Did James Madison Say “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy”?

James Madison

A debate has surfaced over whether James Madison ever said “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” in the comments section a previous article on the origins of the phrase “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”

That quote is widely attributed to Madison, but I haven’t been able to find a source. Wikiquote lists the quote as “unsourced” and suggests that it’s an inaccurate and out of context paraphrase of the following quote: “Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.” However, Wikiquote does have a listing for this quote (emphasis mine):

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

Wikiquote cites a speech by Madison at the Constitutional Convention as printed in Max Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787.

I searched Google Books and found that the “foreign enemy” quote turns up numerous times, but couldn’t find any source (there were a couple books that had footnotes or endnotes for the quote, but the pages were missing from Google Books).

The only place I found any attribution to the quote was this PBS.org page which claims he wrote it in the Federalist Papers. You can find a copy of Madison’s contributions to the Federalist Papers here. I searched through them, but neither of the above unsourced Wikiquotes turn up.

I also searched the Library of Congress’ James Madison Papers collection. Nothing.

Conclusion

If Madison said or wrote “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy,” no one seems to know when or where. That doesn’t mean that Madison never said it, but it definitely calls it into question. However, “The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home” is pretty close.

1 Comment

  1. My research also could not verify the quote. I did find this quote which is similar.

    Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.

    Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1798-05-13); published in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. II, p. 141

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