Revolutionary Characters

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Revolutionary Characters

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1CritEER
Ago 24, 2007, 6:26pm

I just finished reading Revolutionary Characters, by Gordon Wood. I noticed quite a few members in this group has this book.

My favorite chapter was “Is There a James Madison Problem”…in the 1780’s Madison was in favor of a strong Federal government and active collaborator with Hamilton on the Federalist Papers. However, in the 1790’s Madison turn on Hamilton and began to advocate for limited Federal government powers. Wood states Madison never “flip-flop” on the powers of the federal government. Madison desire was to have the federal government umpire over states ensuring they maintain a republican form of government…not to govern over the states

Anyone else have a different favorite profile from this great book. kpg

2JNagarya
Editado: Mar 23, 2008, 7:06pm

That's only one view of the matter: Madison was not the sole Framer of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In addition to which: The Federalist -- originally a series of extra-Congressional newspaper articles during the ratification battle -- was admitted, by its authors, to be an "advertising" campaign consciously intended to "sell" the Constitution. Which obviously means that it reflects the views of the three (four, actually) authors of it, though there were actually 40+ Framers of the Constitution, which included, on the opposite end of the spectrum, an equal number -- three -- who as stronly opposed ratification because it didn't include a Bill of Rights.

The Federalists won the argument, of course; and the anti-Federalists lost the argument. But though we don't interpret the Constitution by means of the losing argument, we also don't pretend to be certain that The Federalist represents the view/s of the majority of Framers, or is the only/final word on that issue (see as example SC Justice Marshall on the latter point). Or that the extra-legislative writings of Founders and Framers are law, or are properly applied to interpreting the law.

Madison, and his fellow authors of The Federalist, were expressly for a powerful central gov't. They also never said anything about it being "small" (the Grover Norquist and "Libertarian" ideologues notwithstanding). And there was never any real doubt that they were about limitations on the Federal (and also the states -- see "Supremacy Clause") gov't -- The Federalist includes that assertion/assurance numerous times.

It was James "Father of the Constitution" Madison who successfully argued, during the Framing convention, that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary. It was also James "Father of the Constitution" Madison who, in the first session of Congress under the newly-ratified Constitution, submitted a proposal for a Bill of Rights, and successfully argued that it was needed.

Did his views on the matter change between Convention and first Congress? Or did he -- a Federalist -- calculatedly co-opt the anti-Federalist position and thereby transform it into a Federalist doctrine?

So, no: Madison didn't "flip-flop": he simply asserted that which he and his fellows had written -- as an assurance to opponents of ratification -- in The Federalist: it would be a strong central gov't with limited powers.

As I understand it, there is considerable controversy about Wood's views as an historian. Those should be taken into account when reading him. As one should also read The Federalist -- the definitive Wesleyan edition by Cooke.