The Happy Union Of States:
The Wisdom And Prescience Of James Madison – Updated
by Michael A. Maynard
February 27, 2015

What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. – James Madison



I usually start my articles with a popular song related to its theme and content. I found this song about James Madison on YouTube. I think it is very informative, charming,  and appropriate, in its own way.

James Madison may be the least appreciated of the Founding Fathers. The role of Madison helping to form the United States is now being reevaluated. Madison is now considered “The Father Of The Constitution”. In Being Quiet: The Politics Of Personality”, we discussed how being introverted has affected the Presidency of Barack Obama. Madison had a similar personality and image to that of Obama.

For many historians, Madison is a puzzle: “the Father of the Constitution,” co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, and brilliant secretary of state under Jefferson, yet he is not rated as a spectacular President. Part of the explanation for this contrast has to do with Madison’s personal strengths. He is said to have been a master of the small arena. Studious, keenly political, and a perceptive judge of men and issues, Madison could shape constitutions and influence legislation with few peers, but he was too cautious for the kinds of presidential leadership that left clear marks upon the political landscape. Moreover, unlike the tall, statuesque Washington and Jefferson, Madison’s shorter-than-average body seldom dominated the scene. Even the very short John Adams, with his rocklike character, had exuded authority, yet among his contemporaries, Madison had trouble outshining anyone else in the room. Behind the scenes, in small intimate groups, few men, however, could resist his sharp mind or his persuasive reasoning.

But without the wisdom of Madison and his ability to write persuasively of it, the formation of the United States may not have happened.

“In order for the Constitution to become the law by which all Americans abided, two-thirds of the 13 states had to ratify (approve) it individually, and it was sent to them for this purpose on September 28. Madison campaigned for the ratification of the Constitution by co-authoring a series of essays with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton that appeared in various New York newspapers and then circulated around the states. There were 85 essays in all (Madison wrote 29), and they were known as the Federalist Papers.”

Like most of the wisdom imparted by great men, it is timeless. Much of what Madison considered still applies today. In the Federalist Paper #10, considered the most important of all the Federal Papers, Madison discusses how easily unity can be broken into the factions of special interests.

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

Madison was involved in the most important case in Supreme Court history: Madison vs. Marbury. The case involved the issue of “judicial review”. Judicial review is the ability of the Supreme Court and other federal courts to render null and void acts of Congress (laws) and the states that are in conflict with the Constitution.

The facts surrounding Marbury were complicated. In the election of 1800, the newly organized Democratic-Republican party of Thomas Jefferson defeated the Federalist party of John Adams, creating an atmosphere of political panic for the lame duck Federalists. In the final days of his presidency, Adams appointed a large number of justices of peace for the District of Columbia whose commissions were approved by the Senate, signed by the president, and affixed with the official seal of the government. The commissions were not delivered, however, and when President Jefferson assumed office March 5, 1801, he ordered James Madison, his Secretary of State, not to deliver them. William Marbury, one of the appointees, then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, or legal order, compelling Madison to show cause why he should not receive his commission.

“The Chief Justice (John Marshall) ruled that the Court could not grant the writ because Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which granted it the right to do so, was unconstitutional insofar as it extended to cases of original jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction — the power to bring cases directly to the Supreme Court — was the only jurisdictional matter dealt with by the Constitution itself. According to Article III, it applied only to cases “affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls” and to cases “in which the state shall be party.” By extending the Court’s original jurisdiction to include cases like Marbury’s, Congress had exceeded it authority. And when an act of Congress is in conflict with the Constitution, it is, Marshall said, the obligation of the Court to uphold the Constitution because, by Article VI, it is the “supreme law of the land.””

Through this ruling, Justice Marshall made the Supreme Court, the Judicial branch, the de facto equal to the Executive and Legislative branches. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s rulings are supposed to be based upon the Constitution, created by the Legislative branch and executed by the Executive branch. In the legal philosophy of Justices Scalia and Alto, the Justices are supposed to be following the “original intent”of the writers of the Constitution. Therefore. decisions like the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby that favor the wealthy and corporate interests over those of the citizens are wrong, because they decidedly go against the beliefs and designs of The Founding Fathers, and in particular, James Madison.

Madison, was concerned about the dissolution of the ideal of democracy through the tyranny of the few against the wishes of the many.

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

Madison understood what those causes of factionalism would likely be. He was all too prescient about the current state of government and politics.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

Therefore, Madison foresaw the dangers of oligarchy. In Deficiencies of the Confederation – Vices of the Political System of the United States ( his notes on the issues of creating the Constitution), Madison writes:

6, want of guaranty to the States of their Constitutions & laws against internal violence.

The confederation is silent on this point and therefore by the second article the hands of the federal authority are tied. According to Republican Theory, Right and power being both vested in the majority, are held to be synonimous. According to fact and experience a minority may in an appeal to force, be an overmatch for the majority. 1. If the minority happen to include all such as possess the skill and habits of military life, & such as possess the great pecuniary resources, one third only may conquer the remaining two thirds. 2. One third of those who participate in the choice of the rulers, may be rendered a majority by the accession of those whose poverty excludes them from a right of suffrage, and who for obvious reasons will be more likely to join the standard of sedition than that of the established Government. 3. Where slavery exists the republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.

