The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Pearls of James Madison, Founder

“Do not give what is holy to
the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their
feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” 
Matthew 7:6
I
have little occasion to quote the Bible, and have serious doubts about who
first penned or uttered this maxim, coming as it does from a translation of the
Bible from the old Latin text to the Vulgate, a task which reputedly engaged
several apocryphal hands over the course of centuries. But, Matthew seemed an
appropriate place to start, because it is arguably a pearl of wisdom.   
We
move on to the first set of pearls.
The
two premier publishers in the U.S. for books of unmatched quality in terms of
printing, design, affordability, and readability, are the Liberty Fund of
Indianapolis, and the Library of America in New York.
The
Liberty Fund specializes in
publishing books about the history, progress, investigation, and value of
liberty, and boasts an impressive catalogue of works from the high Renaissance
throughout the Enlightenment, and the 18th, 19th and 20th
centuries. It is completely private, founded by a businessman, Pierre F. Goodrich,
in 1960, and is sustained by sales and donations from individuals of means. Its
most recent quarterly catalogue boasts eight pages of some 720 titles, authors
and editors, from Lord Acton to Simone Zurbuchen. Its mission statement page states:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private,
educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a
society of free and responsible individuals. The Foundation develops,
supervises, and finances its own educational activities to foster thought and
encourage discourse on enduring issues pertaining to liberty.
The
Library of America,
on the other hand, was founded in 1979 with “seed money” from the
National Endowment for the Humanities, itself established by Congress in 1965. Its
purpose is to preserve the literature of America. It published its first
volumes in 1982. While I oppose government subsidies for any literary or
artistic project, the Library of America, which is now an independent
non-profit organization, seems to have been one of the government’s more
successful investments. It, too, sustains
itself
by sales and private donations, and, as far as I could determine,
receives no federal subsidies of any kind. Its mission statement reads:
The Library of America, a
nonprofit publisher, is dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print,
authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing.
I
would say it has republished and kept in print many of America’s best and worst writers. Its
titles are in the hundreds. Many are indeed worth reading. Some titles can
legitimately be deemed “best.” Others are the favorites of the
literary establishment, not necessarily “best” or even
“good.” It also publishes a quarterly catalogue with new titles.
But
what sets Liberty Fund and Library of America books apart from mainstream
publishing is the meticulous attention both publishers pay to book design,
organization, and text. I have read several titles from both publishers and I
think I found perhaps two typos or errata in over 5,000 pages. And both
publishers print their books to last, hard backs and soft covers. They can be
perused repeatedly for years with little evidence of wear. Barring
book-burnings or bannings by neo-Nazis, Progressives, or Muslims, these books
will be around for a long, long time.
(What
is not a typo, but an isolated problem with word or line spacing, occurs in
Library of America’s James Madison:
Writings
,* on page 89, the first page of “The Virginia Plan:
Resolutions Proposed by Mr. Randolph in Convention, May 29, 1787.”  The problem does not recur elsewhere in the
text.)
Having
said that, we move on to the second set of pearls to be found in that volume. I
was reviewing notes I took while first reading James Madison: Writings. Here I offer some random pearls of
political wisdom from America’s fourth president,
dubbed the “Father of the Constitution” and “Father of the Bill
of Rights.”  These pearls are
particularly relevant today. Wise Americans should learn their value.
Aside
from having been a prolific contributor to the Federalist Papers,
Madison was a frequent speaker at the Constitutional
Convention
, held in Philadelphia between May and September, 1787. Madison
spoke from written notes, or extemporaneously, and his (and others’) remarks
were recorded in shorthand by a clerk reporter. As with Thomas Jefferson and
some other notable Founders, Madison was not the compelling orator as Patrick
Henry was. Often his remarks were inaudible, and the assembly of delegates and
reporters could not hear what he said.
