Finally, Jefferson’s image of a wolf being held by its ears can still evoke our sympathy, reminding us of the terrible tragedy of slavery. For Madison, however, republican government itself amounts to holding the wolf by its ears, in the sense that each of us may—and at some point will—be part of a majority faction that can easily devour those who stand in our way. In addressing the dangers of faction he gave special attention to faction based on race, calling it the basis of “the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” He insisted that future generations of Americans understand clearly the role that slavery played within our constitutional founding. If race-based faction was the most dangerous and repugnant form of this republican disease, it was not the only form. Madison also recognized that, “so strong is this propensity of mankind, to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions, and excite their most violent conflicts.”
Madison always reminds us that the most fundamental problem in republican government is our own nature. This is a hard lesson to hear, which is why Beard found it so shocking, and why Farrand sought to drown it out. Broadwater’s Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution succeeds in correcting Beard by allowing Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence to speak on their own terms. It is less successful in allowing Madison to speak on his own terms.
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