In this case, Madison is off by 32.3%. It is not even 33.3% who are in control today, it is 1%. In the 238 years since the Constitution was adopted and signed, and 235 years since it was ratified, Madison, Washington, Jefferson, Adams and the others could not foresee all of the changes that has occurred. However, Madison did foresee the problems that today’s oligarchs would cause through using their wealth to buy politicians and political influence.

James Madison would be appalled and saddened that all of his thoughts and hard work, and the thoughts and hard work of his compatriots, are being ignored. The country he loved is being destroyed through factionalism, oligarchy and political pecuniary actions. The most recent example of this is the threatened shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through withholding of its budget allocation by the Congressional Republicans. This is becoming a common tactic of the Republicans, the political equivalence of a three-year-old’s tantrum.

This threatened shutdown is over President Barack Obama’s executive action, using his power of prosecutorial discretion, to not deport and through executive order to offer temporary worker status to 5-7 million undocumented workers. The last two similar executive orders on immigration were done by Republican Presidents – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. There were no such howls of protest and threats made by the Republicans (or Democrats) when those actions expanding legal status to the undocumented immigrants were done. The Senate had passed immigration reform legislation over 1 1/2 years ago. The House Republicans refused to consider and vote on it.

The Repubilcans’ real concern, that if these undocumented workers do eventually become citizens, they will vote Democratic. Their efforts to “rig the system” to maintain permanent political advantage through the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and gerrymandering will be gone. The constant legislative and judicial assault on climate change, women’s reproductive rights, the equal right to vote, affordable health care, gay marriage and LGBT rights, and immigration reform will continue unabated. Rather than support these policies, which are popular with a majority of Americans, the Republicans would rather continue the “mischief” of factions and risk creating the standard of sedition.

In my opinion, Madison would be in favor of President Obama’s executive order.

America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.

Madison viewed the founding of the United States and its establishment as a nation of laws as an amazing achievement.

The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.

The United States, when all three branches of government act in accordance to the preamble of the Constitution, that Madison and the other founders wrote, is a wonderful and remarkable achievement:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble To The United States' Constitution.

The Preamble To The United States’ Constitution.

Do we have a happy union of states today? Far from it. The United States is deeply divided into factions by race, sex, age, geographic location and especially, political persuasion. Mister, we could use a man of wisdom and prescience like James Madison, again.

Copyright © February 2015, Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.

Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, if you’ve found this article interesting and informative, please pass it along to others. For more of my articles, please visit my WordPress site:

 UPDATE – February 28, 2015

James Madison was the 4th President of the United States and served two terms (1809-1817). Polls of historians conducted by C-SPAN in 2000 and 2009 listed Madison as the 18th and 20th best president. Lincoln, Washington and FDR were ranked 1-3. Madison had served as Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson and was involved in the Louisiana Purchase and the embargo of Britain and France. Madison helped Jefferson quell the threats of the New England states to secede from the union.

It was not at all clear that Madison would carry the day. Jefferson’s embargo of all trade with Britain and France had devastated the nation. New England states spoke of open secession from the Union. The Federalists, convinced they would ride national outrage to victory, re-nominated their 1804 contender, Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina. Meanwhile, George Clinton, who had agreed to run as Madison’s vice president, also consented to run for President! Madison swamped the opposition, winning 122 votes to Pinckney’s 44. His reelection was also dramatic. Madison’s nomination for a second term came just fifteen days prior to his war message to Congress, listing American grievances against Britain. Congress voted the United States into the War of 1812, largely guaranteeing Madison’s reelection….

The War of 1812 amounted to a second war of independence for the new republic, and quickly helped Madison’s popularity. Much of the War of 1812 centered on bloody battles against the Native American tribes that were aided by the British, such as the Creek tribe led by the notorious Tecumseh, who was finally defeated by General William Henry Harrison. In 1814 the British took the nation’s new capital, torching the White House and other federal buildings. They were finally defeated at the epic battle of New Orleans by General Andrew Jackson’s ragtag army, many of whom were volunteers, including free blacks and slaves, and nearly 1,000 French pirates! The victories against Tecumseh and at New Orleans revitalized the nation and earned him the esteem of his constituents. Madison’s critics, who organized the Hartford Convention to protest his policies, looked like traitors to the victorious nation; their anti-war criticism further weakened the Federalist Party.

This sounds eerily familiar to the situation former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton might face if she chooses to run for the 2016 Presidency. The big question will be whether she has the electoral strength to carry Democratic Senate and Congressional candidates with her so that she has a Congress interested in governing, not focused on more partisan political posturing.

UPDATE – March 1, 2015

I would be completely remiss without making reference to Madison and the “victories against Tecumseh” written above. In “The American Tune: Manifest Destiny”, I wrote:

The real history of the United States is filled with conflict and death. The United States fought 5 wars in the 18th century, including the Revolutionary War. The U.S. fought 39 wars in the 19th century, 27 against Native American tribes, including two against Tecumseh’s Confederacy. The Manifest Destiny expanded from inside to outside our borders. The U.S. fought 6 wars in the 20th century. The wars became larger, international and multinational: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (Gulf War). These wars exacted a heavy price.

History is objective, depending upon what viewpoint you take. You can consider what Madison and the early citizens of this country, my ancestors, did wwas heroic from one perspective. Or you could consider what Madison and the early citizens of this country did as barbaric and taking the Native American people, also my ancestors, from their homeland for expansionist and exploitative reasons.

Georges Santayana was correct:



Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

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