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Mr. Ulmschneider's Forums > AP Government: Madison, Paine, and Politics

James Madison's Utopian Nightmares

posted Dec 15, 2012 23:19:57 by KevinYuan
In APUS last year, we spent time in the post-Revolutionary era discussing Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and key parts of the newly established government. Madison only seemed to be an afterthought. However, Madison was an essential part in crafting the new government, yet understanding his ideals appears to be quite difficult. We spent much of the Jefferson unit in APUS analyzing whether TJ tended to flip-flop on his previous plans, yet Madison's situation seems to be similar to that of TJ. A major proponent of a strong central government in the 1780s, Madison was a key supporter in the Federalist cause, even being called "the quintessential Federalist" in the reading. One of Madison's quotes from his Federalist #10 reminded me of John Locke: "No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity." Locke proposed a similar idea with "natural law," in that society would provide for protection (as everyone holds the flaw of objectivity). Madison had feared the power of the people and interest-driven politics, which led him to support a strong central government, with Congress acting as "a disinterested judge" to go through various societal interests. Madison feared the disunity and power of the states, acting in the interests of the corrupted, selfish people. Yet, what made Madison turn back in the 1790s, choosing to support Jefferson and a utopian world centered on the power of the people? The answer is all but clear. Madison felt strongly about various issues in the United States' post-Revolutionary government, searching for government reform in an muddled society, his nightmare. I believe that Madison's change-of-heart is as important (if not, of greater importance) than that of Jefferson - dubbed the "Father of the Constitution," Madison then introduced the Bill of Rights to protect minorities against a majority rule. Despite the little attention Madison's flip received in APUS, his ideas were integral in paving the way to building the post-Revolution era government.
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7 replies
DanaMoore said Dec 16, 2012 19:57:18
I think you make an excellent point. Madison conceding to Jefferson and his "Utopian" world view is an important event for the state of politics because it shows that people, even if they're on different sides, can decide to agree for the progress of the country. It is just like the republicans who are hinting at making concessions with the democrats for the state of the America's economy. It shows that despite the separate party goals, we all have to come together and remember that the main goal is for the country to prosper as a whole.
KeykoRegalado said Dec 16, 2012 20:02:35
I totally agree with your description of Madison's "flip-flopping" Kevin. If Madison hadn’t had a “change of heart”, we probably wouldn’t have had a Bill of Rights for a while longer (what with his ideas being considered exaggerated at the time). In a way, Madison was more important to American domestic affairs during the 1780’s and 1790’s than Jefferson because while Madison debated with fellow Congressmen on how to improve the still young government after the failed Articles, Jefferson spent his time as an ambassador in France writing praises of French revolutionaries- which probably inspired more hostility towards the government from his American audience. Yet I don’t believe Madison completely agreed with an utopian community as much as Jefferson did. In my opinion, it was less of an increased trust in the will of the masses, but rather an acknowledgement that there are dangers in both concentrations of power and a dismissal of the will of the people that led to Madison’s “change of heart”.
LizWolfe said Dec 16, 2012 23:41:22
Madison's philosophy reminds me of Locke, too, and I think the Locke undertone shaped much of Madison's work, serving as an appropriate balance to Jefferson's utopian ideals. I think Wood's article portrays Jefferson as too great of a utopian, though. Last year's APUS textbook and other readings have portrayed Jefferson as slightly more skeptical, but I suppose Wood is trying to distinguish between the philosophies and character of Madison and Jefferson and how those differences have shaped government and modern America. Our media, even today, tends to look more favorably upon the optimistic points of view, especially those that make the people feel they have significant power. That might be a contributor to why Jefferson has been so fondly remembered in our society.
KevinYuan said Dec 17, 2012 00:20:35
You make a great point that Madison's utopia probably wasn't as utopian as that of Jefferson. Pulling a quotation from the Paine reading into here... "Both [Paine] and Jefferson thought that the natural sociability of people might replace much of governmental authority." Jefferson probably did trust the will of the people more than Madison (might've been impossible for Madison to lose all of his previous Federalist beliefs), though Madison did appear to share much of the same republican idealism that Jefferson and Paine did. Paine and Madison seemed to desire a peaceful world without war, though it's difficult to pinpoint how Madison would go to achieve that - would he advocate that governments would be more representative of the people, or would he limit the power of the government so that nations would be less likely to go to war over trivial details? Nevertheless, I agree that Madison did fear a "dismissal of the will of the people" as you put it, though everything else would be up for interpretation.
14egoodpasture said Dec 17, 2012 01:28:44
I think you are absolutely right, Kevin, that Madison and Jefferson have very similar changes in view. I always thought of Madison as Jefferson's sidekick, and he seems always to be overshadowed by Jefferson. I think this is largely due to his less flashy personality - unlike Jefferson, he stayed at home in Virginia, constantly a part of the governing bodies he had helped to create. I think while Jefferson's legacy lives on more strongly, perhaps because, as Liz said, it is more appealing to modern media, Madison's views both on strong central government and on the power of the people andthe states have had just as important an effect on America's government today.
Mr_Ulmschneider said Dec 18, 2012 03:03:31
This is an exceptionally thoughtful conversation. You all really engaged in this spirit of the assignment and gave me some excellent thoughts on the nature and importance of Madison's constitutional and historiographic legacy.
"An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." (Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785)
clairepanak said Dec 18, 2012 03:33:50
Madison was also raised under the British Empire as a wealthy plantation owner, and therefore would have been naturally suspicious of the "tyranny of the majority." As he grew older and experience the type of republican government Jefferson wanted, he may have warmed to the idea. He also saw the failure of the Articles of Confederation, which was not true republicanism the way Madison would have wanted it, but was focused on what was right for every individual state rather than the nation as a whole. In that way, Madison would have been a nationalist because he didn't want to sacrifice the good of the nation or the good of other states for the good of a single state. But he probably also would not have wanted the national government to take complete control of the states, because he saw how that went in Britain. While Madison was a federalist, he did write the Virginia Plan, which advocated equal power of the people (proportional representation) over equal power of the states (fixed representation).
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