James Madison
by
Jack N. Rakove

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 8, No. 9, 9/1/06

The young Madison

American Revolution

Articles of Confederation

Constitutional Convention

Bill of Rights

Party politics

Secretary of State Madison

President Madison

War of 1812

Homepage

The making of the man:

 

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  James Madison, one of the great public figures of the founding of the United States, was an intensely private man. Jack Rakove, in James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic, tells us that Madison wanted to be known only by the record of his public deeds. He took care to preserve his public papers, but his wife, Dolley Madison, destroyed their private papers after his death as he instructed.
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Madison excelled in his abilities to apply experience to knowledge and transform them into practical application.

  Madison is "the most original, creative, and penetrating political thinker" of the remarkable generation of the founding fathers, Rakove states. His public stature is secure, indeed.
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  Active in national politics from 1780 to 1817, he played key roles in efforts to ratify and amend the Articles of Confederation - in the adoption and ratification of the Constitution - the drafting of the Bill of Rights - the organization of the first opposition political party and now the oldest political party in the world - the initial controversies over Constitutional interpretation - and he was President during the nation's first major conflict as a sovereign nation.
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  Madison excelled in practical scholarship. Like Thomas Jefferson, he was a first rate scholar of the political histories and philosophy then available, but unlike Jefferson, he really excelled in his abilities to apply experience to knowledge and transform them into practical application.

  "Madison's distinctive contributions to the American constitutional tradition were first and foremost a reflection of his remarkable capacity to reason abstractly about fundamental problems of political life on the basis of lessons drawn from experience. - - - He sought to master the causes of events, yet he also worked hard, intellectually, to rise above the current of events to ponder their implications for the constitutional tradition he consciously sought to invent and secure."

  Unlike Jefferson, he was not a prisoner of republican theory. He was intellectually concerned with the practical development, reconsideration and application of republican concepts in light of experience with revolutionary period republican and constitutional politics.
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Enlightenment views were becoming commonplace throughout the colonies. For Madison, they also instilled an Enlightenment faith "in the capacity of reason to deal with human affairs."

  Madison was a product of the landed gentry of colonial Virginia - like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason. These were people who expected to govern. Like Washington, Mason and Jefferson, Madison was determined to play a positive role in government in the best tradition of the Aristotelian aristocrat.
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  Madison was the oldest child of the wealthiest landowner in Orange County in the Virginia piedmont. As a young man without direction, he was indulged, and when the Revolution called him to his life's work, his father fully supported him financially.
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  He was a serious student and received the best private schooling and tutoring available in the region. Ultimately, he attended the College of New Jersey - now Princeton University. Its president, John Witherspoon, had brought the Scottish Enlightenment to the school - the works of Frances Hutcheson, Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and David Hume. Enlightenment views were becoming commonplace throughout the colonies. For Madison, they also instilled an Enlightenment faith "in the capacity of reason to deal with human affairs."
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  He left college at 21 years of age in 1771 - more interested in books than plantation management. He feared that his delicate health would permit him just a short life - but he lived until 85 years of age. He felt intellectually isolated in his "obscure corner" of Virginia at Montpelier. When a college friend began reading law, Madison followed. His correspondence with this friend - William Bradford - provides us with much of what we know of Madison at this stage.
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The American Revolution:

 

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  Madison supported colonial opposition to Parliamentary taxation, but he remained uninterested in politics and unaffected by revolutionary fervor well into the 1770s. Only opposition to state establishment of a religion - in Virginia, the Church of England - aroused any political passion in him.
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How could a great and expanding empire so divide the powers of government as to secure both the general interests of the whole and the particular rights of its many parts?

  However, the Revolution came to Virginia - and to Madison - in 1774, when the port of Boston was closed in response to the Boston Tea Party dumping of cargoes of British tea. The Virginia Assembly in Williamsburg voted to support Massachusetts - its "sister colony" - and the royal governor of Virginia responded by ordering the Assembly dissolved. A rump session of the House of Burgesses promptly reconvened in Raleigh Tavern. Rakove explains the nature of the political dispute at this early stage of the Revolution.

  "What was ultimately at dispute in this controversy was the same issue that would preoccupy James Madison in the 1780s. How could a great and expanding empire so divide the powers of government as to secure both the general interests of the whole and the particular rights of its many parts? British leaders asserted that sovereignty -- the ultimate right to rule -- could not be divided. Together, Parliament and Crown were the supreme governing power, whose decisions the colonists had to obey. Against this view, the Americans struggled to develop a theory of federalism, to distinguish what Parliament could and could not do. When the British insisted that this was an impossibility, Americans were forced to deny that Parliament could rightly claim any authority at all."

More than a century of benign neglect from London prior to the imposition of the Stamp Act taxes in 1765 had resulted in the creation of a formidable ruling class in the colonies.

  Madison now began to display a serious interest in politics in his letters to Bradford. Madison was "a firm, even militant, Whig," Rakove notes. He favored immediate preparations for war even as efforts at negotiation continued. He noted with approval the rapid establishment of militias. He entered local politics and became a colonel in the local militia - in both capacities under his father's leadership.
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  Madison was elected as a delegate to the Virginia Provincial Convention - the colony's Revolutionary government - in 1776, at age 25. With battles already being fought and blood spilt, Rakove notes, "independence was becoming a question of timing more than policy."
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  The Virginia Convention voted on May 15, 1776, to instruct its Philadelphia delegates to propose a declaration of independence, to seek foreign alliances, and to complete articles of confederation to bind the colonies in a formal union. The Continental Congress at the same time called on the colonies to establish formal governments of a republican nature.
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  Madison was just a minor player during these events, but the experience of being present while the state's constitution was being drafted and enacted provided a first - priceless - lesson in legislative politics. The state convention was led by men like the experienced and savvy political leader Edmund Pendleton - the intellectual and moral leader George Mason - and the firebrand orator Patrick Henry. Virginia had sent as delegates to the Continental Congress the already prominent George Washington - the brilliant jurist George Wythe - the fervent patriot Richard Henry Lee - the more conservative Carter Braxton and Benjamin Harrison - and the radical reformer and gifted draftsman Thomas Jefferson.
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  More than a century of benign neglect from London prior to the imposition of the Stamp Act taxes in 1765 had resulted in the creation of this formidable ruling class in the colonies.

  "Whatever their rivalries and differences, these men shared the values of a political culture sanctioned by time and custom. They, their families, and their class had governed Virginia for a century; no group of leaders faced the ferment of revolution more confidently."

  The Virginia Constitution - drafted by Mason - was adopted on June 29, 1776. Although still too strong to suit Jefferson, it provided for weak governance. The members of both houses of the legislature would serve just single year terms, as would the governor, who was just an agent of the legislature's will.
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  The nation's first Declaration of Rights - drafted by Mason - appeared in the Virginia Constitution. Here, Madison made his first personal contribution. At his urging, the provision granting "toleration" of religious freedom was changed to "equally entitled." While Virginia retained its established church, the intellectual basis for disestablishment  had been accepted.
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Madison and Jefferson worked well together on the Committee on Religion, establishing a mutual friendship and collaboration that would last the rest of their lives.

 

Madison was appointed to an executive branch advisory council - the "Council of State" - and was soon exposed to the failings of weak governance - which were especially evident under wartime conditions.

  The convention met as the new Virginia House of Delegates in October, 1776. Jefferson - now a recognized Revolutionary political leader - was present. Madison and Jefferson worked well together on the Committee on Religion, establishing a mutual friendship and collaboration that would last the rest of their lives. The time was not yet ripe for disestablishment, but dissenters were exempted from the taxes that supported the established church.
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  For Madison, legislative politics was a positive experience, and he ran for reelection in April, 1777. However, the rough-and-tumble of 18th century electioneering was not so positive for the intellectual, bookish Madison, and he was beaten. He was appointed to an executive branch advisory council - the "Council of State" - and was soon exposed to the failings of weak governance - which were especially evident under wartime conditions.

  "The high idealism of 1776 had been muted. In the place of heady debates about constitutions and rights, the public agenda was now dominated by the mundane but urgent concerns of maintaining a war entering its fourth year with no sign of ending."

  The legislature met for only limited periods, and so inevitably delegated increasing authority to this executive branch advisory council (a process that would be repeated in the U.S. whenever republican governance faced wartime conditions). Madison was thus fully engaged in wartime efforts throughout 1778 and 1779 - a time when the logistical and financial capacities of the Continental Congress and the states collapsed and Britain brought the war to the Southern colonies. Paper monies had collapsed, and the ability to maintain the Continental Army was collapsing with the rampant inflation.

