James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Synopsis

"Morgan provides a comprehensive, consistent, and unified analysis of Madison's political philosophy using Madison's views on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the focus. Morgan looks at all that Madison wrote on these topics before, during, and after the adoption of the Constitution. He argues that Madison's constitutional philosophy was shaped by his view that there was an inherent conflict between limited government and accountability on the one hand, and the tendency of all to exercise autonomous, unrestricted power. . . . His second thesis is that Madison was propelled to become a constitutional reformer not by any desire to curb democracy but by the need to preserve both the union and republican government. Morgan emphasizes the impact of the American experience in shaping Madison's thought as well as its eclectic character." Choice

Excerpt

Before the opening of Congress in 1789, Madison had no opportunity to expound publicly the need for the president to be both supported and restrained constitutionally, the position which he took at the Constitutional Convention. the pressure under which the debates over the executive took place during the fourth month of the Convention precluded all but fragmentary speeches defining and defending his conception of executive power and its proper distribution. the division of labor between Madison and Hamilton in writing essays for The Federalist was such that Madison contributed nothing to the explanations of the executive branch, whereas Hamilton provided thirteen essays on this subject. Madison's first opportunity to express any views on this subject was postponed until May, 1789, when the House debated bills to establish three executive departments. Subsequently, Hamilton's bills to fund the remaining war debts and to charter the Bank of the United States appeared to Madison to lay the foundation for rule by a minority consisting of military and financial interests, but the circumstances were such that Madison was constrained to deal suggestively rather than directly with this matter in a number of essays published in 1791-92. Finally, President Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality of 22 April 1793 and Hamilton's expansive justification of it gave Madison the occasion to expound rather fully his understanding of the constitutional restraints placed on executive power over foreign policy. These essays reflected his theory that the tendency of every government and especially the executive branch is to be self-directed because of wars or threats of them. This tendency toward autonomy is purchased, Madison argued, at the cost of both accountability to the electorate and strict adherence to the terms of the written constitution.

A responsible and accountable president

Two issues raised in May, 1789, illustrate the difficulties Madison faced in precisely calibrating the scope and limits as well as the supports and restraints on an institutionalized rather than charismatic presidency. One set limits on the sources of its authority and the other one secured its independent, but accountable exercise. On 11 May the House debated the Senate's proposal to address the President with an inflated honorific title. Madison ridiculed it, knowing that John Adams was one of the . . .

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