The Tyranny of the Majority
“Which is better — to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
— Rev. Mather Blyes (1706-1788)
Does it really matter if the instrument curtailing liberty is a monarch or a popularly elected legislature? This conundrum, along with the witty version of it put to a Boston crowd in 1775 by the little-known colonial-era preacher with the famous uncle — Cotton Mather — addresses the age-old question of whether liberty can long survive in a democracy.
Blyes was a loyalist, who, along with about one-third of the American adult white male population in 1776, opposed the American Revolution and favored continued governance by Great Britain.
He didn’t fight for the king or agitate against George Washington’s troops; he merely warned of the dangers of too much democracy.
No liberty-minded thinker I know of seriously argues today in favor of a hereditary monarchy, but many of us are fearful of an out-of-control democracy, which is what we have in America today. I say “democracy” because there remain in our federal structure a few safeguards against runaway federal tyranny, such as the equal state representation in the Senate, the Electoral College, the state control of federal elections, and life-tenured federal judges and justices.
Of course, the Senate as originally crafted did not consist of popularly elected senators. Rather, they were appointed by state legislatures to represent the sovereign states as states, not the people in them. Part of James Madison’s genius was the construction of the federal government as a three-s
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