The Madisonian Legacy: A Jeffersonian
Robert M. S. McDonald
Two stark realities complicate any attempt to formulate a “Jeffersonian” interpretation of James Madison's legacy. The first is that much of what we call Jeffersonian can with equal fairness be termed Madisonian. The second is that many of the most glittering facets of Madison's legacy—state and federal constitutionalism, the Bill of Rights, Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom, the resistance to Federalist politics in the 1790s, and the Republican administration of government in the decades that followed—to lesser or greater degrees form part of Jefferson's legacy as well.
Together, in a collaboration that spanned half a century, the two Virginians shaped the substance of public life in the United States. From their joint service during the American Revolution in their home state's House of Delegates to their cooperative founding of the University of Virginia, Jefferson and Madison documented their remarkable partnership through a voluminous correspondence that Julian P. Boyd, founding editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, described as “the most extended, the most elevated, the most significant exchange of letters between any two men in the whole sweep of American history.” 1 It is not, however, the most exciting, for only rarely did Jefferson and Madison disagree. The few times they did are instructive.
Their most striking differences were external. Jefferson was tall— nearly six-foot-three—while Madison stood five-foot-six. Jefferson dressed comfortably—some said sloppily—and gained renown during his presidency for the bedroom slippers in which he reportedly received foreign diplomats and the trademark red waistcoat so often the subject of Federalist lampoons. Madison, on the other hand,