 Speaking on the role of what would eventually
become the U.S. Supreme Court and its relationship with the two other branches
of the federal government, the executive and the legislative, Madison said:
In England…the Executive had an
absolute negative on the laws; and the supreme tribunal of Justice (the House
of Lords) formed one of the other branches of the Legislature. In short,
whether the object of the revisionary power to restrain the Legislature from
encroaching on the other coordinate Departments, or on the rights of the people
at large; or from passing laws unwise in their principle, or incorrect in their
form, the utility of annexing the wisdom and weight of the Judiciary to the
Executive seemed incontestable. (p. 95)
The
next day, June 7th, Madison spoke of the function and composition of
what would become the U.S. Senate, which was established primarily to act as a
brake on populist legislation arising in the House of Representatives, and
secondarily as a presence of the states’ legislatures, who elected each Senator:
The use of the Senate is to
consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more
wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate the
vices which they are meant to correct.
The
function and character of the U.S. Senate were obliterated with passage of the 17th
Amendment
and its ratification by the states in 1913. The U.S. Senate was a
party to its own neutering. For all practical purposes – and given its conduct
in recent decades – the U.S. Senate became a legislative auxiliary of the
House, in effect enlarging the size of the House, and defeating the Senate’s fundamental
purposes. 1913
was a watershed year
in U.S. politics, with passage of the 16th
Amendment (the Income Tax Amendment), the establishing of the Federal Reserve
System, and ratification of the 17th Amendment.
Madison
and his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention could hardly have imagined that
129 years after the Constitution
was ratified
, it would be largely nullified by statist policies empowered
by a president, Woodrow Wilson, and his administration, and by Congress itself.
There
is a somewhat anemic movement reported in some blog sites to press Congress to
impeach Barack Obama. I think these will come to naught. However, Madison, on
July 20, 1787, was recorded by the clerk as saying:
Mr. Madison thought it indispensable
that some provision should be made for defending the Community against the
incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate [the President]. The
limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He
might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his
administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might even betray
his trust to foreign powers….(p. 128, square brackets mine)
These
words, excepting the provision for the incapacitation of the President, could
describe the candidacy for impeachment of virtually every president from FDR
onward. They especially apply to Barack Obama.
It could not be presumed that all
or even a majority of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging,
or be bribed to betray, their trust. Besides the restraints of their personal
integrity and honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption
was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be
seduced, the soundness of the remaining members, would maintain the integrity
and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to
be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within
the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the
Republic. (p. 128)
The
“restraints” of most members of Congress evaporated long ago. Few can
boast of any personal integrity or honor. There is no “security to the
public” left. Corruption and political ambition have been the rule, not
character or any regard for the enumerated powers of Congress cited in the
Constitution.
Madison
repeatedly, throughout all his writings, insisted that the form of government
Americans were adopting must be a republican
one, not a democratic one. A
republican government was better advantaged to protect individual rights, while
a democracy, regardless of the size of its population, was inherently prone to
degenerate into tyranny.
A common passion or interest
will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication
and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to
check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious
individual. Hence it is, that such democracies have ever been spectacles of
turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal
security, or the rights of property….Theoretic politicians, who have patronized
this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind
to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time,
be perfectly equalized, and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions,
and their passions. (Federalist No.
10, p. 164)
Criticisms
of the republican form of government were heard from delegates to the
Convention and in the press of the time, that it had never been tried before,
and so would never work. Madison answered in Federalist No. 14, in November 1787:
Hearken not to the unnatural
voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by
so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same
family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness;
can no longer be fellow citizens of one great respectable and flourishing
empire. Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of
government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world;
that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors;
that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. (p. 172)
Later
in that same number, Madison pays tribute to the genius of the American people:
But why is the experiment of an
extended republic to be rejected merely because it may comprise what is new? Is
it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent
regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not
suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule
the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation,
and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will
be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous
innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favour of private rights and
public happiness….
Happily for America, happily we
trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They
accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society.
