American Political Science Review

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

a1 Princeton University and Villanova University


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.

c1 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.