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The name James Madison is often connected to founding father, statesman, president, and father of the Constitution. James played a pivotal role in the birth of the American nation being at the forefront in drafting the country’s constitution and the bill of rights. Madison was born on a plantation in Virginia, and upon his father’s death he inherited the plantation and owned many slaves. Over the next years, after school, Madison was involved in local politics becoming a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a Continental Congress member before the convention in Philadelphia. Madison was key in the convention and also a leader in championing for the ratification of the new Constitution. James collaborated with other leaders of the time, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, to pen the famous treatises, the Federalist Papers—which championed for the Constitution.
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After the ratification of the Constitution, Madison served in the new House of Representatives and drafted many bills. He was credited for drafting the initial ten amendments to the Constitution. Moreover, he collaborated closely with the then President George Washington to organize the new federal government. Thereafter, he broke from the Federalist Party to form the first official opposition party, the Democratic-Republican Party. James also served as the Secretary of State where he supervised the Louisiana Purchase. Later in 1809, he became the chief executive of the country until 1817. During his stint as president, he led the country into a controversial war in 1812. After the two terms, James retired to his Virginia farm and later died in 1826. This paper will enumerate the legacy of James Madison. It will highlight his contributions to law and policy both in the pre-and post-revolutionary period and determine his lasting legacy.
Contribution to the Nascent Law and Policy context of the U.S
Madison was one of the greatest minds of his time. James read widely, and one of his biggest influencers were the Roman writers, modern European history, natural rights philosophy, classical Greeks, Protestant theology and the Bible. A myriad of events and possibilities shaped the young Madison’s thought process. He encapsulated the new form of political science and government with a complex structure that has come to shape the modern-day governments.
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For one, Madison was a firm believer that a popular government could be destroyed by factions. This was highlighted in the treatise Federalist No. 10 where he explained factions to be groups of citizens that unite and are motivated by a shared instinct of interest and passion and which could be unfavorable to other citizens or the society (Sheehan, 2013). Madison went further and argued that free societies do not face any danger from factions consisting of a minority. This is so because the principle of majority rule denies the factions the constitutional basis and legal right to gain their ends. However, the opposite is true. A faction formed by a majority, which may act as doing what is right, threaten freedom and therefore destroy the fabric and intent of the government (Sheehan, 2013).
In modern governments, factions do exist. Like the past, they exist due to prejudice and self-interest which could have a tendency of influencing other individual’s views and opinions. Knowing full well that factions cannot be eliminated, unless people’s liberty is destroyed and their minds coerced, Madison championed for a government that has the power to restrict the effects of factions and discourages the development of a biased majority. The unique solution involved the establishment of a popular federal government coupled with the principle of representation.
Considering the vastness of the United States republic, it is important to take into consideration the diverse views and interests. Madison believed that size does matter. Considering a small republic, it is easier for the majority to interact and amalgamate all for prejudice and selfish interest and therefore tyrannize the minority. On the flipside, an extensive republic has diverse views and greater distance over which the views must be communicated. Consequently, the majority could not form a cohort based on narrow interests. Large societies require the majority to seek a coalition so that they can attain an authoritative position. Considering this, it can be said that Madison was the first individual to appreciate the diversity of people and celebrated how such differences could bring forth talents, freedom of choice, freedom of conscience and freedom of thought.
Nonetheless, Madison still believed that the people needed a government that could speak for their common purpose; where it dedicated itself to principles of freedom by appreciating the ideals of responsibility and self-government. This, Madison saw as the cornerstone and vision of the ‘new and nobler course’ of a modern and free government (Sheehan, 2013). Representation would play a part in enlarging and refining the views of the public which would be communicated and debated through a chosen body of citizens. The chosen body would apply its wisdom and, to the best of its ability, discern the true intentions of the country guided by the principles of justice and patriotism. Thus, they would be less likely to falter into partial and temporary considerations. Representation, as taught by Madison, is not about moving with the wind—listening to polls or putting a finger to the breeze—instead it is about common good without prejudice or partial interests.
