You can thank James Madison for former President Donald Trump’s conviction this week in New York state court: it happened only because of Madison’s concept of federalism. The fact that state and federal actions can proceed in parallel against Trump in the first place flows from Madison’s design for our nation as a federated republic of sovereign states. But regardless of how you feel about the former president’s New York trial, you should be grateful for Madison’s vision of dividing power between state and federal governments, because it’s the reason Trump’s various legal matters can reach divergent results. Absent federalism, this would be an all-or-nothing scenario, and that would be worse for liberty—his and yours.

Federalism came about when Madison solved the problem of how to get two sovereigns to rule the same land in harmony by rejecting part of the premise: his solution to the conflict inherent in joining two sovereigns was allowing them to conflict. He anticipated that conflict was unavoidable and decided to exploit it rather than futilely attempting to evade it. The advantage he saw was to individual citizens who benefit from the clash of governments in two ways: having dual sovereigns better protects liberty by allowing citizens oppressed by one government to seek refuge with the other, and slowing the policy-making process by having two policymakers is often to the individual’s benefit.