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

Is There A James Madison Problem?

posted Dec 17, 2012 05:43:27 by njantrania
Wood argues that although James Madison’s actions in the 1780s and those in the 1790s were inconsistent, Madison himself didn’t drastically change his views. He says that in the 1780s, Madison was ostensibly supporting a very strong national government. Madison strongly advocated the Virginia Plan during the Constitutional Convention, which would have made both houses of Congress based on population. He also supported a national veto for state legislation, and other sometimes bizarre additions to the constitution that would have strengthened the national government.

By the 1790s, however, Madison had turned against Hamilton’s plans for a very strong national government. Wood argues that this change wasn’t so much a change in Madison’s views on how government should work as a realization of what Hamilton’s idea of a government would entail – as Wood says, “...a real modern European type of government with a bureaucracy, a standing army, and a powerful independent executive.” Madison didn’t want this type of national government, but instead a more idealistic republican form with a more judicial way of controlling factions and states. Wood argues that Madison broke away from the Federalists because of this, and “...had no sense of inconsistency in turning against the state that Hamilton was building in the 1790s.”

I think Wood’s analysis of Madison and the evolution of his views on Federalism is applicable to our political culture and system because Madison’s poor opinion of the kind of government the Federalists ended up beginning shows that he’d have a poor opinion of our own government. Also, Wood says that Madison found factions inevitable and therefore realized that people would join interest groups as we see today. However, Madison also thought that people wouldn’t just look out for their own interests but would approach government with a “disinterested” view.
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3 replies
YashTekriwal said Dec 17, 2012 06:58:02
I agree holistically with what you say Nirali. In fact, I would go as far as to say Madison would drastically change the government we have today. Where Woods describes Madison's experiences in the Virginia Legislature, he makes an amusing comparison to the "political horse-trading" and "logrolling/pork barreling" of American Legislative politics. Throughout the Woods piece, I felt the negative vibe towards contemporary American politics strongly. On the point of factions, I think even more key to the divide in the people is the current two-party system. Here I think the concept of the alternative vote system is an interesting idea to change American politics, whether for better or for worse, we would leave to the people should that be implemented. In fact, do you think Madison would have implemented such a system? At any point in his "shift in ideology?" The beginning of the reading talks of his concern for minority rights. Do you think Madison himself would have advocated such a system though? Some food for thought. What exactly would he change/Is there actually any way to fix the problems we see today?
njantrania said Dec 17, 2012 19:42:52
Those are interesting points, Yash. I think that Madison would probably have argued against a two party system because it encourages people to only look out for their own interests, but I think he would have accepted at least political parties as inevitable. I think he might have tried to minimize the two party system by not using a first past the post system and instead using the alternative vote system as you said. I think he'd try to encourage third parties and other groups in order to make sure that one group wasn't the only influence on the government. Woods talks a lot about Madison and pluralism, along with Madison's views on how to reduce the negative effects of factions. I don't know that Madison's view on this issue would have shifted very much with his ideology, because it seems that it both reduce tyranny of the majority (one of his major goals in the 1780s) as well as protect the people's and state's influences in government (a goal in the 1790s.)
Merci Best said Dec 18, 2012 02:39:13
I agree with your analysis of Wood's argument. It was very compelling one that really brought up a perception of James Madison of which I was unaware. Although Wood describes Madison's shift from the 1780s nationalist to the 1790s constructionists in a negative light, I saw it as necessary means to changing with American political needs of the time. Your idea rather Madison having a poor opinion of our government today is valid and really showed your in-depth understanding of Woods argument with which I support.
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