The process envisioned by Madison can be evidenced by the modern legislative process. It involves the refinement and enlargement of public sentiment through the application of public hearings, particularly touching on matters political within the home districts of the representatives. The representative then coalesces these views and articulates them on the floor of the House or Senate. Additionally, the Madisonian process is seen through the vicious contests seen in legislative committees and the letters sent by representatives to their constituents and the re-election campaigns where those seeking for another term in office must defend their stances and showcase how they faithfully discharged the trust placed upon them by their constituents (Magnet, 2011).
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How do the Contributions fit into the General Tenor of the Law?
James Madison together with more than 50 delegates met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. Their intention was to amend the Articles of the Confederation. However, what came out was a new constitution. Madison was a chief architect of the Constitution already having developed ideas and theories over the preceding 11 years. This was documented in the Virginia Plan which highlighted the points of debate in the convention. In the beginning, Madison proposed for a strong central government with the purpose of unifying the country. After the deliberations, he championed for the Constitution’s ratification by co-authoring many essays which were published in newspapers and distributed across many states.
Later on, Madison introduced a total of 19 constitutional amendments of which ten were ratified by the various states. These amendments are now more commonly known as the Bill of Rights. Many of the states ratified the Constitution in the hope that it would be amended by alterations such as those introduced by Madison. The Bill of Rights came to protect the rights of a free press, freedom of speech and religion. Earlier on, Madison authored a paper that sought to explain on the separation of state and religion. This was the root of his amendments and the introduction of the Bill of Rights.
Madison, during the revolutionary period, worked in Virginia’s General Assembly, the Continental Congress and then the Congress serving under the Articles of Confederation. In the latter part of the 18th century, Madison further offered his services to the Virginia House of Delegates and was in attendance at the Annapolis Convention which set the stage for the Federal Convention. In the early days of the convention, Madison met with most of the delegates to formulate an agenda. The Virginia Plan was a creation of James Madison. The plan focused on a strong central government and bi-cameral legislature. The plan provided the building blocks for the Constitution which was ratified in 1787.
Throughout, Madison did not believe that the chosen representatives could be virtuous and wise—although hoped so—due to the trappings of power and the pull of ambition that goes hand in hand with occupying a political office. Madison held that not all times would the office holders be enlightened statesmen. He believed that at no one time should there be a blind trust for the political landscape since the scene distracts from proper reasoning even for the most enlightened and they become subjugated to passion.
Madison spoke out against tyranny depicting it as the accumulation of powers in the same hand. The only way to deal with this was the application of prudential devices which included checks and balances, separation of powers, federalism and bicameralism. Such measures would enable the division and channeling of ambitions and self-interest inherent in political officeholders and allow the government to govern itself. The immediate post-revolutionary period saw the separation of powers into the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. The separation of powers should not only be on parchment, considering men are not angles, remarked Madison. Moreover, he saw that ambition could be used to counteract ambition and this might be employed to limit the departments of governments into their constitutional boundaries. Madison advised his fellow men to be on the qui vive of the political heat and attraction of political office and power. Therefore, the ineptness of humanity could work together to provide a system of checks and balances within the workings of the government.
What makes James’ Contributions Unique?
The federalist papers left a lasting legacy on the political and policy landscape of the United States. It highlighted the processes and principles of the proposed Constitution. Winston Churchill remarked that an individual must make a choice between a life of action or words. Madison demonstrated that an individual could be both a statesman and a scholar. Madison had set out to discover and make real the possibility of a popular government that could also be just. This was to him more than an academic quest and was looking for a republican remedy that could sort out the ‘sighs of humanity’ and the problems facing the popular government (Hamilton, Jay, Madison, & Kessler, 2003).
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Madison trusted that his generation had come across a means by which they can remedy the deficiencies of a popular government, but the eventual success of the self-government depended on the ability and willingness of the future generations. Madison postulated that the survival of the republican government depended heavily on the vigilance of the American people and their zeal to keep burning the ‘sacred fires of liberty’ (National Archives and Records Administration, 2017). Madison believed that even with all the instituted checks and balances and laws that prevent and protect against political ambition the government’s success is still very dependent on the ability and willingness of the people to protect and care for their rights and that of others. Madison taught that the ‘noble course of freedom’ was a worthy road and should be followed by all citizens.