  "The two years Madison spent on the Council of State were thus an education in the realities of government. - - - Wrestling daily with the problems of maintaining the war effort, he came to suspect that virtue alone could not sustain the Revolution. As a member of an executive body charged with implementing the assembly's vague will, he began to recognize the limits of legislative supremacy."

The Articles of Confederation:

 

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  Appointment to Virginia's delegation to the Continental Congress at age 28 came at the end of 1779. The more influential political leaders from Virginia had had their fill of Philadelphia and the Congress and were back in Virginia. But Madison willingly grasped the opportunity to serve in national politics.
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  The Continental Congress was in considerable disarray by 1780. Aside from financial collapse, the Articles of Confederation - drafted in 1777 - was not yet ratified. Maryland insisted that states like Virginia with vast western territorial claims cede those territories to the Union so that land sales could provide a painless way to pay for the war. The quality of the members had declined precipitously. There were bitter disputes over foreign policy.
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  With no personal obligations in Virginia and ample financial support from his father, Madison spent the next four years in Philadelphia while other members came and went. There were rarely more than three dozen delegates in attendance. Madison served with diligence and intelligence, inevitably acquiring respect and influence.
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  Ratification of the Articles of Confederation became his top concern. When New York ceded its western territories, the Virginia delegation shifted to support of cession. This was enough to gain ratification of the Articles, although various disputes delayed for several years the approval by the Virginia Assembly of the cession of its western territories. The Articles took effect on March 1, 1781.
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  However, the Confederation Congress was still impotent. Its writ extended only to foreign policy and major questions of national security. It lacked the power to collect its own taxes or coerce state compliance with its acts. Madison realized that confidence in "the justice, the good faith, the honor, [and] the sound policy" of the state assemblies had been mistaken. They would not - indeed, by this time, many of them could not - fulfill their wartime obligations.
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  Madison was selected as a member of a small committee charged with devising means to execute the powers of the Confederation Congress under the Articles. One measure that he supported was the use of naval vessels to blockade the ports of any state that did not respond to Congressional requisitions. Congress - wisely - rejected this proposal.
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  The victory at Yorktown greatly relieved Congress of its wartime pressures. However, its general financial pressures remained. The Union was still essentially bankrupt. Philadelphia merchant Robert Morris - appointed as the first superintendent of finance - was thwarted in his efforts to reform Union finances. He was supported by Pennsylvania delegates Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson and Thomas FitzSimons and New York delegate Alexander Hamilton. He did, however, succeed in chartering the privately financed Bank of North America, whose notes would provide a stable currency.
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  Madison was not a member of this group, but he did generally support the proposed financial reforms. However, he was one of a small group that opposed the bank.
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  Fears of mutiny in the Continental Army for lack of pay and supplies was widespread. In 1783, a mob of unpaid soldiers would force the Congress to move out of  Philadelphia and reconvene in Princeton. Madison was intensely active with the Morris forces in crafting compromise proposals and supporting a system of national taxation. Facing stiff opposition in both the Congress and in the states, the proposal was limited to duties on commerce - to be collected for the Union by the states - and requests to the states to levy additional taxes, of their own choosing, for national purposes.
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However, logic alone, Madison had learned, was not enough to overcome the vested interests or occasional zealotry of those in opposition.

  The Paris Peace Treaty was ratified April 15, 1783. Madison was by now a mature, experienced political leader, well connected to the men of influence both in Philadelphia and Virginia. While lacking in flamboyance and rhetorical fire power, Rakove notes that his speeches "were models of thoughtful argument that combined vigorous advocacy of his own ideas with an exhaustive review of alternative positions." However, logic alone, Madison had learned, was not enough to overcome the vested interests or occasional zealotry of those in opposition.
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  Now, while the rest of the Revolutionary leaders returned to private pursuits or served ambassadorial terms abroad, Madison contemplated his own uncertain future. Back in Montpelier at the end of 1783 for the first time in almost four years, he still showed little interest in plantation management. An effort at courtship had ended unsuccessfully.
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The ringing preamble of the Religious Freedom Act condemned every effort to enforce uniformity of religious opinion and introduced a second clause affirming absolute rights of conscience and  a third paragraph that declared that while the act was legally revocable, its repeal would be "an infringement of natural right."

  Madison was elected to the state Assembly in Richmond in April, 1784. He spent the next three years in routine state politics, with trips to Philadelphia, New York and throughout the northeast between sessions. He accompanied the Marquis de Lafayette on a wide-ranging trip.
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  In Richmond, Madison was prominent in supporting responsible policies that would strengthen the Union, permit repayment of prewar debts to British merchants as provided in the Peace Treaty, and reform of the courts and old statutory provisions. Chief among his opponents on many issues was the formidable Patrick Henry.
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  The legislative code reform bills - 118 of them - had been prepared by Jefferson - now ambassador to France. Only 36 were successfully enacted, but one was the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. It disestablished the state church.

  "In its bold claims for liberty of thought and religious freedom, the act stands as one of the great monuments of the American Enlightenment. Its ringing preamble condemning every effort to enforce uniformity of religious opinion introduced a second clause affirming absolute rights of conscience and  a third paragraph that declared that while the act was legally revocable, its repeal would be 'an infringement of natural right.' With justifiable pride, Madison informed Jefferson that its passage had 'extinguished for ever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.'"

  This is precisely a battle still to be fought in Muslim lands. The interminable Muslim against Muslim hatred and bloodletting - as well as that with the non-Muslim world - is the inevitable result of permitting government officials and militant clerics to establish "religious truth."

  Madison opposed a fervent effort to reestablish the Episcopalian Church as the state supported church. He provided a pseudonymous Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. The establishment effort was defeated. Madison was learning to use "sober ideas, carefully presented" to influence public opinion and legislators.
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  Efforts at criminal law reform and judicial reform were unsuccessful. Horse rustling remained a capital offense. By the end of the 1786 session, Madison's persistent and wide ranging reform efforts had made so many opponents that he had lost most of his influence in the Assembly. However, the experience had continued his most useful education in practical politics and he remained optimistic about future possibilities.
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Most important, Congress had to be freed from reliance on the states for its funds.

  Efforts to strengthen the Union through state action had also been unsuccessful, and sectional rivalries were threatening to tear it apart. After all, there was no longer a war that created a need for the Confederation.

  • There was a growing threat that the Union might dissolve into two or three regional confederacies.
  • Congress needed authority to frame and implement the nation's foreign policy. State and sectional interests trumped the national interest (as they sometimes still do).
  • When Spain closed the port of New Orleans, delivering a major blow to western commercial interests, Congress was unable to respond. Sectional interests were tempted to strike separate deals with Spain. Northern commercial interests insisted that a trade treaty with Spain take precedence over the opening of the Mississippi River.
  •  The states refused to implement the Treaty of Paris provisions that required payment of prewar debts and permitted British subjects and American loyalists to sue for recovery of confiscated property. This provided Britain with an excuse to retain its western forts and support tribes that were hostile to western expansion.
  • Congress had no leverage with which to negotiate the opening of British Empire ports to American merchant vessels, and it was also unable to provide American manufacturers with the protection they sought from competition from British goods.
  • The states persistently failed to live up to their obligations to the Union. Most important, Congress had to be freed from reliance on the states for its funds. "Until Congress escaped its near bankruptcy, proposals to enhance its authority seemed pointless," Rakove points out.
  • Congress had to have its own capitol. It wandered from Philadelphia to Princeton to Annapolis to Trenton to New York - pulled hither and yon by state and sectional rivalries and its own lack of funds.

The Annapolis convention:

 

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  A convention in Annapolis in 1786 was thus called to propose amendments to the Articles to give Congress authority to regulate American commerce. When Madison took his annual trip north that summer, he was exposed to the widespread hopes of turning the Annapolis convention into "a plenipotentiary convention for amending the confederation."
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  Only 12 men showed up for the Annapolis convention - but they included Madison, Hamilton, John Dickinson and Edmund Randolph. Too few to accomplish anything substantive, they instead proposed a broader meeting in Philadelphia "to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to remedy the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union." At first inclined toward cautious step-by-step reform efforts, Madison now committed himself to shooting for the broadest possible reform agenda. Significantly, the Annapolis proposal was directed towards the states, not towards Congress.

  "It was at once a bold and desperate move. The commissioners hoped that their call would galvanize public opinion, but they feared even more strongly the consequences of inaction. Every other scheme to strengthen the Union had failed."

