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  • James Madison: Father and Defender of the Constitution

    George Washington has a monument; Jefferson has a memorial; and even James Buchanan has a spot in Washington, D.C., dedicated to his legacy. But there’s no slab of marble in honor of James Madison.

    Yesterday was James Madison’s birthday, so today let us then remember his legacy as the father of our Constitution.

    Madison conceived the basic outline of the Constitution before the Constitutional Convention even met. He came to the Convention steeped in the histories of ancient republics, well-versed in the political theory of the ages, and prepared with a plan for the new government. The Convention took an oath of secrecy but did not remain shrouded in mystery, because we have Madison’s detailed notes.

    After the Constitution was drafted, Madison teamed up with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist, which in Jefferson’s words was “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” The key phrases we associate with the Constitution—federalism, checks and balances, and the separation of powers—appear not in the document itself, but in the Federalist. It’s James Madison who writes, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” And Madison who concludes: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

    Once the new Constitution was implemented, Madison served in Congress. As chairman of the House conference committee on the Bill of Rights, he was the principle author. This position enabled him to look after a cause dear to him throughout his political career—religious liberty. Madison’s original draft of the First Amendment read: “the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship… nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed…” Though somewhat less expansive in its protections, the final version bears Madison’s mark: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Joe Loconte argues that thanks “largely to Madison, free exercise replaced toleration as the national standard for protecting religious liberty.”

    Madison is sometimes invoked as the father of nullification, too. But, as Christian Fritz expertly lays out, Madison may deny paternity. Madison maintained that single states lacked constitutional authority to nullify national laws. But interposition refers to various state actions designed to arouse public opposition, challenge federal actions, and ultimately change or stop the objectionable action. Through public opinion, protests, petitions, or even the state legislatures acting as an instrument of the people, the interposer would focus attention on whether the government’s actions were permissible under the Constitution. Though often confused with nullification, Madison’s understanding of interposition was consistent with the Constitution and encouraged states and citizens to remain vigilant against federal encroachment.

    We don’t need a slab of marble to remember James Madison. Instead, we have the Constitution that created the framework for ordered liberty and more than 200 years of stable, peaceful republican government. We have the Bill of Rights that singles out specific individual liberties that all Americans possess, especially the right to religious liberty. And, most importantly, we have his legacy on how to defend this document.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to James Madison: Father and Defender of the Constitution

    1. John says:

      "Nevertheless, a watchful eye must be kept on ourselves, lest while we are building ideal monuments of renown and bliss here, we neglect to have our names enrolled in the annals of Heaven."
      -James Madison

    2. bob says:

      You forgot Lincoln's war of aggression.

      It was not very peaceful or respectiful of the ideas advocated by Madison in the Virginia Resolutions.

    3. steve says:

      I agree. What a blunder to overlook the civil war. I can see that one reader's reaction is emotional. Of course, the civil war was not Lincoln's war of aggression. It is more correctly described as the end result of the failure of the founding fathers to deal with the ugly problem of slavery and all the associated economic implications. I was raised in the South and was brought up and nurtured with the "rightness" of the racism all around me but I was fortunate to have an angel mother who taught me that it was wrong. Later as a grown man I had the opportunity to have a beautiful black girl live in our house and learn what her world was like. I say, thank God for Lincoln's courage and perseverance.

      • bob says:

        "The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history…the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves."
        HL Mencken

        No emotion on my part.

        Lincoln wanted to save the Union.

        I favor the arguments of the Declaration of Independence.

        I favor liberty over union.

    4. Steven A. Sylwester says:

      The best way to honor James Madison is to improve the U.S. Constitution over time. Much can be done. Much should be done. What I mean by that can be understood by reading my various amendment proposals at: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2012/01/re
      or at: bit.ly/zPQ2MV

      Proposal #1: Supreme Court Gender Equality
      Proposal #2: Universal Health Care
      Proposal #3: Multinational Corporations Designated Foreign Nations
      Proposal #4: One Percent Ownership of Patents and Copyrights
      Proposal #5: Water, Sun, and Underground Natural Resources Management
      Proposal #6: Public Education
      Proposal #7: Certain Rights Regarding Obligations and Freedoms
      Proposal #8: Definitions of Law, Religion, and Judicial Limits

      Additionally, I have restated in Plain Sentence the existing Amendments II, IV, V, VI, and VII from The Bill of Rights, and also Article II, Section 1. [5] from the body of the U.S. Constitution.

      Please do not pass judgment on my proposals until you have read them all from start to finish. Trust me: you will be surprised by what you read.

      God bless America!

      Steven A. Sylwester

      • Citizenw says:

        I agree and would add this (even higher Priority) item:

        Proposal #1 Universal Suffrage Amendment (all we have now are several Amendments
        prohibiting denial of the vote on specific grounds of race, gender and age. We need an explicit affirmation that legitimate power flows from the consent of ALL the Governed. Re-read Article six of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, who was both an elder and mentor to BOTH Madison and Jefferson.

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