Browse our archive of original historical documents on the themes of this book:

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- Women and the Right to Vote

- Women and the Family

- Was the Founding Undemocratic? The Property Requirement for Voting

- Poverty and Welfare

- Immigration and the Moral Conditions of Citizenship

- Afterword: Liberals and Conservatives Abandon the Principles of the Founding


Home > Document Library > Was the Founding Undemocratic? The Property Requirement for Voting > Remarks on Mr. Jeffersonís Draft of a Constitution

Remarks on Mr. Jeffersonís Draft of a Constitution

James Madison
October 15, 1788

[Madisonís concern about class warfare between rich and poor led him to favor a House of Representatives elected by the people at large, and a Senate elected by property owners. — TGW]


Electors. The first question arising here is how far property ought to be made a qualification. There is a middle way to be taken which corresponds at once with the theory of free government and the lessons of experience. A freehold or equivalent of a certain value may be annexed to the right of voting for Senators, and the right left more at large in the election of the other House. Examples of this distinction may be found in the Constitutions of several States, particularly if I mistake not, of North Carolina and New York. This middle mode reconciles and secures the two cardinal objects of Government, the rights of persons, and the rights of property. The former will be sufficiently guarded by one branch, the latter more particularly by the other. Give all power to property; and the indigent will be oppressed. Give it to the latter and the effect may be transposed. Give a defensive share to each and each will be secure. The necessity of thus guarding the rights of property was for obvious reasons unattended to in the commencement of the Revolution. In all the Governments which were considered as beacons to republican patriots and lawgivers, the rights of persons were subjected to those of property. The poor were sacrificed to the rich. In the existing state of American population, and American property, the two classes of rights were so little discriminated that a provision for the rights of persons was supposed to include of itself those of property, and it was natural to infer from the tendency of republican laws, that these different interests would be more and more identified. Experience and investigation have however produced more correct ideas on this subject. It is now observed that in all populous countries, the smaller part only can be interested in preserving the rights of property. It must be foreseen that America, and Kentucky itself will by degrees arrive at this state of society; that in some parts of the Union a very great advance is already made towards it. It is well understood that interest leads to injustice as well when the opportunity is presented to bodies of men, as to individuals; to an interested majority in a republic, as to the interested minority of any other form of Government. The time to guard against this danger is at the first forming of the Constitution, and in the present state of population when the bulk of the people have a sufficient interest in possession or in prospect to be attached to the rights of property, without being insufficiently attached to the rights of persons. Liberty not less than justice pleads for the policy here recommended. If all power be suffered to slide into hands not interested in the rights of property which must be the case whenever a majority fall under that description, one of two things cannot fail to happen; either they will unite against the other description and become the dupes and instruments of ambition, or their poverty and independence will render them the mercenary instruments of wealth. In either case liberty will be subverted; in the first by a despotism growing out of anarchy, in the second, by an oligarchy founded on corruption.

[From Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, ed., The Foundersí Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1:650.]


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