David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment's influence on James Madison and The Federalist.

James Madison, framer of the Constitution, contributor to The Federalist, and fourth President of the United States, was one of the Founding Fathers and great men of American history. Like most prominent figures of history, the origins of his philosophy came from extraordinary teachers and exposure to radically different forms of thought. This paper seeks to examine the influences that the Scottish philosopher David Hume exhibited upon Madison throughout his early political career, especially in certain Federalist Papers.

James Madison, Jr. was born March 5, 1751 into one of Virginia's leading families. His parents, though socially prominent in the northern Virginia county in which they lived, were not as politically active as Madison himself later came to be. 1 However, the circumstances surrounding his family, upbringing, education, and heritage gave him a foothold which enabled him to move in the correct circles of pre-Revolutionary America. These factors may partially explain his great contribution to the development of the theories embodied in the Constitution.

James Madison himself was "endowed with an extraordinary intellectual accomplishment." 2 At the age of eleven, he discovered The Spectator. Seventy years later, in his autobiography, he related that it was a work, "peculiarly adapted  to inculcate just sentiments, and appetite for knowledge, and a taste for the improvement of the mind and manners." 3 The Spectator, Addison and Steele's masterpiece, sought reform in Augustan England by writing scathing essays on various issues and individuals in London society. There is no doubt that this work formed the base from which Madison, along with Hamilton and Jay, attempted, through the Federalist Papers, to cull public interest and concern for the new Constitution and formulate the framework of government.

The education of James Madison was somewhat unlike that of his local contemporaries. His first school experiences were obtained through the Scotsman Donald Robertson. He instilled in Madison the classic languages and the concept of learning being not simply a duty, but an adventure. Robertson himself was "a product of the Scottish Enlightenment at its peak." 4 Madison's later tutor, the Reverend Thomas Martin, was a learned Presbyterian from Princeton. He came down from New Jersey to "carry the blessings of Presbyterianism to Anglican Virginia." 5 He found in Madison an able and willing pupil. It was at Martin's urging that Madison attended Princeton, then called the College of New Jersey, instead of the expected College of William and Mary.

It was at Nassau Hall at Princeton that Madison was further  indoctrinated into the great theorists of the Scottish Enlightenment. Although Scottish social science had penetrated into the major institutions of higher learning in pre-Revolutionary America, nowhere was it studied more intensely than at Princeton. 6 The institution's president, Dr. John Witherspoon, proved to be a great influence in the life of not only James Madison, but in a generation of men who formulated the beginnings of a nation.

Witherspoon was probably the most influential teacher in the history of American education. His pupils included a president and vice-president of the United States, twenty-six senators, twenty-nine members of Congress, twelve state governors, fifty- six state legislators, and thirty-three judges of whom three sat on the Supreme Court. 7 It was in his moral philosophy class that the works of the major Scottish theorists were widely read and studied; Witherspoon's teachings became a great inducer of Madison's political thought.

The Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century enabled such philosophers as David Hume, Francis Hutchinson, Adam Smith, and others to conceive "the bold and noble dream of reducing politics, economics, law, and sociology to a science." 8 Their vision was to inspire reformers to "reshape political, social and economic institutions progressively so as to bring them into harmony with nature's divine plan which would guarantee liberty, equality, and happiness to all men." 9 Of these philosophers, Hume was to have the greatest impact upon Madison in forming Madison's own political thought as presented in the essays which became part of The Federalist.

The Scottish system rested on one basic assumption: That there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations, The same motives always produce the same actions; the same events follow from the same causes... 10  David Hume, thus, elaborated the basis of a science of human behavior. According to the historian Douglass Adair, "The most creative and philosophical disciple of the Scottish school of science and politics in the Philadelphia Convention was James Madison." 11

Hume's influences upon Madison have been noted by more than one historian. In Irving Brant's tremendous six volume work on
Madison, he notes, "Madison's political philosophy did not grow in a vacuum. Thought, study , observation, and experience united to produce it...From David Hume, who saw that social conflicts were infinitely more complex than Aristotle thought them to be, came the idea that stability could be attained by balancing class
against class, [and] interest against interest..." 12 This is furthered by the idea of the eminent historian Adair's opinion that there existed "a more general influence of Hume's essays on the style, organization, [and] even the length of the Federalist papers." 13

Of all the essays which Madison authored for the Federalist, none is more famous than No. 10. For all of its fame, there are three major points from which historians have found Hume's philosophical influence a major matter. It is in Madison's notions of faction and the avoidance thereof, of political parties which are a result of faction, and his theories of a republican form of government, that the voice of Hume can be heard in the background. Yet, some dissenting views of Madison from Hume's ideas on faction provide an even greater opportunity for a comparison through contrast.

Adair is convinced that Madison used the work of Hume entitled "Parties in General" to prepare a survey on faction through the ages to introduce his own study of factions likely to form in America. Madison's definition of faction was best stated by him in his tenth Federalist paper:

Hume, in his essay "Of Parties in General", makes a distinction in two parts when he calls some factions "personal" and others "real". "Personal" factions, says Hume, are "predominantly based on personal friendship or animosity among those who compose the factions." 15 Hume's definition of "real" factions is "predominantly based on what he calls `some real differences of sentiment or interest'" 16 Furthermore, Hume theorized that among "real" factions, their emphasis is upon interest, principle, or affection.

