Honoring James Madison, the go-to guy, on his birthday

March 16, 2014

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and the Father of the Constitution, was born March 16, 1751, in the Tidewater area of Virginia.

Is it sinful that we do not celebrate his birthday with a federal holiday, fireworks, picnics and speeches and concerts?

Maybe you could fly your flag to day.  If the neighbors ask why, tell them you’re flying it for freedom on James Madison’s birthday.  They’ll say, “Oh,” and run off to Google Madison.  You will have struck a blow for the education that undergirds democracy.

A few years ago I was asked to talk about freedom to a group of freedom lovers in North Texas.  I chose to speak about James Madison’s remarkable, and too-often unremarked-upon life. Later, when I started this blog, I posted it here, with an introduction.  All of that is below, in honor of the birth of James Madison.

Did you know that Madison is the shortest man ever to have been president?  His stature is measured in freedom, not in feet and inches.

(Originally a post on July 31, 2006)

James Madison, 1783, by Charles Wilson Peale.  Library of Congress collection

James Madison, 1783, miniature by Charles Wilson Peale. Madison would have been 32. Library of Congress collection

I don’t blame students when they tell me they “hate history.”  Heaven knows, they probably have been boringly taught boring stuff.

For example, history classes study the founding of the United States. Especially under the topical restrictions imposed by standardized testing, many kids will get a short-form version of history that leaves out some of the most interesting stuff.

Who could like that?

Worse, that sort of stuff does damage to the history and the people who made it, too.

James Madison gets short shrift in the current canon, in my opinion. Madison was the fourth president, sure, and many textbooks note his role in the convention at Philadelphia that wrote the Constitution in 1787. But I think Madison’s larger career, especially his advocacy for freedom from 1776 to his death, is overlooked.

Madison was the “essential man” in the founding of the nation, in many ways. He was able to collaborate with people as few others could, in order to get things done, including his work with George Mason on the Virginia Bill of Rights, with George Washington on the Constitution and national government structure, Thomas Jefferson on the structure and preservation of freedom, Alexander Hamilton on the Constitution and national bank, and James Monroe on continuing the American Revolution.

We need to look harder at the methods and philosophy, and life, of James Madison. This is an opinion I’ve held for a long time. Below the fold I reproduce a “sermon” I delivered to the North Texas Church of Freethought in November 2001.

James Madison White House portrait, John Vanderlyn, 1816

James Madison’s official White House portrait, by John Vanderlyn in 1816; in the White House collection

I have left this exactly as it was delivered, though I would change a few things today, especially emphasizing more the key role George Washington played in pushing Madison to get the Constitution — a view I came to courtesy of the Bill of Rights Insitute and their outstanding, week-long seminar, Shaping the Constitution: A View from Mount Vernon 1783-1789. The Bill of Rights Institute provides outstanding training for teachers, and this particular session, at Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, is well worth the time (check with the Institute to see whether it will be offered next year — and apply!). I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss these times and issues with outstanding scholars like Dr. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University, Dr. Adam Tate of Morrow College, and Dr. Stuart Leibiger of LaSalle University, during my stay at Mount Vernon.

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821

James Madison, portrait by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821; National Portrait Gallery

My presentation to the skeptics of North Texas centered around the theme of what a skeptic might give thanks for at Thanksgiving. (It is available on the web — a misspelling of my name in the program carried over to the web, which has provided me a source of amusement for several years.)

Here is the presentation:

Being Thankful For Religious Liberty

As Presented at the November, 2001 Sunday Service of The North Texas Church of Freethought

Historians rethink the past at least every generation, mining history for new insights or, at least, a new book. About the founders of this nation there has been a good deal of rethinking lately. David McCullough reminds us that John Adams really was a good guy, and that we shouldn’t think of him simply as the Federalist foil to Thomas Jefferson’s more democratic view of the world. Jefferson himself is greatly scrutinized, and perhaps out of favor — “American Sphinx,” Joseph Ellis calls him. The science of DNA testing shows that perhaps Jefferson had more to be quiet about than even he confessed in his journals. While Jefferson himself questioned his own weakness in his not freeing his slaves in his lifetime, historians and fans of Jefferson’s great writings wrestle with the likelihood of his relationship with one of his own slaves (the old Sally Hemings stories came back, and DNA indicates her children were fathered by a member of the Jefferson clan; some critics argue that Jefferson was a hypocrite, but that was Jefferson’s own criticism of himself; defenders point out that the affair most likely was consensual, but could not be openly acknowledged in Virginia at that time). Hamilton’s gift to America was a financial system capable of carrying a noble nation to great achievement, we are told – don’t think of him simply as the fellow Aaron Burr killed in a duel. Washington is recast as one of the earliest guerrilla fighters, and in one book as a typical gentleman who couldn’t control his expenses. Franklin becomes in recent books the “First American,” the model after which we are all made, somehow.

