James Madison on Wealth in Government

What did the “Father of the Constitution” think of the moneyed gentry and their relation to government? [emphasis mine]

The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.

—James Madison, 1787 (during the Constitutional Convention)

A bit of historical perspective/translation: when he’s referring to “landholders” he means the common home-owner, farmer, etc., not a feudal lord leasing out parcels. And for “innovation”, he’s referring to the change from a nation for/of/by the people to one that is something different. It’s a warning that as the population grows and if the wealth of the nation isn’t mostly vested in the common folk, then the nature of the government will be threatened. It was, then, important that the wealthy few be held in check for the protection of (aka: “against”) everyone else.

I have a feeling the Madison is spinning in his grave like a gyroscope in its gimbal this election season.

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