  Mount Vernon was a necessary stop on the way home from Annapolis for Madison and the young James Monroe. Success in their endeavor depended crucially on enlisting the support of Washington. They made sure that Washington was included in the delegation of heavyweights sent to Philadelphia by Virginia. Also selected with Madison and Washington were Governor Edmund Randolph, George Wythe, George Mason and Patrick Henry. Smelling "a rat," Henry declined to attend.
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  Elected again to Congress, Madison again stopped at Mount Vernon on his way north. Rakove notes that Madison, at age 36, now brought unique capabilities to the service of the Union.

  "On the eve of the Convention, experience left him as well prepared as any of the fifty-five men who would join in framing the Constitution. He had become a keen judge of men and measures in his understanding of how to court a Washington or neutralize a Henry, his grasp of the nuances of legislative politics, and in his calculations of the tactical problems of promoting an interstate movement to reform the confederation. Yet in the end, among a generation of leaders well steeped in the literature of political theory, his greatest contributions to the founding of the republic flowed from the force of his intellect."

Principles of constitutional governance:

  The problems of the Union were studied and analyzed at considerable length and depth by Madison. Rakove draws from Madison's notes, letters and other papers the evolution of his thoughts before the Convention. In a memorandum on "the vices of the political system of the United States," Madison set forth his considered conclusions.
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  The ordinary coercive powers of government are essential for the national government. State governments - subject to a multitude of state and local political interests and influences - can never be relied upon to voluntarily consider the national interest or even to reliably fulfill their obligations to the Union. Responding to their unpleasant experience with royal governors, the Revolutionary leaders who drafted and adopted the Articles of Confederation and the state constitutions simply - naÔvely - believed the states would do the right thing and comply with Congressional resolutions. This had, of course, not occurred. Thus, Madison concluded:

  "The national government had to be reconstituted with power to enact, execute, and adjudicate its own laws, acting directly on the American people, without having to rely on the cooperation of the states. It had to become a government in the normal sense of the term, with three constitutionally independent branches."

The laws passed by state legislatures contained a multitude of horribles and injustices. The "public good and private rights" needed protection against these excesses - this "vicious legislation."

  Unchecked majority rule in the states had been tried and found wanting. Although still a committed republican, Madison's faith in republican governance had been undermined by experience. The laws passed by state legislatures contained a multitude of horribles and injustices. The "public good and private rights" needed protection against these excesses - this "vicious legislation."
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  State legislation was frequently inept - subject to repeated alteration - and sometimes clearly unjust. Rhode Island, for example, had made its rapidly depreciating paper currency legal tender for the payment of debts. (Our slowly depreciating paper currency is legal tender today.) Ordinary legislators - and the people as a whole - could not be relied upon to transcend their personal interests and passions in favor of the national interest or the protection of minority or individual rights. Madison noted:

  "All civilized societies are divided into different interests and factions as they happen to be creditors or debtors -- rich or poor -- husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers -- members of different religious sects -- followers of different political leaders -- inhabitants of different districts -- owners of different kinds of property etc."

Republican virtue could not overcome individual passions and interests.

    Madison thus sought "to prove that a national republic would protect minority interests and individual rights against the danger of a 'factious majority': a majority which, while claiming to embody the popular will, actually preferred its own interests to the public good."
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  No modern republic could achieve the homogeneity and uniformity previously thought essential for republican success. Nor could republican virtue overcome individual passions and interests. Dominant interests or passions could sweep through individual states, but not, Madison hoped, the nation as a whole.
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If all were equally politically and legally empowered, they would check each other. Compromise and accommodation rather than dominance would of necessity be the mode of governance.

  The nation as a whole would include so many diverse interests and passions, that no dominant faction could form. If all were equally empowered both politically and legally, they would check each other. Compromise and accommodation rather than dominance would of necessity be the mode of governance.
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  Republics thus need not rest on unrealistic expectations of human nature, Madison believed. However, he was not without idealistic hopes. A broadly based national republic would "most certainly extract from the mass of society the purest and noblest characters which it contains." In elections in large districts, local demagogues would cancel each other out, permitting leaders of merit to rise in influence.

  During the subsequent two centuries, these ideals would not be shown to be totally illusory. Although arguably not sufficiently common, the nation has been blessed with many competent and dedicated political leaders, especially during moments of crisis.

Some counterweight was essential because legislative power would indeed be dangerous to liberty.

 

What alone justified this unlimited veto was the belief that fundamental rights of property were being rendered insecure by the populist legislation the states seemed increasingly inclined to adopt.

  Rakove traces these beliefs to the Enlightenment writers - especially David Hume - but predominantly to Madison's own experiences in state government. In letters to Jefferson, Edmund Randolph and Washington, Madison spelled out his agenda for promoting these ideas at the Convention.

  • The new federal government would possess sovereign powers within its sphere. Representation thus would not have to be by state, but could be by population or wealth or both. Prior to the Convention, Madison thought the small states would simply have to yield to the greater weight of the larger states. The larger states would never agree to representation by state.
  • However, a legislature with two houses would be needed to provide some counterweight to each legislative house because legislative power would indeed be dangerous to liberty. He feared that the dominance of a legislative body could only be offset by a second similar body - that the executive and courts could never be effective counterweights.
  • An upper legislative house - a small, carefully selected senate - could impose a barrier to improper legislation and safely exercise authority over war, foreign affairs, and executive appointments. However, it, too, should not be apportioned equally by state.
  • A federal "negative" power over all state actions was proposed to deal with excesses within the states, . This could protect not just the national interest but also minorities and individuals even in "local questions of policy." However, this was concededly like the royal veto of the British Crown before the Revolution. It had been bitterly opposed by Jefferson and specifically denounced in the Declaration of Independence.

  "Nothing more clearly reveals Madison's alarm over the character of state politics than his endorsement of so controversial a proposal -- and one so unlikely to be accepted, if not by the Convention, then certainly by the states. What alone justified this unlimited veto was the belief that fundamental rights of property were being rendered insecure by the populist legislation the states seemed increasingly inclined to adopt. The demand for paper money and debtor  stay laws frightened him terribly; the time might not be distant, he feared, when assaults on property would go even further. Beyond all the other uses to which it could be put, the veto was Madison's best answer to the danger he foresaw."

  Madison decided that the senate was the the appropriate repository for this controversial power. This made apportionment of senate members a critical issue for Madison and greatly narrowed his room for maneuver on the contentious apportionment issue.
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The Constitutional Convention:

 

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  Madison was the most prepared of the 55 members who at various times attended the convention in Philadelphia - later called "the Constitutional Convention." He contributed more than anyone else to the framing of the Constitution. He fought hard for its ratification.
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"Madison hoped an appeal to high principles would overcome parochial loyalties; instead, the play of interests within the Convention forced him to modify his own principles."

 

Being able to assure constituents that their parochial interests were sufficiently protected would prove to be a primary factor in the successful ratification effort.

  Yet, Rakove explains, the compromises and accommodations required during the process left him disappointed with the results.

  "At one level, the delegates grappled with fundamental principles of government; at another, they struggled to protect the interests of their constituents. Madison hoped an appeal to high principles would overcome parochial loyalties; instead, the play of interests within the Convention forced him to modify his own principles."

  However, being able to assure constituents that their parochial interests were sufficiently protected would prove to be a primary factor in the successful ratification effort.
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  Madison arrived early - the first delegate to arrive from outside Pennsylvania. The entire Virginia delegation that would attend arrived by May 17, 1787. It was a formidable group, including Madison, Randolph, Wythe, Mason and Washington. During the week prior to May 25 when a quorum of 7 states was finally represented, Madison and the Virginia delegation drew up a 15 point framework for government for presentation at the appropriate moment. See, Bowen, "Miracle at Philadelphia," The Constitutional Convention, Part I."
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  How to convince the small states to give up their equal representation in Congress was the most immediate - and ultimately the most critical - problem. Some argued for immediate confrontation, but Madison, fearing an immediate disruption of the Convention, favored engaging in a process of deliberation and negotiation over time. To assure candid debate, the Convention quickly agreed to secrecy - a common precaution for such bodies in those days.
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  To assure that the debates would nevertheless be subsequently available, Madison added to his other tasks the recording of what was said.

  "Yet in taking on this wearying task, Madison was obeying the needs of politics as well as history. His notes enabled him to prepare for the next round of debate, to mark inconsistencies in argument, to temper his own appeals to the flow of discussion. For his entire strategy rested on the assumption that the delegates would be receptive to candid argument and persuasion. And within this extraordinary forum, he meant to see his own ideas and proposals prevail on their merits."

  The "Virginia Plan" was presented by Gov. Edmund Randolph on May 29. The product of the entire delegation, it nevertheless conformed closely to Madison's concepts.

