is willing to listen (Triumphant but Divided).” This shows that democrats were waiting for the policy to fail, and had no interest in attempting to make it succeed. When the country is in dire need of economic growth, it seems an astounding example of partisanship on the part of liberals. While some were hoping the policy would fail, some economists were not surprised at all. Walter Heller of the University of Minnesota, economic advisor to President Kennedy and President Johnson, said, “There was enormous over promising and self-delusion. We are now seeing the consequence of paying too high a price in terms of unemployment and lost production in the battle against inflation (Triumphant but Divided).” Perhaps the republicans were promising too much, or the failure may be due not to flaws in the policy itself but to the disagreement between the two parties. However as with any idea there is bound to be disagreement, even when one party is searching for another viable option. “There doesn’t seem to be any alternative, does there? There surely isn’t enough of a Democratic consensus to constitute a coherent alternative,” he says. “I don’t think the Democrats know what to do about inflation (Triumphant but Divided).” However, critics argue that perhaps the democrats do not want to come up with a solution. As another example of the “factious spirit” that Madison was so critical of, liberals seem to have benefited from letting Reaganomics defeat itself. After all this helps to cast the republicans in an even more negative light. In the mid 1990’s House Speaker Newt Gingrich noted that Reaganomics was more political than economic. “(It has) relatively little to do with economics and a great deal to do with human nature and incentives (Supply-side Economics).” Unfortunately, this is just another example of factions and groups with special interests getting in the way of democracy and an efficient government. However, the situation depicted above did not last forever. American citizens and the economy were not left out to dry, and solutions were found by government and citizens alike. A wonderful aspect of our government is the ability for the people and grassroots movements to rise up and challenge what the government is doing, or perhaps what it is not doing. A stagnant or economy in danger of collapsing makes people across the country try to find solutions. Luckily, these people far outnumber those who would like to stand back and “watch the fire burn”.
Through these four events in America’s history one can easily see the relevance Madison’s theories still have today. By analyzing these events it is evident that they still play a role and often happen the way Madison predicted. Madison was absolutely correct when he stated that factions were inevitable. After all, different opinions and a passion for those ideas will never cease to form. Luckily however, Madison and the men who created our government were smart enough to discover ways in which the effects of a faction can be minimized. This is necessary because factions tend to interfere with citizen’s liberties, and can at times destroy governments, notably true democracies. A democratic republic however, is more resilient to these effects and tends to eliminate them by having a body of legislators make laws and decisions, rather then a whole country collectively. This helps to reduce the spread of malicious and hurtful ideas, and effectively quells the storm before it can do much harm. In the Vietnam War, one can see the dangers presented when senators undermine a valiant effort to promote democracy. In the Iranian Hostage Crisis, it is obvious how risky it can be to bargain with American lives just to sway the results of an election. The Watergate Scandal demonstrates how a republic can stop the violence of a faction, especially one with personal, corrupt, and subversive goals. Finally, Reaganomics demonstrates an economic debate, requiring people to work together to solve problems, rather than separating into factions at the expense of America’s money. It is clear therefore, that Madison’s theories still have strong ties to America, and its people.
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