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.
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