  "First and foremost, it proposed replacing the existing unicameral Congress with a true national government of three independent branches. Representation in the two houses of the legislature would be 'proportional' either to the taxes each state paid into the national treasury, or to its free population. A popularly elected lower house would in turn elect the upper house from candidates nominated by the state legislatures. The executive and some part of the judiciary would form a 'council of revision' with a limited veto over both national and state laws; but the new congress would retain the right to override that veto and to pass final judgment on the validity of state laws. Other articles provided for admitting new states into the Union; guaranteed a republican form of government to each state; and proposed procedures both for ratifying and amending the new constitution."

  The plan also included vague but broad Union government powers to enforce its actions - including the use of force. Nevertheless, the plan shifted emphasis from the authority of the Union government to its structure and to its system of representation. The question of representation would remain unresolved for seven weeks - until the "Great Compromise" of July 16 granted the small states equal representation in the Senate. Rakove goes at some length into this contentious dispute and Madison's own contributions to this critical debate.
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  Early progress was favorable on several aspects of the Virginia Plan. However, all ten states present decided that the members of the Senate should be elected by the state legislatures - a serious setback for Madison's efforts to free the national government from control by the states.
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  The small states proposed an alternative - the New Jersey Plan - after the initial review of the Virginia Plan. It was limited to just a reform of the Articles of Confederation by addition of a national executive and judiciary, and authority for Congress to regulate commerce and raise its own funds through import duties, stamp taxes and the post office.
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  Then, Hamilton countered with his own plan based on the British constitutional system, giving the Union and national executive even more power that the Virginia Plan. Hamilton's proposals were readily dismissed as politically irrelevant.
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  Madison led the assault on the New Jersey Plan with a point-by-point analysis of the weaknesses of the existing system and the inadequacies of the New Jersey Plan reforms. He concluded that the key issue remained that of representation, the resolution of which would make possible the resolution of all other differences. The New Jersey Plan was defeated seven states to three, with Maryland divided.
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  The Convention remained deadlocked on the representation issue for four more weeks, however. The small states would not budge on the issue. Madison stubbornly held his ground, but many of his allies became increasingly anxious to resolve the issue by compromise. The small states would be granted equal representation in the Senate, but all revenue bills would originate in the House. Since the Senate could reject any House revenue measure, Madison objected that the latter concession was essentially meaningless.
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On July 16, the Senate representation compromise was approved five states to four, with Massachusetts divided. The small states had won. Then, the southern states won the right to give some weight to the number of their slaves when apportioning representation in the House - the five-to-three "federal ratio."

  The great compromises of the Constitution made the Union possible by assuring that the small states could protect their interests in the Senate, and that Southern interests could be protected by their increased slave-state representation in the House.
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  On July 16, the Senate representation compromise was approved five states to four, with Massachusetts divided. The small states had won. Then, the southern states won the right to give some weight to the number of their slaves when apportioning representation in the House - the five-to-three "federal ratio."
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  The national veto over state laws was rejected on July 17, and the proposed council of revision was rejected on July 21. How could judges be involved in legislation that they would ultimately have to interpret and weigh against constitutional provisions? See, Bowen, "Miracle at Philadelphia," The Constitutional Convention, Part II.
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  It was a very bad eight day period for Madison. However, Madison had in fact gained more than he knew. Accepted was a provision that national laws and treaties should be "the supreme law" of the land. Also accepted was the concept of judicial review. Few realized at the time how broadly these two concepts would be interpreted.
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Accepted was a provision that national laws and treaties should be "the supreme law" of the land. Also accepted was the concept of judicial review.

  The powers of the executive now came into focus. Here, Madison was less involved, believing only that the executive must be sufficiently independent to defend itself against improper interference by the legislature.
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  The executive branch was a conundrum. It must be politically independent from the legislature, but how could a single individual be selected from amongst the gaggle of contenders from the various states? How could anyone from the smaller southern states have a chance against the northern candidates? What should be the term of office? Madison threw his support to those favoring a strong and energetic executive.

  "In a lengthy speech of July 25, he endorsed the popular election of the president or the creation of a popularly chosen electoral college, which would meet once within the states and immediately disband -- thereby avoiding the risk that the electors would be corrupted."

The list of enumerated powers was long, but its very nature maintained the concept of the Union government as one of limited powers.

 

 Authority over interstate commerce would be exercised by simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds supermajority favored by George Mason and some other southern delegates.

  The powers of the legislature and the qualifications for office were primary concerns. Increasingly impatient to finish its work, the Convention drove on through a sweltering August.
 &
  The broad, general language of the Virginia Plan was replaced by a specific list of Congressional powers - enumerated powers - that included taxation, foreign and interstate commerce, war, and money. The list was long, but its very nature maintained the concept of the Union government as one of limited powers.
 &
  Madison fought to enlarge Union government powers wherever he could. He supported provisions for the national capitol, the granting of copyrights, and authority to regulate the state militias. Most important, authority over interstate commerce would be exercised by simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds supermajority favored by George Mason and some other southern delegates.
 &
  However, Madison failed to gain acceptance for a national university or express authority to charter corporations or the power to tax exports or govern elections of national representatives.
 &

The President would be elected through an Electoral College that would thereafter disband, removing election from state political influence and reducing the risk that electors would be corrupted.

 

The President - rather than the Senate - would have power to make treaties and appoint judges and executive officers - but with the approval of the Senate.

  Presidential autonomy and authority was considered by an eleven member committee formed in early September. The committee, that included Madison, adopted proposals that would give the President significant authority and independence. The President would be elected through an Electoral College that would thereafter disband, removing election from state political influence and reducing the risk that electors would be corrupted. Ties would be resolved in the House - voting by state - rather than in the Senate. The President - rather than the Senate - would have power to make treaties and appoint judges and executive officers - but with the approval of the Senate.
 &
  Madison was well aware of the major improvements obtained in the Convention. He wrote optimistically to Jefferson who was then serving in Paris as Ambassador to France. (Jefferson's shaky support for the strengthening of the national government was vital for ratification efforts). However, his other correspondence conveyed his deep disappointment at how much he had failed to achieve. He feared a continuance of the "local mischiefs which everywhere excite disgusts against the state governments." Nevertheless, he poured himself into the struggle for ratification.
 &

Ratification:

  Ratification by popularly elected delegates to state conventions was another great breakthrough.
 &
  It achieved a multitude of objectives. It bypassed the state legislatures, invoked the ultimate source of republican legitimacy - the sovereign will of the people, required ratification by just nine states instead of the unanimous approval of 13 state legislatures required for amending the Articles of Confederation, and it could not be rescinded by state legislatures as would be the case with legislative approvals. Ironically, Madison was committed to this procedure despite his own mistrust of the use of appeals to public opinion for resolving fundamental constitutional issues.
 &

Madison stressed how a strong national government would strengthen rather than weaken individual liberties.

 

Madison debunked previous notions that republican virtue could be a practical basis of republican government. Faction derived from self interest is an inherent social factor and had to be taken into account. To control the forces of faction without destroying the liberty of the people, the system had to be expanded and composed of suitably empowered components - checks and balances - so that no one faction could dominate the whole.

 

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

  The Federalist Papers explaining the Constitution and supporting its ratification were written by   Madison, Hamilton and New York attorney John Jay as a series of pseudonymous articles published in the New York Independent Journal. They have become increasingly authoritative and influential over the years.
 &
  Rakove, however, points out several ways in which Madison's public arguments ran counter to his private beliefs. He of course didn't reveal his own continuing doubts about the effectiveness of the Constitution, and to allay local fears, presented as a virtue aspects of continued state supremacy under the new scheme of government.
 &
  Madison wrote 29 of the 85 articles. Illness limited Jay's contribution to just 5, with the ever energetic Hamilton contributing the rest. The articles provide profound insights into the new "compound republic." Among other things, Madison stressed how a strong national government would strengthen rather than weaken individual liberties, and explained the character, powers and limitations imposed upon the new Congress.

  "[His] defense of the new Constitution was essentially pragmatic. It rested on appeals to experience, not authority; on a hard-headed justification of specific constitutional provisions, rather than an uncritical deference to hoary maxims. But the real merits and defects of the Constitution, he also realized, were 'such as will not be ascertained until an actual trial shall have pointed them out.'"

  Madison debunked previous notions that republican virtue could be a practical basis of republican government. Faction derived from self interest is an inherent social factor and had to be taken into account. To control the forces of faction without destroying the liberty of the people, the system had to be expanded and composed of suitably empowered components - checks and balances - so that no one faction could dominate the whole. Each department had to be given the "constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others."
 &
  He justified each of the enumerated powers of the new Congress, and explained how both Houses would reflect the interests of the people. Local demagogues would have a harder time gaining influence in the larger voting districts. The President had veto power over legislation, judges had lifetime tenure. Sovereign powers were divided between the states and the national government, and the "extended republic" was characterized by "a great variety of interests, parties and sects" that would inhibit domination by any one of them. He explained:

  "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place."

