James Madison and the Founding of the U.S. Constitution
James Madison and the Founding of the U.S. Constitution
The founding of the United States Constitution is the most significant single event in American history, because the Constitution defines the political and cultural intentions of the American nation. The founding of the Constitution is as shrouded in myth as it is in history. The original intent of its framers can, obviously, only be deduced rather than verified.
However, extensive historical scholarship exists which helps to illuminate the intent of the original framers of the Constitution and also helps to elucidate exactly what type of government the founding fathers aspired to create and whether or not the Constitution reflects the formation of a single vision, or many visions. Regarding this latter point, the scholarship is clear: the Constitution reflects a dramatic political compromise between radically different parties, each with individual beliefs and interests.
The Constitution in reflecting these compromises led to the formation of a government that was different than any single framer’s vision. An important question regarding the founding of the U. S Constitution is that of the framer’s intent. This question is less easily answered and scholars differ greatly on how closely the historical framers resemble the framers of American myth. Many scholars view the myth of the founding fathers as a crucial linchpin in the myth of the Constitution which,. in effect, holds the conventions of Democracy together in many ways.
Other scholars view the myth of the founding fathers as just that: myth and seek to undermine the myths with detailed examinations of the personal faults and failings of the framers. This controversy in modern scholarship seems to mirror a schism among the framers themselves in their basic philosophies regarding human nature. “Children of the Enlightenment, most believed it was possible to apply the lessons of experience to the creation of a new government; at the same time, most were realists in regard to human nature, recognizing, as Madison argued in Federalist No. 1, that human beings were not angels and that government must necessarily guard against some destructive human impulses. ” (Vile, 1997, p. 14) Madison became one of the most crucial and important of the framers. This aforementioned philosophical schism — between individual (and state’s) liberties versus the centralization of power in a Federal government ignited the most dramatic and important debate in regards to the forming of the Constitution. This debate, in fact, was the reason that the Constitution was drafted.
Prior to the Constitutional Convention, the fledgling United States existed under the Articles of Confederation. However, a large segment of the delegates to the Convention were strong nationalists. So, at the time the Constitutional Convention was convened, America was a confederation of states and not a democracy of any kind. At the Constitutional Convention two plans were presented, the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey plan. The New Jersey plan focused on the concerns of “those who were more fearful of granting increased powers to the national government.
More obviously, it favored the interests of the small states. (Vile, 1997, p. 16) The two plans demonstrate clearly that no single form of government was being envisioned by the framers, rather each of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued on behalf of their personal beliefs and the needs and concerns of their states. Eventually, a compromise was reached — the “Great Compromise” which resulted in a bicameral legislature with a supreme court. The resulting form of government reflected the Federalist concerns as Republican concerns.
Indeed, the Constitution itself became the from of government a constitutional government, born out of a schism between many radically differing viewpoints. Despite the debates and compromises , America stood united in its will against tyranny, with individuals differing in their beliefs of how to best control tyranny. The US Constitution stands as the most venerable and long-lasting national constitution on earth, as well as a bacon of liberty for the entire world. It’s origins in the fiery debate and intellectual analysis of the Founding Fathers is a dramatic and revolutionary story.
At the center of this story stands James Madison, the greatest political theorist in American history, perhaps in the world: the man known as the Father of the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, Madison emerged as both the most thoroughly prepared, but engaged delegate, immersing himself in floor-debates and off-floor caucusing, as well as theoretical discussions and arguments with other delegates and political thinkers.
Madison’s “Virginia plan” served as the model for what eventually became the U. S. Constitution. As the most prepared delegate and the one most deeply immersed in political theory, Madison was able to control the flow of debate and the determination of critical aspects of the Constitution. His ideas, which he fought for passionately, were motivated by a desire to enshrine liberty above personal power and ambition, and to ensure that the Constitution, rather than any single administrator, officer, or office, or combination thereof, held ultimate sway over American law.
This central belief drove Madison to clash with many of powerful delegates at the Convention who believed instituting some variation of the British Monarchical government in America. Among the powerful delegates who disagreed with Madison’s vision was Alexander Hamilton who advocated the doctrines of political patronage and a pseudo-Monarchical descendency of power, with a powerful Executive branch. Madison spoke eloquently in support of his vision: the conservation of power by the Executive, predicated on the threat of foreign or internal war, had long obstructed the true reign of liberty throughout human history.
Additionally, Madison depicted the conservation of power by referencing the Federal Convention which he saw as :a counterpoint to the people, as an opportunity for those of outstanding prudence–understood in both its moral and intellectual sense–to transcend popular opinion and to do for the people what they could not do for themselves. Madison’s reluctance to grant excessive power to any single branch or member of government indicated his corresponding faith and belief in the people as a whole to govern themselves in a far superior way than to be governed by a group of elites.
These political theories were not abstract concepts to Madison, but beliefs rooted in his moral apprehension, one which he felt was universal in man; he truly believed the principles of individual liberty, that each person is entitled to live their life free from interference. History and the legacy of America records that Madison’s doctrine of enumerated powers eventually formed the strong-center of the US Constitution. His skill as a debater, a theorist, an orator, and as a politician gained recognition and ratification of his ideas by the Constitutional Delegates.
The Constitution’s many checks and balances, from the division of powers (federalism) to the separation of powers, to the provision for judicial review, to periodic elections, and much more owe their creation to Madison’s influence and theories. Those who study Madison’s influence over the Constitution often note that he is the Father of the Constitution, and rightly so; however, his influence in creating the separation of powers, and the doctrine of enumerated powers are rooted in his firm personal moral and ethical beliefs.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 22 September 2016
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