James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

By Robert J. Morgan | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
The Framers' Muse

After leaving the presidency in 1817, Madison looked back with cautious satisfaction on the republican institutions he had shared in shaping. He assessed their probable durability with his characteristic mixture of hope and philosophical skepticism. He was particularly gratified with the fruits of independence which left us free to perform our natural duty to increase the happiness of a constantly growing population. Our revolution was a model to be emulated by all persons desiring to overthrow Europe's traditional orders of monarchy, aristocracy, church and standing army. It was especially a prototype for Latin Americans who were eager to throw off Spanish imperial rule. A generation of experience in framing our Constitution of 1787 and of maintaining its republican institutions gave him reason to believe that there is a progressive science of government. This system was certainly not perfect and, therefore, the experiment was not without its strains. Government by constitutional majority was adapted to our peculiar circumstances, and it could provide about as much security for the rights of individuals and minorities as can prudently be expected from institutions of human design and operation. Madison could not give unequivocal assurances, however, in his ninth decade that this extended republic would endure.


AN EXAMPLE TO THE WORLD

In 1818, released from the burdens of the presidency, Madison composed an extended and illuminating essay on the natural order which he sent to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle County, Virginia. He asserted that the natural right of Americans to their independence was self-evident because "the earth was intended for those who would make it most conducive to the sustenance and increase of the human race" in a civilized and comfortable condition. 1 Nature has given to man alone the capacity for increasing the supply of food instead of hoarding what is provided spontaneously by nature. This capacity accounts for human preeminence over the irrational creatures and, also, distinguishes "enlightened and refined nations" from "rude and wretched tribes..." They prefer a savage existence to one of "plenty and comfort," despite examples of the latter resulting from an interaction between civilization and agriculture. Nature supplies some stimulus to the multiplication of

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James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Legal Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Notes xvii
  • Part I - Power 1
  • Chapter 1 - To Improve and Perpetuate the Union 3
  • Notes 28
  • Chapter 2 - A Proper Energy in the Executive 31
  • Notes 51
  • Chapter 3 - The True Principles of Republican Government 55
  • Notes 79
  • Chapter 4 - Supporting and Restraining the Executive 83
  • Notes 111
  • Part II - Rights 115
  • Chapter 5 - Political Liberty 117
  • Notes 128
  • Chapter 6 - A Few Obvious Truths 131
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 7 - The Very Essence of Free and Responsible Government 163
  • Notes 185
  • Chapter 8 - The Framers' Muse 189
  • Notes 202
  • Selected Bibliography 205
  • Index 213
  • About the Author 219
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