James Madison on “Parchment Barriers”
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James Madison on “Parchment Barriers”


Even the “Father of the Constitution” knew that a separation of powers wouldn’t be enough to limit power of the federal government. James Madison recognized that even with a good framework, government couldn’t be trusted to follow the rules given to it. In Federalist #48 he wrote: “Will it be sufficient to mark, with precision, the boundaries of these departments, in the constitution of the government, and to trust to these parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power? But experience assures us, that the efficacy of the provision has been greatly overrated; and that some more adequate defence is indispensably necessary for the more feeble, against the more powerful members of the government.” Madison was saying that we need something outside the federal government to enforce the constitutional limits on federal power. Why? He referred to “parchment barriers.” Governments don’t limit their own power. And Documents simply cannot enforce themselves.

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