(Originally posted on Monday, July 6, 2009)
“To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in other; … to avoid the slightest interference with the right of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; … to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics — that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; … ”
— James Madison (1809) in his 1st Inaugural Address
Today we continue the examination of our founding fathers by considering the contributions of James Madison. This American politician and political philosopher worked untiringly to launch our republic via a sound Constitution and democratic republic dedicated to the freedom of our people. He became our 4th President after serving in the Continental Congress and the 1st House of Representatives.
During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he became the primary author of the United States Constitution; he is often given the title of “The Father of the Constitution,” a title that he hesitantly accepted. In support for the ratification of that Constitution, Madison joined Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in writing the Federalist Papers which defended this new form of government. Madison actively supported the ratification of this Constitution in the Virginia legislature. As a member of the 1st Congress after the ratification by the thirteen states, he fought for the inclusion of a statement of rights to be included in the Constitution; these became the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, the ‘Bill of Rights.’ As a result of his efforts, he was also acclaimed as “The Father of the Bill of Rights.”
“Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.”
James Madison in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (1788)
He was an active legislator throughout the first four Congresses. He opposed most of Alexander Hamilton’s legislative agenda as well as John Jay’s Treaty with the British; Madison along with Jefferson supported the French rather than the English. He was Jefferson’s protégé and a vocal defender of a strict interpretation of the Constitution and states’ rights. During Jefferson’s Presidency, he was Secretary of State and negotiated the ‘Louisiana Purchase’ which doubled the size of our nation. In 1809, Madison became the successor as President. He guided our nation through the ‘War of 1812’ which established our economic independence from the British and our equal standing in the international community.
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
— James Madison
He was a tireless crusader for American freedom, a guide in the establishment of a strong nation, and a defender of the rights of our people. Let’s examine some of his ideas in more detail…
James Madison (1752 – 1836)
“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.”
— James Madison, Federalist Paper #10
As a landowner and a protégé of Thomas Jefferson, he believed in the ideals of the Democratic-Republic Party. He drafted the Constitution that set forth a division of power between the states and the federal government as well as among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the new government. Above all he defended strongly the rights of the people through the ‘Bill of Rights’ that was adopted by the 1st Congress; these were based upon his earlier proposals to the Virginia Legislature. He interpreted the Constitution strictly, like Jefferson; this allowed the federal government only those rights and actions specifically included in the Constitution and reserved all other rights to the states. Only after the ‘War of 1812’ did Madison support a more liberal interpretation due to the difficulty in fighting a war without a national bank, the power to tax, and the right to maintain a standing army and navy under federal control. This gave our nation the structure that would serve it well over the next two centuries.
“Having considered the bill … I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States…. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified … in the … Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.”
— James Madison
As President, Madison defended this nation’s rights under international law. He continued Washington’s position of neutrality with respect to the ongoing conflicts taking place in Europe, especially between the English and French. He helped established manufacturing in this country during the ‘War of 1812’ and initiated the American industrial revolution; after the ‘Treaty of Ghent,’ which ended this war, Madison encouraged American manufacturing independence from the British. We became are an inventive and industrial nation, especially in the north. He also defended the United States’ borders, especially with Canada. With the expansion of the settlement in the Northwest Territories and the new western lands of the ‘Louisiana Purchase,’ he set the stage for the admission of future states to this fledgling nation.
Upon the completion of his second term as President, Madison retired to his beloved Montpelier in Virginia to resume his life as a gentleman farmer. In this, he followed his predecessors Washington and Jefferson. His life as a public servant had left him both weary of body and in financial standing. He lived his remaining life here after putting our country on a solid footing through our Constitutional republic.
“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes.”
— James Madison (1788) in his speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution
We will always remember his efforts on behalf of the American people and government. We are thankful to you, Mr. Madison, for giving us this wonderful, thriving nation. THANK YOU!
Next Time: We continue this series by examining the life and contributions of John Jay. Join us for that adventure…