James Madison

"It is in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of self-preservation. It is worse than in vain; because it plants in the Constitution itself necessary usurpations of power, every precedent of which is a germ of unnecessary and multiplied repetitions."

(1751 - 1836)

      When the 36 year-old James Madison left his father's home in Virginia to join George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in May 1787 to write a new constitution for the thirteen former colonies, the grave uncertainties that lay ahead cast this political wunderkind into a gloomy state of mind.  He had spent the previous six months sequestered in a room at Montpielier preparing to meet the challenges of this momentous occassion in the young nation's history.  This short, aristocratic hypochondria - who would never tip the scales pas a hundred pounds - emerged finally from his monkish seclusion and confided to members of his faily that he was likely embardking on a fool's errand, but no one approached the city of brotherly love with a finer arsenal of intellectual weapons.  Beginning with Thucydides and Xenonphon, Plutarch and Tacitus, Madison had read everything (in the original Greek and Latin) that had been written on the Greco-Roman experiments in republican government and democracy.  In two thousand years, he decided, little had changed. the central problem of governance in a republical society was still a profoundly human one: how to divide power without creating fatal gealousies among "equal" states, equal persons?  If there was to be life for the republid after the Articles of Confederation, this ws the insurmountable difficulty that must be solved.

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      Madison's brilliance in navigating the thicket of conflicting ideas and beliefs in Philadelphia in 1787 was singular in importance to the writing of the U.S. Constitution.  Called the "father of the Constitution,"  Madison, one of the least known founders, went on to become Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state, and the fourth president.  While his greatest achievement may have been his contributions to the U.S. Constitution, many believe that his finest gift to democracy was the work he and Alexander Hamilton published in The Federalist Papers.