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James Madison, Framer Without Peer

Steve Scroggins

Steve Scroggins

Steve Scroggins is a volunteer contributor to the Georgia
Heritage Council who lives in Macon. He is the deranged creative force behind
the X-Files parodies.


James Madison, Framer Without Peer â€“ Commentary by Steve Scroggins, 3/16/2010

"Madison's claim on our admiration does not rest on a perfect consistency, any more than it rests on his presidency. He has other virtues.... As a framer
and defender of the Constitution he had no peer
.... The finest part of Madison's performance as president was his concern for the preserving of the
Constitution.... No man could do everything for the country – not even Washington. Madison did more than most, and did some things better than any. That
was quite enough."
--Garry Wills, from James Madison, 2002 [emphasis added]

James Madison's birthday is March 16th, so it is appropriate that we give tribute to his life and accomplishments. Biographer Garry Wills had it correct that,
as a framer and defender of the Constitution, Madison had no peer. As we review his career of service to Virginia and the country, you'll see that as well.

Madison's Career

  • Served in the Virginia state legislature (1776–79) and became known as a protégé of Thomas Jefferson.
  • Delegate to the Continental Congress (1780-83) where he was considered "a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building"
  • Drafted the Virginia Plan (aka Randolph plan) for the Constitutional Convention
    in Philadelphia in 1787

  • Paved the way for an internet through avocation of free speech. Ultimately allowing users to jailbreak their devices with cydia
  • Recorded notes on the Philadelphia Convention
  • Advocated ratification of the Constitution by co-authoring the Federalist Papers
  • Led fight for Ratification in the Virginia Ratifying Convention
  • Though he opposed including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution, he recognized the political necessity and drafted 12 proposed Amendments in June 1789
    based on George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights and worked to get them passed through the House for submission to the States for ratification. Ten were
    ratified in what we now know as the Bill of Rights.
  • Co-authored the Virginia and
    Kentucky Resolutions in 1798 with Thomas Jefferson nullifying the Alien and Sedition Acts
  • Secretary of State for President Jefferson 1801-09
  • President of the United States 1809-1817
  • Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829

  • "Historian" critics of Madison point to his 'inconsistency' on issues and point to his failure to avoid the War of 1812 as Madison's great mistake. To give
    Madison a fair hearing, one has to delve deeply into the issues of the time and to understand the politics of America and the world as it existed then. Based
    on what I do know and recognizing how much I don't know, I plan to acquire more biographies and historical analysis of Madison's career. The goal of
    this commentary is to pique the interest of readers to learn more about Madison and the founders in general.

    On the surface, Madison's views did change over time and Madison himself was aware of this, often penning his "matured" views on various political subjects
    to be appended to his papers and correspondence. Madison was a leading figure in calling for the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 for the purpose of
    proposing a new form of government as articulated in the Constitution. Its purpose was to form a more effective, and yes, a more powerful central government.

    Laurence Vance and others have taken their shots with essays like
    The Anti-Federalists Were Right. Though the protection of property rights
    was clearly a Founding Principle
    [ Private property--Liberty's Support ], modern authors like
    Tom Mullen lament that the Constitution doesn't do enough. The Philadelphia
    convention of 1787 was authorized by the Continental Congress ONLY to offer amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation, not to form a new
    Constitution from scratch. Some 'historians' (and Anti-Federalists at the time) label their actions at Philadelphia a coup d'etat; others like Hamilton Abert Long,
    defend the Framers in his essay entitled,
    Refutation of the Charge That The Framers Perpetrated
    a Coup d'etat
    . Madison himself in Federalist #40, defended the actions of the Convention.

    Madison is viewed by some as an "extreme" federalist in the beginning, but modifying his views to that of a "moderate" federalist more like George Washington
    during the months long progress of the Philadelphia Convention in May to September 1787. Though Washington contributed very little in terms of comment, debate and discussion,
    Washington's support for the Constitution was well known and carried great weight. It's been suggested that the Framers (and more importantly, the state
    ratifying conventions) would never have consented to an executive branch, which seemed too close a monarch, were it not generally presumed that Washington
    himself would be the first executive.
    Washington's Integrity
    and reputation was essential to ratifying the Constitution.

    Madison's notes on the Convention were the best record of what occurred but they were not published until after Madison's death in 1836. Madison was the last
    of the Framers and Founders to die. Madison's notes reveal that many of the Framers understood the necessity of an executive branch as well the political
    difficulty in gaining ratification for those powers. A sidebar this writer found facsinating was the discussion during the Convention of a three-person
    executive branch (like the Roman triumvirates) favored by some of the Framers (the Obama three-ring circus comes to mind). There was justified concern
    that the executive would dominate Congress and there was equal
    concern that the executive might not be independent enough and would be dominated by Congress.

    The Electoral College for the election of a
    President was designed
    to maintain balance between large and small states, between densely populated cities and rural districts. Modern leftists and talking heads frequently disparage
    the Electoral College as antiquated and outmoded in the modern age of 'democracy.' The
    Founder's Wisdom
    isn't understood, and too frequently our citizens are far
    too ignorant of it, therefore citizens are too easily persuaded to throw out the Constitution, too. Polls suggest that a high percentage of Americans favor
    eliminating the Electoral College.

    Madison took the upper hand to frame the debates in the Constitutional Convention (Washington presided) by introducing the Virginia Plan, which called for a three branch government,
    and which provided a number of checks and balances intended to prevent unlimited power and the "tyranny of the majority." An opposing "New Jersey" plan was
    introduced but in the end, a compromise was reached (representation by population in the House; equal votes for all states in the Senate). Though Madison's
    modified Virginia Plan prevailed, Madison lost a number of battles for particular structures he saw as important.
    Madison and Hamilton emerged from the Convention thinking that the Constitution would not be "energetic" enough to overcome the existing problems with the
    Articles of Confederation. But the next big hurdle to overcome was to convince three fourths of the States (nine) to ratify the Constitution as written. It was
    Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists who generally opposed "energetic" government, as Jefferson wrote, "it is always oppresive."