(p. 173)
Madison,
like many southern delegates to the Convention, was a Virginia slaveholder,
and, like Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and others from the region, opposed the
institution. But neither he nor they could conceive of a way to end slavery
without ruining themselves and precipitating economic and social chaos, and
even violent strife. It was proposed during the Convention that the
Constitution provide for abolishing slavery in the U.S. by 1808. The idea was
opposed inside and outside the Convention because it was perceived to be a
violation of property rights. In Federalist
No. 42, Madison wrote:
Attempts have been made to
pervert this clause into an objection against the constitution, by representing
it on one side as a criminal toleration of an illicit practice, and on another,
as calculated to prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to
America. (p. 237)
Later,
Madison spoke before the Virginia Ratifying Convention on the Slave Trade
Clause, in June, 1788. He argued in vain for at least a federal or state tax on
the slaves brought to American shores, to make the trade economically
impractical, and for a total ban by 1808:
I should conceive this clause to
be impolitic, if it were one of those things which could be excluded without
encountering greater evils. The southern states would not have entered into the
union of America, without the temporary permission of that trade. And if they
were excluded from the union, the consequences might be dreadful to them and to
us….I need not expatiate on this subject. Great as the evil is, a dismemberment
of the union would be worse. (p. 391-392)
Like
Jefferson and others who recognized the evil of slavery and of regarding
enslaved men as “property,” Madison resigned himself to the reluctant
consolation that the moral conflict over slavery would need to be resolved by
another generation, and possibly violently, and not in his own time.
Citing
the great Enlightenment political philosopher, Baron Montesquieu, Madison,
in Federalist No. 47, reflected on
the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of a
republican government:
The reasons on which Montesquieu
grounds his maxim are a further demonstration of his meaning. “When the
legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body,”
says he, “there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical
manner.” Again, “Were the power of judging joined with the
legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary
control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the
executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.” (pp. 275-276,
emphases Madison’s)
Madison
was initially ambivalent about a “bill of rights” that would better
protect the liberties of Americans. But he eventually warmed to the idea and
became one of its most articulate champions. In an October, 1788 letter to Jefferson
about what the Constitutional Convention had accomplished and the function of a
bill of rights that might be appended to it, in October, he noted:
…[T]here are many who think such
addition unnecessary, and not a few who think it misplaced in such a Constitution.
There is scarce any point on which the part in opposition  is so much divided as to its importance and
its propriety. My own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights;
provided it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the
enumeration. At the same time I have never thought the omission a material defect….
Wherever the real power in a Government
lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments [the federal and
state governments] the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and
the invasion of private rights is chiefly
to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its
constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of
the major number of the constituents. (pp. 420-421, emphasis Madison’s, square
brackets mine)
Finally,
Madison realized that no government founded on and dedicated to the preservation
of freedom, could be made so tyranny-proof that it would automatically inhibit
the rise of tyranny and statism without the conscious, active intervention of
men of principle. The integrity of such a government depended wholly on the
moral rectitude of men charged with the functions of such a government, men
intransigently committed to the proper function and original purpose of such a government.
In Federalist No. 55, he warns:
As there is a degree of depravity
in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So
there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of
esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these
qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have
been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of
the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue
among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of
despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another. (pp.
319-320)
Obviously,
our current lawmakers and ambitious tyrants see Americans as wild beasts that must
be restrained by an incrementally imposed despotism. Our electorate has been
balkanized into numerous factions that wish to destroy and devour one another,
but that is the fault of Congress and every president, Congressman, think tank,
and advocacy group that preached victimhood and exemption from the rule of law
that was established in the Constitution.
Looking
at Madison, and recounting his pearls of wisdom, and remembering that men did
exist, though in dwindling numbers from 1788 on who upheld the principles which
animated the creation of the Constitution, one feels the sense that one is
immersed in a dream-like time of myth and legend.
But,
if Madison and the other Founders were the immaterial stuff of legend, if they
were truly figments of our imagination, as the swine-like nihilists and deconstructionists
claim, none of us would be here today.
*James
Madison: Writings
. Jack N. Rakove, Editor. New York: Library of
America, 1999. 966 pp.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    I appreciate your reflections on Madison's writings. Too often, in today's… debates are really not the words, as flying-dogmas are more the norm… discourse, both sides like to dig up the bones of the Founding Fathers to claim legitamcy for their cause, rather than relfect on the ideas those men penned.
    Oscar

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