The uniqueness of Madison came from what many historians describe as his principles but also his nimble nature (Veasey, 2009). James shows his principle nature through the debates and writings during the Philadelphia Convention. In the beginning, Madison asserted, together with his Federalist companions, the need for a strong central government. The strong powers, however, should be limited to war, defense, international treaties, and taxes. Beyond that, Madison believed that the federal government should have veto powers that trumped the states (Ellis, 2008). The nimbleness of James came to the fore when the convention had to accommodate the competing views of the states and the process of ratification. He became nimble on his stance of the federal structure. The Virginia plan morphed into a Constitution with blurred lines that delineated the state and federal powers. This enabled Madison and other Federalists to marshal the necessary support from both those who feared and favored the proposed powers of the central government (Stagg, 2017).
James’ Lasting Legacy to U.S Law and Policy
The legacy of James Madison can be best summarized by his lifetime commitment to the concept of responsibility and freedom. In today’s governments, these principles form the basis of the republican self-government. They assist in protecting the citizenry and allow them to exercise their faculties. Madison asserted that one of the humanity’s unalienable right was that of the free exercise of their talents and minds. From these are all other liberties and rights are derived. Such are rights to property, assembly, speech, conscience and the freedom of the press.
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From the beginning, Madison held that the state and church should be separate and that the religion of an individual should be their choice and should not be dictated by other people. Indeed, the separation of the church and the state was not aimed at promoting the secular over the church or demean the status of the church, but rather it was to provide and protect an individual’s religious convictions against state intrusion. Additionally, James held that the duty to God was above the duty to country. This was described as the freedom of conscience, unalienable since it being a right of humans is also a duty to the creator (Founders Online, 2002). Madison’s comprehension of religious freedom stems from his understanding of a human’s responsibilities and obligations hierarchy. Therefore, a just government is mandatory for individuals to enjoy their religious identity in the same way other rights would be protected. Madison insists that a just government should be able to protect the property in rights as well as the rights of property. All forms of property including the right to an opinion and the free communication of them is equal to other rights such property, assembly, and press. The responsibility of the government is to protect all forms of property ensuring they impartially secure to every individual whatever is theirs (Sheehan, 2013).
One of Madison’s lasting legacy is the bill of rights which he believed would go above being just some writings on the wall or a barrier to oppressive acts. True to his belief, the bill of rights has become sanctified and is now part of the daily public discourse. These constitutional rights have been strengthened by their flow from written text and are now blended into the hearts and minds of the citizens. Madison’s dream was for a society that could truly govern itself. And this is possible through the fostering of respect and responsibility of rights. Individuals should also be educated through an enlargement of views and encouraged to cultivate public manners.
History has depicted Madison as a puzzle: a founding father, an architect of the Constitution, one of the founders of the first opposition party, a government worker but a rather ordinary president. Madison’s strengths only went as far as being a master in a small arena, and he was not cut out for the entrails of presidential leadership. Compared to other great leaders of his time like statuesque Washington and Jefferson, he was not able to dominate the scene. However, he was a perspective judge of issues and men, a keen politician and studious. His contributions to law and policy have given present humanity the opportunity to appreciate the ingenious way he visualized the American society. Present-day individuals are still striving to bring Madison’s vision into reality.
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- Ellis, J. (2008). American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic (pp. 1-304). New York, NY: Random House Inc.
- Founders Online. (2002). Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.
- Hamilton, A., Jay, J., Madison, J., & Kessler, C. (2003). The federalist papers (pp. 1-688). New York, NY: Signet Classic.
- Magnet, M. (2011). James Madison and the Dilemmas of Democracy. City Journal.
- National Archives and Records Administration. (2017). Transcription: Washington’s Inaugural Address.
- Sheehan, C. (2013). James Madison: Father of the Constitution. The Heritage Foundation.
- Stagg, J. (2017). James Madison: Impact and Legacy. Miller Center.
- Veasey, E. (2009). What would Madison think? The Irony of the twists and turns of Federalism. Delaware Journal of Corporate Law, 34, 35-56.