Friday, December 01, 2006

James Madison

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights is not a biography of James Madison. So if you are interested in Madison and his studies under John Witherspoon, do not bother. However, if you are interested in a good look at early American struggles to fit together the Constitution, it is a good book.

One thing that impressed me was the Virginia Ratifying convention. The Federalists at the convention included no less than one future President (Madison), the current governor who would become the Attorney General (Randolph), two future Supreme Court Justices (Marshall and Bushrod Washington), chief jurist of Virginia (Pendleton), the first law professor in America (Wythe), future congressman (White), and revolutionary war heroes (Henry Lee). The Anti-Federalist side contained a five time governor and man who turned down the senate, Supreme Court and Secretary of State (Henry), state politician and revolutionary war hero (Mason), three future senators (Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson and John Brown from Kentucky), a future President (Monroe), future Congressman (Dawson). 30 of the 168 delegates were current members of the Virginia Legislature. This is all with the two most famous citizens and future Presidents, Washington and Jefferson, not attending. An amazing collection of men, in fact, an impressive collection voting against ratification.

One thing that disappointed me is that the author, Richard Labunski, did not do enough to vindicate James Madison from the charge of changing his beliefs. He takes a great deal of heat from historians who point out Madison writes the Federalist papers and then leads the Anti-Federalists in Congress. Alexander Hamilton Biographers are usually pretty ruthless on Madison as well. Many claim that Madison being passed over for the Senate caused him to become an Anti-Federalist to get back in the good graces of the Virginia people. This is far from true. Madison did not want to serve in the Senate, and knew that Patrick Henry would pick to men who opposed the Constitution, as he did. Madison ran for the House in a gerrymandered district as a Federalist and won. So there is no truth behind that ludicrous claim. Mr. Labunski sometimes says Madison always remained true, but then later talks of the evolution of Madison’s support for the Bill of Rights. I have long thought that the idea of Federalists and Anti-Federalists is not correct. Rather it should be Nationalists, Federalists, and Anti-Federalists. This book provides some nice proof. We too often think of our First Ten Amendments when we talk of support for a Bill of Rights, and that was by no means settled when men like Patrick Henry and George Mason, true Anti-Federalists, spoke about a Bill of Rights. They desired not only protections like freedom of press, speech and religion, but also other changes to protect the rights of the citizens, mainly the elimination of direct taxation power of the government. They wanted other things like an increased size for the House of Representatives, the participation of the House in ratifying treaties and appointments of the President all under the name ‘Bill of Rights’. Madison favored a careful crafting of amendments that enumerated rights such as freedom of religion, habeas corpus and other freedoms found in our 10 Amendments. He favored them as long as the writing of the amendments did not imply the Federal government had powers to take rights not specifically listed away. He did think the government only had powers that were enumerated, and thus had no power over religion and press, but was never opposed to carefully protecting them (which says something about how Madison viewed the ‘necessary and proper’ clause in the Constitution). Madison, however, opposed the removal of direct taxation and other changes to the body of the Constitution. This led to him being labeled a Federalist by Virginia Anti-Federalists. However, once in Congress he proposed the Bill of Rights, as feared by Henry without the changes in Direct Taxation and other powers odious to Anti-Federalists, and nothing that changed the relationship between the Federal Government and the states. It was not Madison who changed his views, rather it was Hamilton. Hamilton argued for the Constitution even though he was truly a Nationalist who desired the eradication of states. Madison’s opposition to Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury was not a change in Madison rather it was the sneaky attempt of Hamilton to steal powers for the Federal Government that did not belong to it that cause Madison’s opposition.

In the end, the book was quite enjoyable, and worth a read.