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Madison v. Hamilton: The Battle Over Republicanism and the Role of Public Opinion


This article examines the causes of the dispute between James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s. Though Hamilton initially believed that Madison's opposition to the Federalist administration was probably motivated by personal animosity and political advantage, in later years he concluded what Madison had long argued: the controversy between Republicans and Federalists stemmed from a difference of principle. For Madison, republicanism meant the recognition of the sovereignty of public opinion and the commitment to participatory politics. Hamilton advocated a more submissive role for the citizenry and a more independent status for the political elite. While Madison did not deny to political leaders and enlightened men a critical place in the formation of public opinion, he fought against Hamilton's thin version of public opinion as “confidence” in government. In 1791–92 Madison took the Republican lead in providing a philosophic defense for a tangible, active, and responsible role for the citizens of republican government.

Corresponding author
Mary and Kennedy Smith Fellow, James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540, and Associate Professor of Political Science, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085.
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FlaumenhaftHarvey. 1992. The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

MatthewsRichard K. 1995. If Men Were Angels: James Madison and the Heartless Empire of Reason. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

MillerJoshua. 1988. “The Ghostly Body Politic: The Federalist Papers and Popular Sovereignty.” Political Theory 16 (February): 99119.

OzoufMona. 1988. “Public Opinion at the End of the Old Regime.” Trans. Lydia C.Cochrane. The Journal of Modern History 60 (Supplement): S1S21.

PageBenjamin I., and Robert Y.Shapiro. 1992. The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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