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

Hopping Madison

posted Dec 17, 2012 03:15:53 by 14roppenheim
Wood begins his article on Madison with a bitter, cane-shaking condemnation of the unwashed masses for not celebrating him as much as we do Jefferson anymore, my first warning that the article might consist of nothing but a list of Madison's achievements and a link to the website for his fanclub. Fortunately, this was not the case; the article was indeed going somewhere, it just felt that it was too good to tell me where until I had dedicated my evening to plodding through its lengthy introduction. When I got there, the issue seemed a bit manufactured, as I had never been notified that historians had perceived a discrepancy in Madison's nature over time, much less that it was apparently a hot topic among those who cared--I'm sure people were already discussing it, but to a novice like me the author's spending twelve pages to create an argument he would then go on to disagree with smacked of a massive waste of time and implied that he could have started twelve pages further in. Also, apparently the idea that a man's principles can change over the course of his lifetime (or simply go out the window once he gains power) is something that flummoxes historical scholars, but let's assume they have never in fact met an average politician before. Now, this is all nitpicking, and I should qualify my standard criticisms by saying that I'm quite fond of Wood's writing style--he presents the issue simply enough for it to be understood, but also takes time to examine scholarly attitudes towards all sides and to explain why we think what we do. "As these studies... become more and more refined and precious, they seem to drift farther... from Madison's eighteenth-century reality," jumps out as one of the more perceptive comments of the piece. I also found the description of Madison as "not all as realistic and as modern as we often make him out to be," quite fair, though it certainly could have stopped beating around the bush and just said "hopelessly naive" anytime it wanted to. It's completely accurate, too, to say that the idea of a whole government not poisoned by politics and biases is hopelessly naive, and to say that the Founding Fathers were not the wily, pragmatic devils we make them out to be--they did tend to be naive at times, though all in different ways. But once one's in the president's shoes, it's not quite so easy to be naive, now, is it, Mr. Madison? No, sometimes, one has to play ball and let the states faff about a bit and "allow the country to be invaded and the capital to be burned" in order to keep Hamilton and his wacky Federalist friends from sticking a king in office and having done with it. Most of the perceived discrepancies between one's actions in and out of office in history can generally be attributed to this same cause, as a matter of fact: they were naive, and now that they have to actually sort this mess out they're not so naive anymore, generally resulting in broken campaign promises, confusing voters, and looking a bit goofy and indecisive.
The author is completely correct in saying that Madison was the same person throughout his entire life, and I applaud the brilliance it must have taken to reach the conclusion that the man had rationale for all of his actions. In all seriousness, though, the explanation on the author's part does indeed make perfect sense with what I know of Madison, and I do agree with the justifications behind his actions.
Also, I know the title wasn't funny. It was late and I was tired.
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3 replies
LellaWake said Dec 17, 2012 04:57:55
I agree Wood seemed to take a long time to get to a point that already required a lot of explanation in tying all of Madison's convictions together. What is it about Madison's ideas that you think make him so less remembered than the other Founding Fathers? Sure, they were all naive, but why is it that his supposed problem of presenting a clear position on government has left him hanging, while many other Founder Fathers who changed their opinions are glorified for their contributions and appear to be far more applicable to modern day politics?
14roppenheim said Dec 17, 2012 05:26:22
Well I think saying they were all naive is a bit harsh. I mean, give the poor fellow a break, he did his best.
I certainly don't think Madison is any less applicable to modern politics than his better-remembered probably-better-looking peers, especially considering the fact that he contributed an awful lot to that big document we refer to every now and again in US law, I just think he was unpopular. Honestly, I can't say much more about it than that, because he wrote a good deal of the Constitution, showed up to all the meetings, wrote a bunch of the Federalist Papers, was president during an important military engagement, talked a lot, and paid his subscription fees for Starting a Nation Monthly. He was even wealthy and elite, so it's not like he had nothing to fall back on after being president. Perhaps it's because he had a girl's name as a surname and here in America we testosterone-poisoned refrigerator-men don't respect such wimps.
Oh, I kid everyone I just poked fun at. I still can't figure out while we don't pay more attention to the bloke though. I'm not about to go out shouting at kids because they can't identify his name as fast as they can Washington's and Jefferson's, but it still stands out as an anomaly. It's possible it's because he wasn't super-extreme about his positions like Hamilton or Jefferson, and wasn't canonized for turning down kingship like Washington--no, he was sane, moderate for a time, and couldn't be made into some far-off Christ figure, so we just sort of let him fade into the background like a pundit who concedes that the other side has some good points because nobody's entertained by watching that.
Also thank you for replying and validating my internet shoutings about historical tidbits. It made me feel nice.
AnoushehBakhti-Suroosh said Dec 18, 2012 00:35:08
You conclude your review with completely aggreeing with the author in that Madison was consistent during his entire lifetime and political career--yet you allow all politicians, it seems, the right to waiver in their policies once they actually have to put them in place. In essence, you recognize that politicians' ideals and actual practices frequently differ, but maintain that Madison was consistent, as if arguing that if he did alter his mind set, this would in some way reflect negatively on his political genius. I believe that changing one's opinions throughout a political career is not necessarily a bad thing, but a move of a perceptive and rational politician, at least in Madison's case.
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