  Madison was selected as a delegate to the Virginia ratifying convention. The convention was closely divided with a considerable number of undecided delegates who could be swayed by debate. Madison soon found himself heavily engaged against such oratorical heavyweights as Patrick Henry and George Mason.
 &
  Madison countered Henry's impassioned arguments
with point-by-point analysis justifying each constitutional provision and showing how Virginia's interests were protected. He opposed Henry's proposal for submission of the Constitution to a second convention as a transparent recipe for failure. On June 25, Henry's plan was narrowly defeated 88-to-80, and the Constitution was then ratified by Virginia 89-to-79.
 &

The Bill of Rights:

 

 

 

&

  Proposals for a Bill of Rights had been gaining steam and soon were politically irresistible. Despite his misgivings about the need and even the wisdom of trying to enumerate particular rights, Madison eventually bowed to public desires and signed on to the project. (Jefferson was a strong proponent of a Bill of Rights.) Willingness to consider subsequent amendments had been an essential ploy in gaining ratification in several of the closely contested states, and Madison stressed his support for it in his subsequent campaign for Congress.
 &

  Madison took this campaign pledge seriously, unlike many of his fellow congressmen. Besides, it was better to satisfy this public desire for specific protections for individual liberties than to let it fester into a broader attack against the constitutional scheme.
 &
  From the more than 200 amendments proposed by the state ratifying conventions (most of which had nothing to do with individual liberties), Madison distilled 19 potential amendments. However, Rakove notes, he didn't hide his continued skepticism about the whole project. News reports of the debates in the House included his candid objections - the difficulty of enumerating rights, the great dangers from popular majorities, the risks of relying on "parchment barriers."
 &
  Nevertheless, Madison used this opportunity to broaden protections of individual liberties. For example, the right of criminal defendants to remain silent and protection from unreasonable search and seizure were broader than similar provisions in the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania constitutions. He used the strong verb "shall" rather than the weaker "ought" in the prohibitions against abuse of power. He cautiously included a provision that the enumeration of certain rights "shall not be construed" to deny or diminish other rights not included. He also attempted - without success - to make the provisions on religious freedom, speech and criminal jury trials applicable to the states. That would await the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War.

  "Among the rights Madison insisted on recognizing were free exercise of religion; freedom of speech, the press, and assembly; the right to bear arms; and the protection of fundamental civil liberties against the coercive power of government through such devices as restrictions on 'unreasonable searches and seizures,' and guarantees of the rights of bail, 'to a speedy and public trial' with 'the assistance of counsel,' and to 'just compensation' for property appropriated for public use."

Party politics:

  Madison was frankly disappointed with the meager caliber of most of the new congressmen. He immediately took the lead, pushing through the legislation needed to form the new government.
 &

  Three cabinet departments were organized, with Hamilton approved for Treasury, Henry Knox for War and Jefferson for State. At this early stage, Madison supported Hamilton. By this time, they had a long record of mutual collaboration. In the initial debate over whether Senate approval was required for removals as well as approvals of key Presidential appointments, Madison favored the President's sole authority and responsibility. A revenue act was adopted based on import duties.
 &
  Locating the national capital on the Potomac was one of Madison's primary concerns and a primary concern of his Virginia constituents. Rakove goes into some detail over this controversy and the famous bargain Madison made with Hamilton who had great influence in the Senate. In return for the Potomac location for the capital, Madison relaxed his opposition to Hamilton's efforts to restore the nation's credit and strengthen the influence of the national government by having it assume the unpaid Revolutionary War debts of the states.
 &

  However, there remained strong opposition to Hamilton's efforts. Jefferson not only opposed Hamilton's plans for strengthening the national government, the two also had divergent views of the nation's foreign policy interests. By the end of Washington's first term, the two were leaders of factions with sharply different ideas on a number of issues - and Madison sided with Jefferson and his Virginia constituents.
 &

The tariffs and subsidies imposed burdens that weighed more heavily on Virginia and the other southern states.

 

Hamilton's liberal interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause would undermine the fundamental concept of a national government of limited powers.

  Madison's hopes that factionalism would be muted in the national government proved illusory. Ever the pragmatist, he acknowledged the new reality and became a leader of the "republican interest."
 &
  Hamilton favored the commercial and manufacturing interests of the northern states. These provided the economic foundations for national strength. The chartering of a privately owned national bank, the reestablishment of national credit, and tariff protection and other supports for manufacturers favored these northern interests. However, the tariffs and other supports imposed burdens that weighed more heavily on Virginia and the other southern states.
 &
  In addition, both Madison and Jefferson were appalled by the feverish speculation in bank securities and government debt - with many congressmen eagerly involved. Jefferson and Madison feared that Hamilton's financial system would undermine the independence of Congress much as the English Parliament had been rendered docile. Hamilton, after all, was on record as favoring the English constitutional system of strong executive governance. Thus, Madison strongly opposed the chartering of the national bank.
 &
  Hamilton relied on the open-ended authority in the Constitution for Congress to "pass all laws necessary and proper to carry into execution" its delegated powers. Madison countered that authority to charter national corporations had been proposed and rejected by the Constitutional Convention. More important, Hamilton's liberal interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause would undermine the fundamental concept of a national government of limited powers. The bank charter won overwhelmingly in Congress - but the dispute was now not confined solely to that issue.
 &

Should the Hamiltonian gloss on the "necessary and proper" clause prevail, Madison feared, "the legislative power of Congress could never be effectively limited."

  The dispute was a matter of principle involving the nature of the national government and its Constitution. Echoes of this dispute remain with the nation to this day. Opponents chose sides, and the two party system began to form.

  "Many congressmen could not reconcile Madison's restrictive reading of the Constitution with his reputation as an advocate for a vigorous national government. But in one critical sense, his narrow view of the enumerated powers of Congress reflected his long-standing concern with the ability of legislative bodies to ignore the formal limits on their power. Ironically, Hamilton's broad reading of the "necessary and proper" clause threatened to confirm just how right Madison had been in 1787 to worry about the difficulty of confining legislative power. Should the Hamiltonian gloss on this clause prevail, Madison feared, the legislative power of Congress could never be effectively limited."

Madison argued that the Constitution should be interpreted as understood at the time of its adoption - as establishing a government of limited powers. It would never have been ratified otherwise.

  Madison raised an argument that is familiar to modern ears. The Constitution should be interpreted as understood at the time of its adoption - as establishing a government of limited powers. It would never have been ratified otherwise.
 &
  The use of national funds to support influential manufacturers was viewed as a further abuse of power. Both Jefferson and Madison recognized that the prosperity of domestic manufacturing was essential for the maintenance of the nation's independence from Great Britain, but they were opposed to any divergence of surplus capital by government action or the expansion of the government's implied powers that such actions constituted. That Hamilton favored relations with England while Jefferson favored revolutionary France - both of whom were now increasingly embroiled in bitter conflict - further divided the factions.
 &

  An opposition newspaper was created by a publisher employed in Jefferson's State Department towards the end of 1791, and the factional disputes escalated into the public arena. The Jefferson-Madison party - the Republicans - (the forerunner of today's Democratic Party) - strongly favored limited government and the original understanding of the Constitution. They were opposed by Hamilton's supporters - the Federalists - favoring strong national government and broad interpretation of Constitutional powers - (which today is the predominant view of the Democratic Party).

  Thus, while Jefferson and Madison were the founding fathers of the modern Democratic Party, Hamilton provided its modern political philosophy. Jefferson and Madison would be appalled at this turn of events. Of course, modern regulatory and welfare policies were beyond the contemplation of either of the original political parties.

  Madison now turned to public opinion to counter Hamilton's strength. Forgotten were his concerns about majoritarian abuse and his desires to insulate governance as much as possible from public opinion. The Congressional elections of 1792 were openly contested by these two factions.
 &
  Madison, as usual, was just pragmatically recognizing an unpleasant reality - that his hopes that the national government could not be dominated by any one faction had proven wrong, and opposition to that faction was now essential. In a pseudonymous article, he took his argument to the public - that all citizens should be treated equally, and government should not bestow legal preferences on particular economic interests.

  "The unstated implication was that the Hamiltonian program of bounties and chartered banks was unjust simply because it favored the economic interests of the North."

