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The Madison Initiative


Photo © Julia Coffman

Whatever your political views, it’s hard to look at events of the past few years without concluding that democracy in America is in trouble. Surveys routinely find that most Americans think poorly of the federal government and in particular of Congress. Such frustration and mistrust do not bode well for our system of government.

James Madison warned against “the mischiefs of faction.” He and the other Founders designed a system of government built on representative institutions that are meant to foster negotiation and compromise. They understood that governing a nation as extensive and diverse as the United States would require leaders capable of reaching agreement among and on behalf of people and groups with different and often conflicting interests, beliefs, and agendas.

Willingness to compromise is in short supply at present, but we believe that philanthropy can and should play a role in helping to restore it and other essential attributes of democratic leadership. This conviction led us to launch the Madison Initiative. Our goal: to help strengthen the nation’s representative institutions so they can address problems facing the country in ways that work for the American people.

Reflecting its Madisonian roots, this Initiative calls upon us to join forces with other funders, civic groups, and leaders, in and outside of government, to restore pragmatism and the spirit of compromise in Congress; to reform campaigns and elections so they set the stage for problem solving; and to promote an informed and active citizenry.

Our approach is explicitly agnostic on particular policy outcomes. Indeed, to proceed otherwise would miss the point. The health of a representative democracy ultimately depends on whether its institutions are working in ways that most people find acceptable.

We know the journey will not be easy, and we recognize that making progress will take time. But we embark with a sense of cautious optimism—tempered by a healthy dose of modesty respecting our ability to produce change, and a willingness to learn and change directions as we proceed and events unfold.