Madison seems to have combined the three-part Humean distinctions within "real" faction by "limiting factions based on interest only to those based upon economic interest." 17 Adair believes that he "consolidated Hume's two-page treatment of `personal' factions and his long discussion of parties based on `principle and affection' into a single sentence." 18 This very important sentence reads:

While James Madison compressed the greater part of Hume's essay into one, albeit long, sentence, he "greatly expanded the quick sketch of the faction from `interest' buried in the middle of the philosopher's analysis." 20 Yet, as the historian Adair concludes, one passage in No. 10 is strikingly close to the Humean original, "When Madison distinguishes the faction arision from attachment to leaders from one based on attachment to persons, the divisions seem meaningless until one sees how slavishly Madison has copied Hume, who made a special category for the Scottish Jacobites'
attachment to persons" during the political uprisings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 21

Madison, like Hume, accepted a theory by which factional differences might be caused by three different sorts of diversities among men. These were "differences of opinion, differences of passion, and differences of interest". 22 Moreover, like Hume, Madison believed "that these differences were regarded as independent causes of factional difference." 23 Thus, although Madison's view did diverge slightly from that of Hume, his influence in the definition and division of faction is highly evident.

Just as David Hume's speculations on the "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth" stimulated James Madison's thoughts on factions, so did this essay, in the words of Adair, "lay the germ for Madison's theory of the extended Republic." 24 In this essay, Hume addressed the problem of the easily founded and unstable small republic. He insisted that "the `common opinion' that a large country could not be a republic (`commonwealth') was a `falsehood.'" 25 Hume's analysis had "turned the small-territory republic theory upside down: once a free state could be established in a large area, it would be stable and safe from the causes of faction." 26 His plan also included a way for the government to be based on the consent of the people and, at the same time, stave off the danger of factions.  Madison traced out the origins of Hume's plan in an essay entitled "Of the First Principles of Government" and, as Adair noted, "suddenly saw that in this instance the troublesome corporate aggressiveness of the thirteen American states could be used to a good purpose." 27 However, Madison did choose to differ slightly from Hume in the formulation of his theory as pertaining to the Americans.

Hume's idea of indirect election and the division of the nation into 10,000 parishes is countered by Madison's opposition to indirect elections. He believed that "people's views are to be `refined' by representatives that they elect directly." 28 Hume's favoritism towards small election districts also finds itself at odds to Madison's defense of large election districts.

Thirdly, Hume's plan recommends "a kind of federalism, with local matters handled locally and each level of government electing the next." 29 But political theorist David Epstein insists that the Federalist No.10 "not only did not suggest indirect elections, it does not exactly recommend a `federal system'." 30 Madison himself insisted, "insofar as the states will be controlled or replaced by the central government, they will remain defective, small republics." 31 Fourthly, Hume does not argue as Madison does that "the national diversity will make an impulse for the success of malign proposals less likely in the majority." Madison notes that "a `mulplicity of sects' is asecurity for `religious rights'. 32

A third theory of government about which David Hume's philosophy played a significant role in Madison's formulation of ideas concerns political parties. Parties, in the mind of both Madison and Hume, and also in practical application, are a form of faction. According to Wills in his book Explaining America, political parties, when at their best, are "loose arrangements for building coalitions, gathering support from different groups. They are a principle channel of `minority's rule.'" 33 However, to Madison, party was faction. For him, the trouble with any party is "that it is, literally, part. It is only part of the sovereign people...so it should not speak for the whole." 34

There is clear evidence that Hume's essay "Of Parties in General" was a big influence on Madison when the latter wrote Federalist No. 10. In discussing political parties, Madison merely replaced the word "faction" with "party". Thus, Madison's description "found parties based on political or other practical opinions." 35 In his writing, Madison asserts the fact that "factions can rally minority or majority support, and with the commonsense judgment that majority factions will be harder to control." 36 His remedy for the situation is representation. However, this representation "must be conjoined with another principle-extent of territory." 37 Here, Madison harks back to Hume's defense of the possibility of the success of a large federal republic. Clearly, Hume played a major influence in the development of this theory.

With the teachings of the Scottish Enlightenment and David Hume secured in his mind, Madison went on to become one of the greatest figures of American statesmanship. Although Madison shared Hume's disregard for a mere closet theorist, his greatest contributions resulted from just such closet study of theoretical works. 38 After being a major contributor at the Annapolis Convention, he went on to the Philadelphia Convention where he molded what has become the foundation for American government. Ironically enough, for all of his political activity, Madison was a consistent opponent of revisonary conventions. Yet, the authorship of the Virginia Plan, which revised the The Articles of Confederation, is attributed to him. 39

The Federalist Papers, of which No. 10 was examined in this paper in concordance to Hume's influence, was co-authored by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with Madison. However, while Hamilton and Jay were strongly in favor of the proposed national government, neither was "as well equipped as Madison to justify and elaborate many of the unexpected provisions that the convention had written into the Constitution. Jay was not at Philadelphia at all and Hamilton himself only attended the opening and closing sessions." 40

Yet, what began as simply a few letters bearing the pseudonym "Publius", came "to encompass their [Hamilton, Madison and Jay] collective talents as they extended them in new forms of argument." 41 For the Federalist Papers, according to one expert, were "neither designed nor originally understood as a neutral account: the papers were part of vigorous debate." 42 Thus, the newly ratified Constitution was defended in the months following the Philadelphia convention of 1787.

In conclusion, this paper attempts to look at the origins and patterns which formed Madison's political thought and theories. His structure of government as detailed in his contributions to the Federalist Papers have existed to this day in the Constitution, now one-hundred and two years old. Had it not been for the Enlightened thinkers such as Hume in Madison's background, the American view of political theory would be very different.


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Jennifer Payne
Last Revised August 24, 1998

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