The Federal Protectionism Of Minority Rights In The United States

2398 words - 10 pages

Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 First Inaugural Address for President of the United States of America, stated, “All . . . will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression (Inaugural Addresses, 1989).” Jefferson was not alone in this thinking. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others understood that the unbridled power of the majority, which is the life-blood of a democracy, could be easily used to ignore or degrade the rights of a minority group. The framers of our nation ...view middle of the document...

194).” In this statement, Madison makes it clear that majority rule is important, especially in the context of Congressional voting; minority interests should not be confused with minority rights. Madison’s views of pluralism, defined as “the theory that all interests are and should be free to compete for influence in the government, resulting in compromise and moderation,” ensure that the ebb and flow of the electoral tides balance the interests of groups and parties (Ginsberg, et al, p. 403). But Madison reiterates that minority rights must be protected from “a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker (Hamilton, et al, p. 358).”
The greatest evidence that Madison believed that federal protection for minority rights must be upheld is his introduction of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, presented to the First United States Congress in 1789. Attacking Madison’s proposal in Federalist number eighty-four, Hamilton, called the Bill of Rights “not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but [they] would even be dangerous (Hamilton, et al, p. 535).” The ten amendments were later ratified and added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Solidifying the basic rights to freedom of speech, rights to bear arms, protection of search and seizure, among many others, these amendments laid the groundwork for the protection of individual rights, specifically those in the minority or weakened by society. Ironically, these Bill of Rights pertained only to white property holders when introduced, although the document does not specially state this claim; it took further Constitutional Amendments and the intervention of the Supreme Court in important constitutional law cases to eventually extend these rights to all citizens.
Thomas Jefferson was equally passionate about the oppression of minority rights by majority rule. In a letter to Madison in 1789, Jefferson wrote, “What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals (Classically Liberal, 2008).” Jefferson, like Madison, respected the fundamental aspect of majority rule as the foundation to democracy, but was concerned with the majority overtaking the minority leading to oppression. In his 1816 letter to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, Jefferson reiterates this thought, “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society (Classically Liberal, 2008).”
The founder’s thoughts are echoed from across the Atlantic Ocean as well by a French visitor to America and an English thinker. In his book Democracy in America published in 1835, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence...

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