Th US Constitution stands as the most venerable and long-lasting national constitution on earth, as well as a bacon of liberty for the entire world. It’s origins in the fiery debate and intellectual analysis of the Founding Fathers is a dramatic and revolutionary story. At the center of this story stands James Madison, the greatest political theorist in American history, perhaps in the world: the man known as the Father of the Constitution. “Madison left behind a timeless body of political literature unmatched in analytical depth anywhere in American history.
From The Federalist Papers to his journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention to his personal correspondence, Madison created for posterity one of the greatest and most penetrating collections of political thought. ” (Eddlem, 2002) At the Constitutional Convention, Madison emerged as both the most thoroughly prepared, but engaged delegate, immersing himself in floor-debates and off-floor caucusing, as well as theoretical discussions and arguments with other delegates and political thinkers.
An example of his erudition and of the respect with which his ideas were held by the most influential of the Founding Fathers is his relationship with Thomas Jefferson. “ Madison's political influence over Thomas Jefferson was immense[... ]Madison specialized in the study of government, and he was often better acquainted with the details of policy proposals and of constitutional principles[... ] when the two friends disagreed about a policy measure, they usually ended up reconciling with Madison's view (Eddlem, 2002). Madison’s "Virginia plan" served as the model for what eventually became the U. S. Constitution.
Madison’s preparedness at the Convention included not only the proffering of the Virginia plan, but the , but he also brought with him “a notebook filled with analyses of the virtues James Madison Page -2- and defects of all of history's republics, from the Swiss and the Dutch confederations to the Roman republic and the Greek city-states. Madison used this notebook to great effect in his speeches at the Philadelphia Convention. Madison's journal of debate at the Convention[...
]reveals that he participated in the debates more than any other delegate. ” (Eddlem, 2002) As the most prepared delegate and the one most deeply immersed in political theory, Madison was able to control the flow of debate and the determination of critical aspects of the Constitution. His ideas, which he fought for passionately, were motivated by a desire to enshrine liberty above personal power and ambition, and to ensure that the Constitution, rather than any single administrator, officer, or office, or combination thereof, held ultimate sway over American law.
“Madison was well aware, as he showed in his famous “if men were angels” discussion in Federalist No. 51, that we have to start with people as they are, then try to both empower and restrain them by creating institutional arrangements that pit power against power and ambition against ambition. ” (Pilon, 2002, p. 29) This central belief drove Madison to clash with many of powerful delegates at the Convention who believed instituting some variation of the British Monarchical government in America.
“Some of the other leading delegates said that the new American chief executive should not have monarchical attributes. Edmund Randolph insisted that the British government would not serve as the "prototype" for the American republic. ” (Morgan, 1988, p. 39) Among the powerful delegates who disagreed with Madison’s vision was Alexander Hamilton who advocated the doctrines of political patronage and a pseudo-Monarchical descendency of power, with a powerful Executive branch.
“Madison expressed his thorough disagreement with Hamilton over this matter. It is war, or the fear of it, he contended, which gives James Madison Page -3- governments their high tone. Even the constant fear of other nations which breeds insecurity makes it certain that all regimes will be "transformed into vigorous (Morgan, 1988, p. 40)
Madison spoke eloquently in support of his vision: the conservation of power by the Executive, predicated on the threat of foreign or internal war, had long obstructed the true reign of liberty throughout human history: The same causes which had rendered the old world the Theatre of incessant wars, and have banished liberty from the face of it, would seem to produce the same effect here... In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of war, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body.
A military force with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. It is perhaps questionable whether the best concerted system of absolute power in Europe cd. tame the people to the domestic yoke [alone]. 27 (Morgan, 1988, p. 40)
Additionally, Madison depicted the conservation of power by referencing the Federal Convention which he saw as :a counterpoint to the people, as an opportunity for those of outstanding prudence--understood in both its moral and intellectual sense--to transcend popular opinion and to do for the people what they could not do for themselves" Madison envisioned a Constitution which would be venerated above its architects and that this Constitution must serve as a firewall "to prevent both the few and the many from exercising arbitrary authority" (157).
(Peltier, 2001, p. 845) Madison’s reluctance to grant excessive power to any single branch or member of government indicated his corresponding faith and belief in the people as a whole to govern themselves in a far superior way than to be governed by a group of elites.
These political theories James Madison Page -4- were not abstract concepts to Madison, but beliefs rooted in his moral apprehension, one which he felt was universal in man; he truly believed the principles of individual liberty, that each person is entitled to live their life free from interference and that this right would be “secured, practically, through a quite different theory of political or constitutional legitimacy, aimed at showing how government[... ] powers might be shown to be illegitimate. Known as the doctrine of enumerated powers, that theory truly is the centerpiece of the Constitution.
(Pilon, 2002, p. 28) History and the legacy of America records that Madison’s doctrine of enumerated powers eventually formed the strong-center of the US Constitution. His skil as a debater, a therorists, an orator, and as a politician gained recognition and ratification of his ideas by the Constitutional Delegates: “the delegates accepted Madison's motion on 24 August to restrict the president's power to appoint to offices only after their creation by statute.
38 The president, unlike the British monarch, could not become the "fountain of honor" by creating and filling offices at will. ” (Morgan, 1988, p. 44) The Constitution's many checks and balances, from the division of powers (federalism) to the separation of powers, to the provision for judicial review, to periodic elections, and much more owe their creation to Madison’s influence and theories. His simplest and most sweeping theory of the limiting of individual power is comprises of a single tenet: “if you want to limit power, don't give it in the first place.
Notice, however, that is not simply an instruction for limiting government. More important, it is a principle of legitimacy. In fact, it draws from the Declaration's claim that government's just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. (Pilon, 2002, p. 29) James Madison Page -5-
Those who study Madison’s influence over the Constitution often note that he is the Father of the Constitution, and rightly so; however, his influence in creating the separation of powers, and the doctrine of enumerated powers are rooted in his firm personal moral and ethical beliefs: “And prior to those is his basic moral vision, from which the political principles and the constitutional structure ultimately flow. ” (Pilon, 2002, p. 26)