A quarter of a millennium ago, the founding fathers of the United States of America created a new republic of democracy. This revolutionary form of government aimed at putting power into the hands of the common citizen and also to deter tyranny as much as possible. These noblemen set forth on a task to create a form of government that was virtually unimaginable to the entire planet. Amongst these men was James Madison, whose intellect and sincerity catapulted his ideas about republics into common law. For his tireless effort, Mr. Madison has been named the Father of the Constitution. A noble gesture indeed, however, this title is ominously lacking considering just how dramatically involved he was in the shaping of our Constitution and our great nation. James Madison is not only the Father of the Constitution; he is the Father of the ideals of Republicanism and Democracy.
This view is shared by noted historian Jack Rakove, who said Madison had a “reputation as the most original, creative, and penetrating political thinker of his generation (RAK-XII).” Mr. Rakove’s novel, James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic, further paints Madison in an image of epic intellect and capability. The text exemplifies Madison in this way; rising to each and every occasion to further promote his republican ideas regarding the new government and nation. While his efforts took many losses and were a continuous source of debate, his steadfastness on the security of the Union and the liberties granted within garnered an acceptance of sorts amongst his colleagues. His merit and effort have enriched our lives and therefore he is more than the Father of the Constitution, James Madison is the Father of America.
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Rakove begins with brief background data of Madison’s family, beginning with John Maddison. Mr. Maddison was a savvy businessman who profited incredibly from the heads-right system. John’s son, James Madison Sr., owned a lavish plantation near Charlottesville sprawling thousands of acres. Madison Jr. was thus reared in a rather lavish household with numerous resources to propel his growth. This rich lineage granted Madison Jr. many benefits that most colonists would never see. He started his education at a school in nearby King & Queen County for five years, was tutored at home for another two and completed his education at the College of New Jersey.
His decision not to attend Virginia’s William & Mary exhibits the first example of Madison’s supreme thought, “His decision to attend the College of New Jersey certainly reflected an awareness that it was a far better institution (Rak-3).” During this time period, there was an intensified attitude involving state rivalries. By the standards of the day, Madison Jr., third-generation Virginian, whose family has thrived and prospered in the Commonwealth, should have attended W&M. Madison’s pivotal move for a higher education showcases his uncanny ability at problem-solving at an early age.
Upon his graduation in 1771, Madison mulled over which direction he wanted to take in life. He spent three years contemplating this, all the while continuing his education with books recommended by professors and friends. In 1774 he entered public service with a brief stint as a public safety committee member, but he would soon rise through the ranks of Virginia’s government. The American Revolution, his family’s prestige and his own persona catapulted his career promptly and in 1776 he was a member of the Virginia Provincial Convention. While lacking in experience, Madison more than made up for it in youthful ambition and ability.
His rewording of Virginia’s constitution “laid the intellectual basis for disestablishment (RAK-15),” and also gained the respect and acknowledgement of his esteemed peers. Madison’s beliefs in the separation of church and state lead him to conclude that the Constitution drawn up by George Mason could be used by the Anglican Church to persecute others; a direct correlation from the freedom that the colonies offered. Madison’s work on the Virginia Convention laid the framework used in the separation of church and state by the Constitutional Convention, a simple luxury that all U.S. citizens still enjoy.
Although Madison did not take up arms in the American Revolution, his work as a delegate from Virginia in the newly formed Congress, proved to be as important to the Union as the soldiers were. The Congress had limited powers and was further constrained by the ongoing war and dissidents amongst the states. Madison used this venue to promote his views about a strong central government and a union, with his rhetoric and candour. More directly, he intended to pass bills that would grant powers to the central government involving taxation, foreign relations, and land allotment amongst others. It takes a strong central government, Madison believed, to promote the liberties and freedoms granted in a republic. He was a popular gentleman at the time and many of his colleagues admired his intelligence and wit. He was of such character that he once took the side of Robert Morris, the very unpopular superintendent of finance, and persuaded his fellow congressmen to acknowledge his opinion. His actions allowed the passage of the Act that allows the federal government taxation privileges. This dynamic act amended one shortcoming of the Articles of Confederation and also increased the central government’s powers.
The revolution stalled every process involved in creating the new republic. The weak federal government had its hands tied; its currency was immensely devalued, it was extremely limited in its powers and there was the ever-present threat of the British. In 1781, after Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the process could once again be taken up whole-heartedly by the victorious states. The First Constitutional Convention was called in May and Madison was amongst the delegates sent to Philadelphia. The security of the Union was at the forefront of Madison’s agenda, above all else. This would prove to be a tedious process as the states squabbled endlessly over-representation in the Legislative branch and the powers granted to the federal government. In a time of national urgency, Madison delivered early; he played an enormous role in the drawing and passage of the Virginia Act from which our national government branches stem.
The Federalist Papers, a collection of essays co-written by Madison further enlightened his countrymen to his train of thought. It was Madison’s belief that the federal government should rule loosely over the people, but with an iron fist. He sought to found a governing body that was stable enough to rule over the very contrasting states; while at the same time was embodied and checked by the public. Madison’s visions stimulated the emergence of the Federal Government’s supreme authority over the states and its dedicated purpose to perpetuate liberty and freedom within.
Madison’s storied career was far from over following the First Convention, after which he attended the Second and eventually became President. His accomplishments along that time period are as integral to U.S. history as were his prior, there are simply far too many to list. The majority of them all fit into the same patterns though; Madison spent countless hours researching and developing an ideal republican government whose sole purpose was to support its citizens. He played a major role in the Compromise of 1790, easing rising tensions amongst the Northern and Southern states. Madison also led our country through the War of 1812, from which the Federal Government proved its worth in holding the Union together.
It is quite evident that Madison was incredibly more than just the Father of the Constitution. Rakove’s portrayal of this ‘pseudo-mastermind’ behind the creation of this ‘democracy thing’ brings to light Madison’s full embodiment concerning the creation of this fair nation. This alternate view of Mr. Madison most likely came about from Rakove’s intense and comprehensive research. Rakove cites many first-hand (albeit posthumously) sources (notes, letters, diaries, etc) from Madison’s era, accessing portrayals and characteristics of Madison detailed by his peers. The opinions of his peers seem to be the most prominent sources exhibiting Madison’s true virtuosity, giving a much introspective outlook on this esteemed man. Rakove’s in-depth procedure covered letters from William Bradford (an old college chum) to Thomas Jefferson. He dealt with matters ranging from national security to Madison’s private life (although much of this remains unknown upon Madison’s request). After such a concise review, Mr. Rakove’s indications of Madison’s grandiose achievements could not be any more warranted.
Madison’s uncanny ability to find common ground and realize the prevailing cause(s) of factions amongst quarrelers thrust him into center stage throughout his years of public service. For his merit, courage and premier view on the rights of man and self-government, Madison subconsciously promotes himself as the Father of America. Rakove’s opinions involving Madison’s lifetime achievements carry this image of Madison further, with well-documented resources. The evidence supports Rakove’s notion of Madison’s significance to the American cause and the effects thereafter. Madison’s work not only drafted the Constitution, it formed the framework from which our government still stands today. For this, I say that James Madison is indeed the Father of America.
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