Of the major figures of these founding eras, James Madison is left out of the rethinking, at least for now. There has been no major biography of Madison for a decade or more, not since Ralph Ketcham’s book for the University of Virginia press. Madison has a role in Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers, but he shares his spotlight with Hamilton and Jefferson. I think this is an oversight. As we enter into the first Thanksgiving season of the 21st century, we would do well to take a look back at Madison’s life. Madison gives us a model of reason, and more important, a model of action coupled to reason. America’s founding is often depicted as a time of great thunder — if not the thunder of the lightning Ben Franklin experimented with, an experiment he parlayed into worldwide respect for Americans, it is the thunder of the pronouncements of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, or of George Washington, just generally thundering through history.

The use of a bolt of lightning as a symbol for this group is inspired, I think. I’m a great fan of Mark Twain, and when I see that bolt of electricity depicted I think of Twain’s observation:

“Thunder is good; thunder is impressive. But it is lightning that does the work.”

Thunder at the founding is impressive; where was the lightning?

I’d like to point out two themes that run through Madison’s life, or rather, two activities that we find him in time and again. Madison’s life was marked by periods of reflection, followed by action as a result of that reflection.

We don’t know a lot about Madison’s youth. He was the oldest son of a wealthy Virginia planter, growing up in the Orange County area of Tidewater Virginia. We know he was boarded out for schooling with good teachers – usually clergymen, but occasionally to someone with expertise in a particular subject – and we know that he won admission to Princeton to study under the Rev. John Witherspoon, a recent Presbyterian transplant from across the Atlantic. Madison broke with tradition a bit in attending an American rather than an English school. And after completing his course of study he remained at Princeton for another year to study theology directly under Witherspoon, with an eye toward becoming a preacher.

Witherspoon is often held up as an example of how religion influenced the founders, but he was much more of a rationalist than some would have us believe. He persuaded the young Madison that a career in law and politics would be a great service to the people of Virginia and America, and might be a higher calling. After a year of this reflection, Madison returned to Virginia and won election to local government.

In his role as a county official Madison traveled the area. He inspected the works of government, including the jails. He was surprised to find in jail in Virginia people accused of — gasp! — practicing adult baptism. In fact Baptists and Presbyterians were jailed on occasion, because the Anglican church was the state church of Virginia, and their practicing their faith was against the common law. This troubled Madison greatly, and it directed an important part of his work for the rest of his life. In January of 1774, Madison wrote about it to another prominent Virginian, William Bradford:

“Poverty and Luxury prevail among all sorts: Pride ignorance and Knavery among the Priesthood and Vice and Wickedness among the Laity. This is bad enough. But it is not the worst I have to tell you. That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal infamy the Clergy can furnish their Quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Gaol for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear talk or think of any thing relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.”

By April, Madison’s views on the matter had been boiled down to the essences, and he wrote Bradford again more bluntly:

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

Madison must have done a fine job at his county duties, whatever they were, because in 1776 when Virginia was organizing its government to survive hostilities with England, Madison was elected to the legislative body.

Madison was 25, and still raw in Virginia politics. He was appointed to the committee headed by George Mason to review the laws and charter of the colony. Another who would serve on this committee when he was back from Philadelphia was Thomas Jefferson. George Mason was already a giant in Virginia politics, and by the time Madison got to Williamsburg, Mason had already completed much of the work on a bill of rights to undergird the new Virginia government. Madison noted that freedom of religion was not among the rights enumerated in Mason’s version — but it was too late, Mason said. The work was done.

Madison quietly went to work on Mason, in committee, over dinner, during social occasions — noting the great injustice of jailing people solely because of their beliefs, and urging to Mason that it did Virginia no good to keep these fathers from providing for their families.

Mason ultimately agreed to accept the amendment.

The pattern was set.

