by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Attend Monday’s John Locke Foundation Shaftesbury Society meeting, and you’ll have the chance to partake of the lessons Barton College history professor Jeff Broadwater learned in the course of writing his latest book, James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation.
Among the book’s discussion points is the notion — first set forward in 1827 by Philadelphia lawyer and politician Charles J. Ingersoll — that Madison was the “Father of the Constitution.” While one scholar has calculated that Madison lost on 40 of the 71 proposals he supported during the convention that created the Constitution, Broadwater still contends “Ingersoll did not miss the mark by much.”
From supporting the idea of a constitutional convention to laboring tirelessly for ratification of the convention’s handiwork, Madison remained in the thick of the battle for constitutional reform. He attended every session of the Philadelphia convention and spoke up, by one count, two hundred times. …
… To be sure, the Constitution that Madison more or less fathered was more a matter of improvisation than the result of a master plan. Contrary to Charles Beard’s notorious claims a century ago, it was not a plot to protect the financial interests of delegates who held unusual amounts of government securities. Nor in Madison’s case should the Constitution be seen simply as an effort to preserve aristocratic rule in the face of democratic tendencies unleashed by the American Revolution, as some modern historians might argue. Instead, by 1787, Madison had become convinced that the failures of the young republic’s political institutions at both the state and national levels presented a threat to minority rights and a potential hazard to the very idea of republican government. Madison’s most important contributions to the cause of a republican constitution are a matter of reasonable debate, but two stand out: the insight that ideas about constitution-making that had been developed in the states could be applied at the national level and the notion that a reformed national government could be used to protect individual liberties within the states. To achieve his larger aims, Madison compromised grudgingly and accepted, however reluctantly, defeat on lesser points. Notwithstanding his occasional stubbornness and a penchant for ideologically elegant but impractical solutions, his greatest assets would prove to be his intelligence, persistence, and a rather remarkable adaptability.