James Madison, 200 Years Later

A reflection of James Madison’s work two centuries later.

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James Madison, 200 Years Later

Thomas Edwards, Contributer

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Founding a country from scratch is difficult. What’s more difficult is tasking its initial citizens to keep it running and support countless generations to come. In America’s case, they had no trade partners in the Western Hemisphere, lost their final graces with the current world superpower Britain, and lacked years worth of court history and legislation changes in their newfound government. It was a heavy load to carry by some two million men spread across the thirteen colonies that cover the East Coast. One of these men was James Madison.

James Madison is credited as the “Father of the Constitution”, and ultimately kept the country from falling apart along with the popular words of Benjamin Franklin and military genius of George Washington, among many other influential figures. He began his participation in American politics during a time where very few knew where to start and where they would end. They didn’t even have a Congressional election system set up, which was the subject of one of James Madison’s first writings. This document is titled as “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787” and expounded on such.

The document recorded the thoughts of the participating crowd in great detail, assumingly verbatim of what was actually said in the meeting. Set before and after these recordings is the context of the meeting and ensuing results. Two meetings, one on May 31 and another on June 6, make up the subject of the document. The final result is a refined portrait of what happened in those courts a decade after America declared independence.

The scene is characterized by mass confusion, with debates largely concerning the definition of democracy, what it is and is not. Should voting for the position of National Legislature rest in the hands of the public at large, or the Stage Legislatures alone? How do we balance the hierarchy of government without devolving into castes? They don’t know. They can’t base it off the government they knew back in Britain—that was a monarchy. Even if they were to take example from the Parliament, that’s just one branch of government, Congress. They needed two more.

This document is just something James Madison happened to author, but it’s important nonetheless. It’s something that many Congressional arguments today can harken back to, since the subject is so universal when considering the purpose of the court.

But outside of recordings, James Madison wrote his own ideas anonymously in the Federalist, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. The Federalist was a collection of essays written by the three in support of the currently unratified Constitution, and hidden among these was “Federalist No. 10”, The tenth essay to be written. Though it was run under the pseudonym “Publius”, James Madison was responsible for writing the piece, and in it he described his fears of tyranny in the republican government he tirelessly works to establish.

James Madison details that the worst that a monarchy has to offer can be just as easily replicated in a republic, assuming that the majority rule acts like king. In the republic, the monarch is the majority, it’s subject whoever was unpopular enough to be branded as the minority. Thus, it’s the majority’s duty to recognize their advantage in government and continue to grant the minority party(ies) their rights, lest they jeopardize democracy and forfeit the founding principles of their country.

Just like the court dealing discussed earlier, the essays chronicled in the Federalist still echo the opinion of some today. James Madison speaks much of “factions”, and while it is clear that he really speaks of political parties, he can’t help but deprecate the concept when boiled down to its social context. Most people will join a party for approval from their peers, and if not that, they’ll eagerly support the party they know will benefit their own self, even if it may not necessarily benefit society as a whole. Some people don’t even try to look for a party that represents them best, just for a party that has a good chance to win and reign in at least some policies they want.

It’s interesting to see how the works from James Madison nearly 200 years ago still echo across the country today as if a moment never passed. Issues discussed by dead men centuries ago are still being discussed by their great-great-great-great-grandchildren today, and while you may think it odd comparing how much we’ve grown, America is still infantile compared to the rest of the world. In the beginning, the initial citizens of the United States pioneered something that was originally thought to be just a theoretical government system, something that would work in a vacuum but not the world. It hadn’t been tried before, and it shows. People still debate today about what democracy really is, and if it was fated to work at all in the modern era.

Don’t expect this argument to end by the time you kick the bucket. It will likely rage on just as fiercely as it did in the Federal Convention of 1787. So on, so forth, until America itself kicks the bucket, but who’s to say even that won’t stop argumentation. So the next time you see yourself or another in the same situation, remember that James Madison could tell you all about it even two centuries later.

To read more from James Madison and other historical American documents, see the 50 Core Documents from http://teachingamericanhistory.org.