    Madison wrote over a third of the Federalist Papers,
    which were published essays advocating the ratification of the Constitution and rebutting what were known
    as the Anti-Federalist Papers. The other unlikely
    authors were John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. All the Federalist Papers were published under the pseudonym,
    Publius. After ratification, it became known who the authors were. Hamilton later claimed authorship of a number of Papers (each was sequentially numbered)
    which he didn't write. Madison disputed those claims and modern scholars have analyzed the texts and styles and virtually all favored Madison as the true author
    of the disputed papers.

    Though Madison was called "The Father of the Constitution," Madison himself protested claiming such a title was "a credit to which I have no claim... The
    Constitution was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.

    Madison served in the first three Congresses under the Constitution and worked with President Washington to pass needed legislation through the House of
    Representatives. As noted in a recent
    commentary on Washington,
    Madison helped Washington draft his farewell address of 1796. During the Adams administration, Madison joined with then Vice President Thomas Jefferson in
    anonymously writing the Kentucky and
    Virginia Resolutions (1798) which were state nullifications of the Alien
    and Sedition Acts.

    Though Madison began as an 'ultranationalist' or 'extreme federalist' as various authors label him, he defended the rights of states to oppose violations of the
    Constitution as shown in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, known as the "Principles of '98." Madison opposed Hamilton's formation of a national bank,
    but later as president approved the formation of a new one based on experiences in the War of 1812.

    As Secretary of State under Jefferson (1801-09), Madison negotiated the Lousiana Purchase.
    No, this was not the use of pork to buy the support of Louisiana's
    Senator Mary Landrieu. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bought her health care bill vote with an increase of Medicaid subsidies for Louisiana to the tune of
    $100 million. The U.S. acquired rights to 828,000 square miles of territory claimed by the French for $15 million. Critics slam Jefferson and Madison for
    betraying their frugality, states rights and strict constructionist positions on this purchase. But keep in mind, America was trying to maintain its position of neutrality between
    England and France which were perpetually at war and both of which had designs on North America.

    Madison was the only President to have two Vice Presidents die while in office. George Clinton, who had been Jefferson's VP, was also elected VP for Madison's
    first term (1809-1813), died in April 1812 and the office remained vacant until 1813. The states ratified the 12th Amendment regarding the election of Vice
    Presidents in June 1804 given the problems arising from the elections of 1796 (Adams and Jefferson) and 1800 (Jefferson and Burr). Nevertheless, there still was
    no procedure to fill a vacancy in the office of Vice President in the event of death, resignation or ascension to the Presidency.

    Elbridge Gerry, elected VP
    for Madison's second term, took office in 1813 and died in November 1814. The Office of VP remained vacant until 1817. One imagines the perils that could
    have befallen the Republic if not for Providence. Remember that Madison fled Washington, D.C. on horseback in 1814 when the British sacked the capitol city and
    burned the White House. The website has a history of the Vice-Presidency you might find of interest.

    Madison's image was on the now out-of-circulation $5000 bill. Though some might suggest that a founder might prefer NOT to be depicted on a modern Federal Reserve
    Note, I believe that Madison should be honored with a denomination that is in circulation, and that he's much more entitled to such an honor than such figures
    as Lincoln, Grant, Jackson, FDR, McKinley, etc. Jefferson is on the nickel and the $2 bill (rare); Washington is the quarter coin and one dollar bill. The ugly
    visage of Lincoln certainly does not deserve more prominence than Madison. Truth be told, I'd advocate destroying all Lincoln currency and pounding the Lincoln
    Monument into gravel. I have no problem with Franklin on the $100 bill, but Grant on the $50 is an outrage.
    Not only is Grant a war criminal (General Lee would scold me for writing that), Grant presided over administrations as president widely known to be highly
    corrupt all while the occupying federal armies continued looting the South. Dissing Madison and leaving Jefferson on the rare $2 bill seems par for the course in modern
    P.C. times when the Founders are out of favor with progressives and multiculturalists. Note that Madison is shown in the upper right hand corner of almost
    every page on this website.

    As this commentary is getting long, I'll close with a challenge to all readers to learn more about Madison and the founding period through which he lived.
    Madison was clearly a complex man and a great man of ideas. It's our duty as
    citizens to understand how our Constitution and the federated Republic of republics is supposed to work, how the Framers intended it to work. Given the complexities
    of putting such a new and radical (for the time) system into operation in a hostile world, we can forgive Madison for adapting his views over time and with a view
    to experience and political realities, but always remaining true to Founding Principles and the Constitution. If only we had more leaders of his
    principled stature.

    "It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity
    however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect."
    --James Madison, to unidentified correspondent, 1833

    "It will not be denied that power is of an encroaching nature and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it. After
    discriminating, therefore, in theory, the several classes of power, as they may in their nature be legislative, executive, or judiciary, the next and most
    difficult task is to provide some practical security for each, against the invasion of the others." --James Madison,
    Federalist #48, 1788

    "It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people." --James Madison, Second annual message to
    Congress, December 15, 1810

    "Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be
    lost in the pursuit." --James Madison, Federalist #51, 1788.

    Steve Scroggins
    is Commander of the Lt. James T. Woodward Camp 1399, Sons of Confederate
    Veterans, in Warner Robins, GA. He is the deranged creative force behind
    the X-Files parodies.

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