Perhaps a better example of this reflection and action cycle occurred nearly a decade later. By 1785 the war was over, independence was won, but the business of government continued. While serving as governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson had drafted about 150 proposals for laws, really a blueprint for a free government. About half of these proposals had been passed into law. By 1785, Jefferson was away from Virginia, representing the Confederation of colonies in Paris. Jefferson had provided several laws to disestablish religion in Virginia, and to separate out the functions of church and state. With Jefferson gone, however, his old nemesis Patrick Henry sought to roll back some of that work. Henry proposed to bring back state support for the clergy, for the stated purpose of promoting education. (Yes, this is the same battle we fight today for church and state separation.) After Jefferson’s troubled term as governor, Virginia turned again to Henry – Henry ultimately served six terms as governor. His proposal was set for a quick approval in the Virginia assembly. It was late in the term, and everyone wanted to get home.

Henry was, of course, a thundering orator of great note. Madison was a small man with a nervous speaking style, but a man who knew the issues better than anyone else in almost any room he could be in. Madison came up with an interesting proposal. Picking the religion for the state was serious stuff, he said. A state doesn’t want to pick the wrong religion, and get stuck with the wrong god, surely – and such weighty matters deserve widespread support and discussion, Madison said. His motion to delay Henry’s bill until the next session, in order to let the public know and approve, was agreed to handily.

You probably know the rest of this story. With a year for the state to reflect on the idea, Madison wrote up a petition on the issue, which he called a “Memorial and Remonstrance.” In the petition he laid out 15 reasons why separation of church and state was a superior form of government, concluding that in the previous 1,500 years, every marriage of church and state produced a lazy and corrupt church, and despotic government. Madison’s petition circulated everywhere, and away from Patrick Henry’s thundering orations, the people of Virginia chose Madison’s cool reason.

When the legislature reconvened in 1786, it rejected Henry’s proposal. But Madison’s petition had been so persuasive, the legislature also brought up a proposal Thomas Jefferson had made six years earlier, and passed into law the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom.

This was a great victory for Madison, and for Virginia. He celebrated by convening a convention to settle disputes between Virginia and Maryland about navigation on the Chesapeake Bay. Having reflected on the nature of this issue — a dispute between colonies — Madison had sought advice from others having the same problems, such as New York and New Jersey. In that effort he got the support of a New Yorker working on the same problems, Alexander Hamilton. In the course of these discussions Madison thought it clear that the difficulty lay with the form of government that bound the colonies together under the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton agreed, and they got their respective states and conferences to agree to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to try to fix those problems. [Since I first wrote this, I've learned that it was George Washington's desire to get a federal government, to facilitate the settling of the Ohio River Valley where Washington had several thousands of acres to sell, that prompted him to push Madison into the Annapolis Convention, and who made the introduction between Madison and Washington's old aide and friend, Alexander Hamilton; Madison's work with Washington runs much deeper than I orignally saw.]

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

Amending the Articles of Confederation was a doomed effort, many thought. The colonies would go their separate ways, no longer bound by the need to hang together against the Parliament of England. Perhaps George Washington could have got a council together to propose a new system, but Washington had stayed out of these debates. Washington’s model for action was the Roman general Cincinnatus, who went from his plow to lead the Romans to victory, then returned to his farm, and finding his plow where he had left it, took it up again.

Madison invited Washington, and persuaded Washington to attend. Washington was elected president of the convention, and in retrospect that election guaranteed that whatever the convention produced, the colonies would pay attention to it.

You know that history, too. The convention quickly decided the Articles of Confederation were beyond repair. Instead, they wrote a new charter for a new form of government. The charter was based in part on Jefferson’s Virginia Plan, with lots of modifications. Because the Constitution resembles so much the blueprint that Jefferson had written, and because Jefferson was a great founder, many Americans believe Jefferson was a guiding light at that Philadelphia convention. It’s often good to reflect that Jefferson was in Paris the entire time. While America remembers the thunder of Washington’s presiding, Franklin’s timely contributions and Jefferson’s ideas, it was Madison who did the heavy lifting, who got Washington and Franklin to attend the meeting Madison had set up, and got Jefferson’s ideas presented and explained.

