One possible solution is direct recourse to the people. That is Howie Carr’s preferred alternative. Howie, essentially, is so angry with the legislature that he thinks it should be blown up — in this case, by taking away most of its money.
For those 2,063,891 of you Massachusetts voters who last year refused to abolish the state income tax because it wasn’t the “responsible” thing to do, I have a question. Are you happy now, dopes? … [T]he payroll Charlies really picked your pockets this time, didn’t they? They’re handing out brand-new, six-figure jobs to all their friends and relatives, and you’re paying for it…. Thirty percent of us ask the other 70 percent of you: When are you people going to wake up?
But Madison has already thought of that. Madison considers in detail whether recourse directly to the people is a suitable remedy for the excesses of any branch of government (particularly the legislative). He concludes that it is not, because when appeals are made directly to the people,
[t]he PASSIONS, therefore, not the REASON, of the public would sit in judgment. But it is the reason, alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government.
That seems to me an apt description of Question 1. Its appeal was strictly to the “passions” of the people — “send them a message!” “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” (There’s a similar effort brewing now with respect to the sales tax, which appears to be taking the silly form of repealing it entirely instead of rolling it back to 5%.) Every sober analysis of the impact of Question 1 — that is, every appeal to “reason” — showed that it would be a disaster. Kudos, then, to the people of Massachusetts for proving Madison wrong to the extent that they voted down Question 1. But that doesn’t leave us with a remedy to the problem we face, since the questions presented to the people — Question 1, and the new one on the sales tax, for example — tend to be appeals to passion, not reason. And that’s no way to run a state.
Perhaps the most famous of the Federalist Papers is #10, Madison’s masterly exposition on “faction.”
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Madison was especially concerned about the ill effects of a faction that cannot be outvoted, seeing it as perhaps the most important question to be answered:
When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.
And — crucially for our purposes — he recognized that majority factions must be controlled if government is to be respected:
Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.
The rest of the paper is devoted to Madison’s explanation of why the structure set up in the Constitution is the best way to reach his desired result. Madison recognized that representative democracy, though necessary, was insufficient, because
[m]en of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.
The rest of the paper concerns the virtue of a strong national government, which is not directly relevant to our situation, save for the following observation:
[I]t clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, — is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it…. The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.
Thus, Madison foresaw that, even if a majority faction held sway within a particular state from time to time, the influence of that faction would naturally fade outside the state, and would therefore be unlikely to spread throughout the country.
What can we make of all of this? It seems to me that what has happened in Massachusetts is precisely what Madison feared most and sought to avoid on a national level. A faction — namely, the Democrats in the legislature — have total control of the legislative branch of government.