  Madison now favored states rights and the vital role of the states in "preventing or correcting unconstitutional encroachments" of the national government. The dispute did not confine itself to such high-toned debate. Political newspapers proliferated and began savaging opposition political leaders.
 &

The combatants still shared an overriding concern for the welfare of the Union. They believed that Washington was still the essential man, and must serve a second term to hold the fragile Union together.

  In the Second Congress, the opposing forces were more evenly balanced, but with a large block - about half the members - uncommitted and open to persuasion on particular issues. It ended nastily, with Republican forces in Congress launching a spurious investigation of Hamilton which Madison perforce supported.
 &
  By the end of Washington's first term, the political dispute had reached frightening proportions. Nevertheless, the combatants still shared an overriding concern for the welfare of the Union. Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison were all driven to the same conclusion - Washington was still the essential man, and must serve a second term to hold the fragile Union together.
 &

  The Third Congress, during the first part of Washington's second term, saw Madison leading the Republican Party in Congress. The major issues flowed in from across the seas  where revolutionary France was embroiled in cataclysmic struggles.
 &
  Both sides favored neutrality, but Jefferson, Madison and the Republicans generally tilted in favor of France. They were repeatedly bested by Hamilton and the Federalists who tilted in favor of Great Britain. Hamilton and Madison dueled through pseudonymous articles that disputed the powers of the presidency pertinent to the nation's treaty obligations towards France. The Republican Party was still more a coalition than a cohesive political organization. The Federalists controlled the Senate, and Hamilton's arguments generally gained the support of Washington - always the decisive factor.
 &
  In September, 1794, Madison married the widow, Dolley Payne Todd - "vivacious, outgoing, and educated."
 &

The Jay Treaty:

  The Jay Treaty with Great Britain was ratified on June 24, 1795. It preserved peace and continued commerce with Great Britain, but on terms favorable to Great Britain.
 &

  Madison opposed it as a blatant and unnecessary surrender on behalf of Northern commercial interests. France's revolutionary armies had been scoring repeated victories everywhere. Madison was convinced a better bargain could have been obtained by threatening to join armed neutrals in opposing the British blockade and by boycotting British commerce.  (This unrealistic attitude would lead to the War of 1812.)
 &
  The treaty raised a storm of popular protest against Hamilton and the Federalists. However, Hamilton's efforts to restore the nation's credit depended critically on the duties collected on that commerce, and only England could supply many of the manufactured products needed in the U.S. The treaty did set up bilateral commissions to deal with three major issues - pre-Revolutionary War debts, confiscation of American ships by the British blockade, and the boundary line between New England and Canada.
 &
   Madison and the Republicans feared and resented this continuing dependence on Great Britain. They began to ride the political wave of opposition to the treaty. However, Hamilton effectively countered their efforts. (Besides being popular with northern commercial interests, the treaty was popular with western interests because it provided for the removal of troublesome British forts.)
 &

  Madison searched for a constitutionally appropriate way to defeat the treaty. The House had authority over foreign commerce, and the bilateral commissions needed the appropriation of funds, so Madison had constitutional grounds to bring the dispute into the House.
 &
  The House was growing with the growth of the nation. It had gone from 65 to 105 members, and was already becoming unwieldy. The dispute was bitter - Hamilton marshaled support from broad interests in peace and from commercial and western interests. Washington sided with Hamilton, and Madison lost narrowly.
 &

 Madison "was not better prepared to live without slaves than the other members of the great planter class to which his family belonged."

  With this, Madison had had his fill of Congressional politics, and retired to Montpelier. Jefferson, as the new Vice President, picked up the party leadership for the increasingly perfervid political combat during the John Adams administration. As eldest son, Madison finally was expected to take on from his 74 year old father the burden of managing the largest estates in Orange County.
 &
  Dolley Madison's Quaker father had freed his slaves and moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania, and James Madison had denounced slavery. However, the Madison fortunes in Virginia depended on slave labor and, Rakove notes, "he was not better prepared to live without slaves than the other members of the great planter class to which his family belonged."
 &

Alien & Sedition Acts:

 

&

  With the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Federalists overplayed their hand. This provided Jefferson and Madison with the opening they were looking for. However, with all the levers of federal government power - including the courts - in Federalist hands, the Republicans had to look elsewhere to respond.
 &

Jefferson supported the concept of state nullification, while Madison was more cautious - supporting just state government political opposition.

  The state legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky were in Republican hands, and that's where the response came from. Resolutions denouncing the Alien and Sedition Acts as unconstitutional were drafted by Jefferson for Kentucky and Madison for Virginia. They were a clarion call on behalf of state's rights and limitations on the powers of the federal government.

  "Both men agreed in their fundamental view of the Constitution as a compact among the states vesting certain limited powers in a national government. 'In case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact,' the states retained some right to protect their own authority and the liberties of their citizens against the abuse of federal power."

  Jefferson supported the concept of state nullification, while Madison was more cautious - supporting just state government political opposition.

  "[In] January 1799, he asked Jefferson to consider whether the Kentucky resolutions did not go too far by implying that a state legislature could nullify any act of Congress that it found objectionable. That was a formula not for opposition but for disunion -- and disunion was the absolute evil Madison could never imagine, even though Jefferson, in an inspired moment in August 1799, hinted it might prove necessary. Madison was quick to argue that so gloomy a conclusion was premature, and Jefferson, again accepting his friends tutoring, drew back."

  No other states followed the lead of Virginia and Kentucky, and things were going better for the Adams administration. The Federalists had done well in the congressional elections of 1798.
 &
  Madison was again in the Virginia legislature when the state changed its electoral law so that presidential electors were chosen on a winner-take-all basis. This tactical ploy removed the chance for the Federalists to pick off some districts in the Republican state. In Massachusetts, the Federalists responded in kind.
 &

  The door was open for a Jefferson and Republican victory in 1800. Hamilton was in open opposition to Adams because of the President's determined efforts to make peace with France. The two nations had been engaged in open naval warfare since the Jay Treaty apparently aligned the U.S. with Great Britain.
 &
  Bizarrely, Jefferson wound up in a tie with his own Vice Presidential candidate, Aaron Burr, with Adams not far behind. It took Hamilton's principled intervention to throw the election to Jefferson in the House - after 35 ballots - when Adams chose to remain aloof. Despite bitter rivalry, Hamilton was ultimately more comfortable with Jefferson as President than with the politically erratic Aaron Burr. 
 &
  Madison would be Jefferson's Secretary of State. However, he was delayed in moving to the new Capital on the Potomac by the death of his father on February 27, 1801.
 &

  Secretary of State Madison:

 

&

  Peace between the U.S. and France had been achieved as a result of Adams' persistent efforts. Napoleon's assumption of power, and peace among the European powers enabled the Jefferson administration to start off with a much cleaner plate with respect to foreign affairs. It also terminated the Jeffersonian and Republican infatuation with France - no longer a revolutionary republic in any sense.
 &

The two-party system was still not envisioned as an essential aspect of the nation's politics.

  As Madison saw it, this left the U.S. as the only place where "true liberty can have a fair trial."
 &
  The President was an experienced diplomat, and it was Jefferson's foreign policy that Madison had to implement. However, the two were very close on almost all practical issues, Rakove notes. Domestically, they both hoped at first not for Republican Party dominance, but the squelching of Federalist support to the extent that party factionalism could be dispensed with. They still did not envision the two-party system as an essential aspect of the nation's politics.

  "This goal was consistent with the Madisonian ideal of 1787-88, which had presumed that while the sources of partisan behavior would always exist, the proper purpose of republican politics was to define a higher notion of the common interest."

  It was Washington's - and Hamilton's - foreign policy strategy that they were now free to pursue after the demise of their illusions about revolutionary France. This consisted in extending commercial relations abroad with as few political connections as possible, and in facilitating westward expansion. The importance of trade was obvious, and a manufacturing base was viewed as essential to prevent dependence on Great Britain. They still viewed Great Britain as the greatest threat.
 &
  They believed that independent farmers and artisans provided the foundations of freedom, and that agrarian interests should be paramount within the nation. The free farmers of the young nation wanted land for their children and foreign markets for their produce. A growing stream of settlers was moving west. This supported the conviction of many of the founding fathers that the nation's destiny lay in vast westward expansion.
 &

The Louisiana Purchase was a vast coup for the Jefferson administration - and for the young nation.

