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James Madison on Populism and Right and Wrong

There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore more needs elucidation, than the current one: that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong. Taking the word “interest” as synonomous with “Ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient, the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in the popular sense, as referring to immediate augmentation of property and wealth, nothing can be more false. In the latter sense it would be the interest of the majority in every community to despoil & enslave the minority of individuals; and in a federal community to make a similar sacrifice of the minority of the component States. In fact it is only reestablishing under another name and a more specious form, force as the measure of right; and in this light the Western settlements will infallibly view it.


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