perceived a fundamental and inescapable tension between the two sources of energy in government: its constitution and the nature of political man. It is a conflict between art and nature which not even a common commitment to a Constitution established by the people and theoretically unalterable by the government can secure against violations of the terms of the former. While government founded on a constitution depersonalizes ruling power based on what Madison called personal character or the weight of family, the exercise of power is confined to this original agreement only with great difficulty, if at all. Nature has given every government energy by supplying those who exercise its powers the two great motives-ambition and avarice-which regulate the behavior of all public bodies in the opinion of the leading Framers.
The greatest difficulty the Framers faced in reconciling a due energy in the executive with stability in the legislative branch arose from the values which they believed commonly induced individuals to serve in the two branches, respectively. The Senate in particular was looked to by some Framers to serve as the nursery of statesmen, and service in either branch was only to spend time on the way to the Temple of Fame, to use Charles Pinckney's grandiloquent language. Even Madison conceded that ambition properly drives legislators whose labors are arduous and rarely rewarded with either wealth or fame so that they must look ultimately to the pursuit of the latter in the executive branch. Nevertheless, he insisted that the legislative branch must attract talented and morally upright persons to its service. This need notwithstanding, there was no doubt in his mind that the terms of a written constitution cannot guarantee that the members of any of the branches will be driven by ambition to maintain their formally alloted shares of power or be restrained by patriotic motives to eschew violations of written guarantees of individual rights. As long as government is the greatest of all reflections on human nature, there will be an inescapable tension between the constitutional and natural sources of energy in government. Ultimately, Madison concluded, only the accountability of morally imperfect rulers to an alert electorate can maintain the ideal of constitutional government in practice. Events were soon to prove how fragile mere parchment is as a barrier to the exercise of power in the best of circumstances and, especially if this nation is faced with either the reality or the threats of war.
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Publication information: Book title: James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Contributors: Robert J. Morgan - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 79.
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