   Suddenly, the U.S. had the opportunity to acquire the Louisiana Territory and gain control of the Mississippi River all the way to the sea. At first, the U.S. was just interested in the purchase of New Orleans and West Florida. With the disastrous failure of Napoleon's efforts to regain control of Santo Domingo after the slave revolt under Toussaint L'Overture, and with the imminence of renewed conflict in Europe, Napoleon had bigger fish to fry. He offered all of the vast Louisiana Territory for sale for $15 million.
 &
  The Jefferson administration jumped at the chance. Constitutional objections were brushed aside, and claims to the territory by Spain were ignored. It was a vast coup for the Jefferson administration - and for the young nation.
 &
  However, efforts to acquire Western Florida were thwarted when Napoleon recognized Spanish claims to the territory. To get Western Florida, Jefferson even contemplated an alliance with Great Britain as the Napoleonic Wars roared back into life. Madison wisely advised against involvement in any aspect of that cataclysmic struggle - but this illustrates just how far Jefferson had come from his earlier sympathies for France and against Great Britain.
 &
  Jefferson's first term had been a spectacular success. Hamilton had been killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, and Republicans were in full control of the government. However, the foreign commerce and foreign relations issues of the Napoleonic Wars were coming to a head, and the absence of significant Federalist opposition permitted factions within the Republican Party to divide - generally on the basis of regional - North/South - issues.
 &

Madison and Jefferson retained the illusion of British vulnerability to retaliation by commercial boycott. However, Britain was fighting not just over rights to impose taxes on some colonials - but for its very existence.

  The British impressment of American seamen was intolerable for the U.S. The rights of neutral shipping in the face of wartime blockades was another vital issue. James Monroe was dispatched to London to try to resolve differences with Great Britain over wartime conditions.
 &
  Hamilton had practiced accommodation with Great Britain during the 1790s. However, Jefferson and Madison believed that retaliation through commercial boycott would force the belligerents to accept U.S. terms. After all, the belligerents were sucking in vast quantities of U.S. produce, and commercial boycotts had proved successful against British taxes prior to the American Revolution.
 &
  Rakove goes at some length into the diplomatic and domestic political maneuvers. While Madison fumed over the illegality of continued impressment of American seamen and the blockade of certain commerce with neutrals - supported by "a mere superiority of force" - Monroe in London had an accurate picture of Britain's wartime needs and determination.
 &
  Madison and Jefferson retained the illusion of British vulnerability to retaliation by commercial boycott. However, Britain was fighting not just over rights to impose taxes on some colonials - but for its very existence as an independent nation. Britain would retain its blockades and man its navies at whatever cost and whatever the legal niceties might be.
 &

  The French and British blockades were fiercer on paper than in fact. Not even England had the navy to blockade all French ports, and profits were huge for American blockade runners. Nevertheless, numerous American ships were being taken and confiscated. An American frigate - the Chesapeake - was raked by a British warship, boarded, and several of its seamen were impressed just off the shores of Virginia. Jefferson had idealistically and parsimoniously dismantled much of the navy that the Adams administration had built, so no military response was possible.

  The small U.S. Navy was far from idle at this time. Jefferson was quick to make use of what was left of the Navy that Adams had built. See, Boot, "The Savage Wars of Peace," segment on "The Barbary Wars." The national bank, too, would prove essential to the Republican administrations of Jefferson and Madison.

  The embargo of trade with Europe was enacted on December 22, 1807. It was immediately ruinous for American commerce, and without substantial impact on the European combatants. With that act, the second term of the Jefferson presidency became as disastrous as the first was successful. Madison fully supported the embargo.

  "Hundreds of ships lay idle in American ports, and the merchants, seamen, artisans, and farmers who had prospered with the growth of maritime commerce since the 1790s suffered. Soon the administration had to mount thankless and futile efforts to enforce the embargo against a restless citizenry -- efforts that its critics thought no less oppressive than the Sedition Act of 1798. In coasting vessels and over northern lakes and roads, American produce flowed northward to Canada and from there to the West Indies, Britain, and Europe."

  Canada prospered mightily, the combatants found other sources of supplies, and Madison soon recognized the failure of the embargo. Jefferson literally punked out in the face of this failure - retreating from his responsibilities as President for the rest of his administration, and leaving the work to his cabinet.
 &

President Madison:

 

&

  Madison won the presidency in a landslide in 1808 despite the unpopularity of the embargo. There was literally no effective opposition anywhere. Congressional action was muddled, and the embargo was permitted to expire when Madison took office in March, 1809.
 &

  An unruly Republican Congress was an immediate problem for Madison. Jefferson had been supported by an excellent cabinet, headed by Madison at State and Albert Gallatin at Treasury. However, Madison had to parcel out positions to reward the sectional factions in his party. Gallatin remained at Treasury, but Madison would have to act in essence as his own Secretary of State.
 &
  When efforts to settle differences were rejected by London, Madison imposed the embargo again that June. However, hundreds of merchant vessels had already put to sea and were free to trade and risk confiscation as they might. The lack of duties from British imports was threatening federal finances. Preparations for war would be ruinously costly, and Congress was in no mood to authorize such funds. Unlike Hamilton, Madison felt bound by constitutional constraints on his authority.

  "[His] failure to persuade a fractious Congress to support his foreign policies not only exposed him to political embarrassment at home, it also undermined his complicated diplomatic strategies abroad."

  Absent effective leadership from Madison, Congress attempted to fill the policy void in its usual ham-fisted fashion. In May, 1810, Congress removed all trade restrictions, but authorized Madison to impose them again on the opponent of whichever belligerent revoked its blockade edicts. Since the British navy ruled the waves, this was initially of most benefit to Britain. However, muddled diplomacy ultimately resulted in the imposition of the embargo yet again against Britain.
 &
  On the plus side, a cabinet shakeup brought James Monroe on board as Secretary of State - a vast improvement over the previous obstructive occupant of that position. Nevertheless, the U.S. was still playing a very weak hand against Great Britain, and a reluctant Madison was being forced to consider a military response by a Congress that was becoming increasingly bellicose despite its refusal to fund preparations for war.
 &

The War of 1812:

 

 

&

  Madison sent his war message to Congress in June, 1812. By June 18, the nation was at war - although completely unprepared (a common condition for the nation at the beginning of almost all subsequent conflicts). The offending British blockade edicts were removed 5 days later. Missed communications thus play tragic roles both at the start and the end of a misbegotten conflict that served the interests of neither country.
 &

During the War of 1812, the federal government was "nearly as dependent on the states as the Continental Congress had been during the Revolution."

 

Madison's Republican ideals left him unwilling to exercise political influence in Congress. His war plans were swallowed in interminable debate among the various factions. He failed to impose his will on his incompetent Cabinet officers.

  The war effort was a mess.

  "There was blame enough to go around for the sorry character of the nation's war effort: from divisions in the Cabinet and Congress to the rank incompetence of much of the officer corps, as well as the virulent hostility that made New England at best a neutral party to the conflict. But as president, commander-in-chief, and the chief architect of foreign policy, no one bore greater responsibility than Madison."

  During the War of 1812, Rakove notes, the federal government was "nearly as dependent on the states as the Continental Congress had been during the Revolution." The constitutional effort to increase the efficiency of the federal government during wartime looked like a failure.
 &
  Madison and Gallatin had starved the military for funds in their efforts to eliminate federal debts, and the military was woefully unprepared. The officer corps was not battle tested and was not even based on competence. The Secretaries of War and Navy at the beginning of the conflict were incompetent. New England refused to support the crucial campaign in Canada that was supposed to pose the primary threat to Great Britain. News of British revocation of the contested blockade edicts - and then of Napoleon's disastrous defeat in Russia - undermined enthusiasm for the war elsewhere.
 &
  Worse, Madison's Republican ideals left him unwilling to exercise political influence in Congress. His war plans were swallowed in interminable debate among the various factions. He failed to impose his will on his incompetent Cabinet officers.
 &
  The army remained undermanned, ill equipped and poorly led throughout the war. However, out west and on the nation's major lakes and across the seas, men of sterner stuff were playing more effective roles. Commodore Oliver Perry succeeded in clearing Lake Erie of British ships, and William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, secured the northwest settlements against attacks. There were a string of early naval victories by the nation's oversized frigates, and the capture of over 1300 British merchant ships by American naval units and privateers.
 &
  In 1813, there was no advance against Montreal and the British blockaded American ports from New York to the South - leaving New England ports open in the hope of splitting the Union. In 1814, the British coastal raids reached Washington, and the Capitol and White House were burned. The successful defense of Fort McHenry guarding Baltimore harbor, and a naval victory on Lake Champlain prevented further disaster.
 &

  Victorious in Europe and dominant along the Atlantic seaboard, Britain now sought to impose some harsh demands against the prostrate U.S. These included exclusion of American fishermen from Canadian waters, Canadian border adjustments favorable to Britain, and protection of Britain's Indian allies from further westward expansion by U.S. settlers. However, war weary and buried under a mountain of war debts, pressure against the war was rising in London.
 &
  On February 4, 1815, news of Gen. Andrew Jackson's major victory at New Orleans reached the Capital and relieved fears of the loss of New Orleans and western access to the sea. News of the Peace Treaty of Ghent, signed the previous Christmas Eve, arrived ten days later. With Napoleon defeated and Canada secured, and massive debts already incurred from the great conflagration in Europe, further conflict with the U.S. had become pointless for Great Britain, too.
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  Neutral rights were not mentioned in the peace treaty - but had been mooted by the defeat of Napoleon. None of the objectives for which the U.S. had fought had been achieved. It was a clear defeat for the U.S.
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  Britain ultimately refrained from trying to impose harsh terms and settled for the status quo ante bellum. Except for its inability to confine U.S. privateers, Britain had essentially achieved all its war aims.
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  However, the Union had actually survived the ordeal of a major conflict, and that, as Rakove notes, "may have been the one result of the War of 1812 that mattered most."
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None of the objectives for which the U.S. had fought had been achieved. It was a clear defeat for the U.S.

