Madison and the Making of America
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: RedState:
Get Ron Paul Off the Stage
Madison and the Making of America takes what we thought
was a familiar story and gives it a fresh and important interpretation
that challenges old orthodoxies and helps us better understand important
episodes in American history.
proper credit for the world-historic Virginia Statute for Religious
Freedom is at last granted not to its draftsman, Thomas Jefferson
– who had his gravestone list the statute along with the Declaration
of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia as
his proudest achievements – but to James Madison, who actually managed
to get the statute enacted (and who would have nothing inscribed
on his gravestone).
we are treated to a precise and detailed description of Madison’s
evolving role vis-a-vis the drafting of the Constitution. At the
Philadelphia Convention Madison had championed a much stronger central
government, a veto over state laws, and a diminished role and significance
of the states. He favored a national rather than a federal
government, and one in which the states would be retained insofar
as they might be "subordinately useful." His major proposals,
including the veto of state laws, a legislature with plenary authority,
and basing both legislative houses on population, were all rejected.
be known as the father of the Constitution, but Gutzman is having
none of it. "Far from being the ‘father of the Constitution,’
Madison was an unhappy witness at its C-section birth. Perhaps he
might be more appropriately called an attending nurse. He certainly
did not think of it as his own offspring."
from the Philadelphia Convention was a federal government with enumerated
powers, not a national government with plenary authority.
At that point
there were two ways forward for the nationalists. One way was the
approach of figures like Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, who
simply spoke and acted as if the federal Constitution drawn up in
Philadelphia had been the nationalist creation with broad powers
they favored rather than the limited, federal structure it turned
out to be.
instance, would later make much of the fact that the Constitution
nowhere said that the federal government possessed only the powers
"expressly delegated" to it; the word "expressly"
is not used, he said. But Marshall knew better. He was present at
the Richmond Ratification Convention, where people were assured
that the Constitution they were being urged to ratify would indeed
grant the federal government only the powers "expressly delegated"
by that instrument.
a more honest route. Although he preferred a national government,
he acknowledged that such a thing was neither what had been drafted
in Philadelphia nor what the people ratified in the conventions
that followed. So he defended not what he wished had been ratified,
but what had actually been ratified.
the early 1790s Madison found himself in opposition to those who
acted as if the federal government had been granted powers it surely
had not been granted. He spoke out against the incorporation of
a national bank and in opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s use of
the Constitution’s "necessary and proper" clause in support
of that bill. When Hamilton and his allies tried, in defiance of
universal practice both in the United States and elsewhere, to derive
powers from the Constitution’s preamble, Madison reminded them that
preambles merely state the ends of a document and do not assign
opposed John Marshall’s seminal decision in McCulloch v. Maryland
(1819), which echoed the arguments of Alexander Hamilton for broad
federal powers. The Supreme Court, warned Madison, had thereby given
Congress power "to which no practical limit can be assigned."
The Court’s reasoning stood in defiance of the understanding by
which Virginia had ratified the Constitution in 1788.
account of Virginia’s ratifying convention, heretofore confined
to the professional journals, makes its first appearance in a scholarly
book. The accepted version of American history holds that the doctrines
of nullification and secession were the product of an extreme Antifederalist
reading of the American political tradition. Gutzman shows that
this rendering has things backward. It was supporters of
the Constitution, eminent Federalists themselves, who in seeking
to persuade skeptics to ratify, spelled out the limited nature of
the federal government and the true meaning of ratification for
Virginians. Virginia would be "exonerated" from the imposition
of "any supplementary condition" upon them – i.e., the
exercise of a federal power Virginia did not grant.
It was this
Virginia understanding of the meaning of ratification that Madison
defended in the famous Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and the follow-up
Report of 1800, where the states as the parties to the federal compact
were said to possess the sovereign right in the last resort to prevent
the enforcement of an unconstitutional federal law. (Gutzman is
unconvinced by Madison’s later claims that he had never endorsed
any such principle; Madison in retirement simply "mischaracterize[d]"
the Principles of ’98, Gutzman says.)
provides some important and useful analysis of the better known
entries of The Federalist that were drafted by Madison, he
also contends that those articles by Publius (the pseudonym under
which Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote their 85 articles
in support of the Constitution) have been overemphasized by historians
in relation to their actual effect in the ratification struggle.
Hardly anyone outside the range of the New York newspapers in which
those essays appeared ever heard their arguments. By the time New
York’s ratification convention met, ten states had already ratified.
New York had to decide whether it wanted to join North Carolina
and Rhode Island as the only two states remaining outside the Union,
and also faced the prospect of a secessionist New York City withdrawing
from the rest of the state and ratifying the Constitution on its
own. That, and not the arguments of those 85 essays, is what persuaded
New York’s convention to ratify, by a tiny margin.
editor of The
Papers of George Washington, contends that James Madison
and the Making of America, the featured selection of the History
Book Club for February, promises to become the standard biography
of this important man. Let’s hope it does.
E. Woods, Jr. [send him
his website], a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises
Institute, is the author of eleven books, most recently Rollback:
Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse and
How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, as well
as the New York Times bestsellers Meltdown:
A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy
Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and
Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. He is
also the editor of five other books, including the just-released
on the Road to Serfdom.
© 2012 Thomas
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