  The Madison presidency was marked by weakness, lack of effective leadership, conflict for which the nation was not prepared, and ultimate frustration of all its war aims. (In short, it was an example of all the weaknesses that Hamilton had feared from a Republican interpretation and conduct of presidential authority.)
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  However, one of the most important achievements for Madison was the preservation of his Republican principles against the pressures of wartime expedients. He was a principled, honest man who - like so many other founding fathers - had expended profligately of his life's energies in the service of his country. In the relief and glow of the favorable ending of the war, his public status soared. The indomitable support he had received during the wartime ordeal from his wife, Dolley Madison, has become a part of American legend.
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`Madison - still the pragmatist - moved towards Hamiltonian policies.

 

The Union looked stronger than ever, and the Constitution had survived its greatest trials to that date.

  During the final two years of his administration, Madison - still the pragmatist - moved towards Hamiltonian policies on the chartering of the national bank, support for limited tariff protection for manufacturing industries, and support for an unsuccessful constitutional amendment authorizing federal government "internal improvements" like roads and canals. The Second Bank of the U.S. was established in 1816.
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  Upon leaving office at age 66 to return to Montpellier, with James Monroe taking office as his successor, Madison basked in popularity and was in the best of good humor. The Union looked stronger than ever, and the Constitution had survived its greatest trials to that date.
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Retirement:

 

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  Madison was the last survivor of the founding fathers. He died June 28, 1836, at age 85 - several years after the deaths of all the other signers of the Declaration of Independence and delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
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  Retirement meant agrarian pursuits - as it did for Washington and John Adams and Jefferson and many of the other founding fathers. He engaged in agricultural studies and the management of his estates - with an increasing lack of financial success. Like Jefferson, he labored under his debts, was forced to sell assets, and even sold some of his slaves to a kinsman.
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  The preparation of his notes from the Constitutional Convention for publication after his death was his major public contribution during his retirement. However, he was also called upon repeatedly to weigh in on the constitutional disputes of the day. Although philosophically still aligned with Jefferson, he remained far more pragmatic and politically perceptive - drawing precise distinctions on complex issues where Jefferson was wont to sweep insouciantly across the political canvass with a broad brush.
  • On the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court - the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Marshall - to review the constitutionality of state laws, he disagreed with the breadth of the Court's interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause, but strongly reaffirmed the necessity of reposing in the Supreme Court the final say on matters of constitutional interpretation. Confusion and discord would be the result of any other method of resolving constitutional disputes.
  • On state nullification debates arising increasingly in the 1820s, he repeatedly had to overcome arguments based on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions drafted by Jefferson and himself. Political opposition was as far as the states could properly go.
  • He pragmatically rejected the view that the "intentions" of the framers should forever fix the "legitimate meaning" of the Constitution - recognizing that several provisions of the Constitution were already being interpreted in a far different manner than contemplated by the framers. (This was somewhat inconsistent with his views on the compromise provisions and legislative powers provisions of the Constitution.)
  • However, he strongly supported the compromises and accommodations in the Constitution on the issue of slavery. He insisted that the federal government had no constitutional authority to restrict the westward spread of slavery or the domestic commerce in slaves. The authority to prohibit after 1808 "the migration or importation" of certain "persons" applied only to importation from overseas.

 

Racial slavery, he recognized, was "the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man." It was, Madison wrote, "the dreadful calamity which has so long afflicted our country and filled so many with despair." However, acceptance of slavery had been part of the original constitutional compact. Violation of that compact by the North would, he feared, amount to renunciation of the Union itself.

  Slavery remained the most divisive issue. It was the one issue most likely to tear the Union apart.
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  Racial slavery, he recognized, was "the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man." It was, Madison wrote, "the dreadful calamity which has so long afflicted our country and filled so many with despair." However, acceptance of slavery had been part of the original constitutional compact. Violation of that compact by the North would, he feared, amount to renunciation of the Union itself. The Union, he knew, was still very fragile.
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  Rakove sums up:

  "[Madison continued to try to] map a 'middle ground' between an effective national government and the residual powers of the states. Time and again, in letters to partisans on both sides of the question, he explained why American federalism could never be described in neat or tidy terms. It was neither the 'consolidated government' that southerners feared nor the traditional confederation of sovereign states that they sought to defend. The American federal system 'is so unexampled in its origin, so complex in its structure, and so peculiar in some of its features,' he reminded Daniel Webster in 1830, 'that in describing it the political vocabulary does not furnish terms sufficiently distinctive and appropriate, without a detailed resort to the facts of the case.'"

It was Madison, Rakove concludes, more than any of the other founding fathers, who  wrestled with the dilemmas of republican and constitutional government, grasped them most acutely, and eschewed the bold language of Jefferson for the careful distinctions and qualification needed for a practical framework for republican governance.

    There would thus be inevitable conflicts among the overlapping powers of the nation and the states, but the integrity of the Union depended on acceptance of the way the Supreme Court resolved these conflicts. Above all, he emphasized, "the preservation of the Union required patience and accommodation on all sides."
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  It was Madison, Rakove concludes, more than any of the other founding fathers, who  wrestled with the dilemmas of republican and constitutional government, grasped them most acutely, and eschewed the bold language of Jefferson for the careful distinctions and qualification needed for a practical framework for republican governance.

  "He recognized that people often act out of passion, interest, and uninformed opinion, yet also believed that government must be held accountable to popular control. He worried that individual states would have strong incentives to oppose national measures, yet understood that their autonomy had to be respected. He accepted the basic premise of majority rule, yet recognized that popular majorities might wield their power to abuse minority and individual rights. He knew, too, that the existence of chattel slavery in his own native region violated every republican principle he espoused, yet he could not imagine how that society might survive if slavery were abolished."

Madison recognized the relatively new philosophical concern over the threat to individual liberties and minority rights that in a republic comes not from some monarch or other executive, but from the legislative actions of the people's representatives.

  Madison was not just a political theorist. He was actively engaged in the construction and elaboration of a complex working republican system. His knowledge of political philosophy was augmented by his experience with grubby everyday politics and legislative processes. He recognized the relatively new philosophical concern over the threat to individual liberties and minority rights that in a republic comes not from some monarch or other executive, but from the legislative actions of the people's representatives.

  "Madison believed that constitutions could be designed through acts of reason and collective deliberation; yet the very form of constitutionalism he favored doubted whether the institutions of government could always be relied on to act in reasonable ways. A constitution designed by human reason, in other words, had to be skeptical about the human capacity to reason. It could create institutions to enable societies to deliberate about the public good, but these institutions also had to guard against the danger that those deliberations might fall prey to improper concerns and considerations."

  The minority rights Madison was known to be most interested in preserving were those of minority religious belief, and those of the propertied and planter class of which Madison was a member. The problem, Rakove notes, was not just to protect such rights against arbitrary acts of government, but "to protect particular segments of society against a dominant popular majority."
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  Slavery, he was aware, was a primary example of how far a republican majority could go in oppressing a minority. Nevertheless, existing slavery interests had to be accommodated for the Constitution to have any hope of ratification. He lived long enough to see growing abolitionist pressures from the North and a resulting hardening of Southern public opinion against abolition.
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  Oppressive behavior by state governments was also a concern for Madison. Examples of majoritarian excess were rife in the legislation coming out of the state assemblies in the 1780s. However, with certain limited exceptions, efforts to address this problem at the Convention failed. These efforts, Rakove argues, demonstrate that Madison would have heartily approved the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War and the civil rights revolution against state government transgressions that has flowed from it about a century later.

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  Copyright © 2006 Dan Blatt