It was Madison who decided, in late August of 1787, that the convention could not hang together long enough to create a bill of rights, and instead got approval for the basic framework of the U.S. government. In Virginia a few months later, while Patrick Henry thundered against what he described as a power grab by a new government, it was Madison who assembled the coalitions that got the Constitution ratified by the Virginia ratifying convention. And when even Jefferson complained that a constitution was dangerous without a bill of rights, it was Madison who first calmed Jefferson, then promised that one of the first actions of the new government would be a bill of rights. He delivered on that promise as a Member of the House of Representatives in 1789.

It is difficult to appreciate just how deeply insinuated into the creation of America was James Madison. In big ways and small, he made America work. He took the lofty ideas of Jefferson, and made them into laws that are still on the books, unamended and unedited, more than 200 years later.

When the ratification battle was won, when Madison had won election to the House over Patrick Henry’s strong objection, partly by befriending the man Henry had picked to defeat Madison, James Monroe, Madison could have savored the moment and been assured a place in history.

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia. Gift of Mrs. George S. Robbins

That’s not what a lightning bolt does. Journeying to New York for the opening of the First Congress and the inauguration of Washington as president, Madison stopped off at Mount Vernon to visit with Washington, apparently at Washington’s request. In what was a few hours, really, Madison wrote Washington’s inaugural address. While there at Mount Vernon, Madison stumbled into a discussion by several others on their way to New York, wondering what high honorific to apply to the new president. “Excellency” was winning out over “Your highness,” until Washington turned to Madison for an opinion. Madison said the president should be called, simply, “Mr. President.” We still do.

Once in New York, Madison saw to the organizing of the Congress, then to the organizing of the inauguration. And upon hearing Washington’s inauguration address — which Madison had ghosted, remember — Congress appointed Madison to write the official Congressional response.

Years later, in Washington, Madison engineered the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson for president, and after Jefferson was elected, Madison had the dubious honor as Secretary of State of lending his name to the Supreme Court case that established the Supreme Court as the arbiter of what is Constitutional under our scheme of government, in Marbury v. Madison.

Wherever there was action needed to make this government work, it seemed, there was James Madison providing the spark.

James Madison was the lightning behind the thunder of the founding of America. We should be grateful that he lived when he did, where he did, for we all share the fruits of the freedoms he worked to obtain. And in this Thanksgiving season, let us look for appropriate ways to honor his work.

James Madison circa 1829-1839, portrait by Chester Harding.  National Portrait Gallery

James Madison, 1829, portrait by Chester Harding. National Portrait Gallery. “In 1829, Madison came out of retirement to attend a convention for revising Virginia’s constitution. While there, he posed for this portrait by the Massachusetts painter Chester Harding.”

The Madisonian model of thoughtful reflection leading to action is one that is solidly established in psychological research. It is the model for leadership taught in business schools and military academies.

I would compare religious liberty to a mighty oak tree, under which we might seek shade on a hot summer day, from which we might draw wood for our fires to warm us in winter, or lumber to build great and strong buildings. That big oak we enjoy began its life long before ours. We enjoy its shade because someone earlier planted the seed. We enjoy our freedoms today because of men like James Madison.

How do we give thanks? As we pass around the turkey to our family, our friends, we would do well to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy, and how we got them.

Finally, remembering that someone had to plant those seeds, we need to ask: What seeds must we plant now for those who will come after us? We can demonstrate our being grateful for the actions of those who came before us by giving to those who come after us, something more to be grateful for. A life like Madison’s is a rarity. Improving on the freedoms he gave us might be difficult. Preserving those freedoms seems to me a solemn duty, however. Speaking out to defend those freedoms is an almost-tangible way to thank James Madison, and as fate would have it, there is plenty of material to speak out about. A postcard to your senators and representative giving your reasoned views on the re- introduction of the Istook Amendment might be timely now – with America’s attention turned overseas for a moment, people have adopted Patrick Henry’s tactic of trying to undo religious freedom during the distraction. I have had a lot of fun, and done some good I hope, in our local school system by asking our sons’ science and biology teachers what they plan to teach about evolution. Whatever they nervously answer — and they always nervously answer that question — I tell them that I want them to cover the topic fully and completely, and if they have any opposition to that I would be pleased to lend my name to a suit demanding it be done. We might take a moment of reflection to ponder our views about a proposed Texas “moment of silence” bill to be introduced, and then let our state representatives have our thoughts on the issue.

Do you need inspiration? Turn to James Madison’s writings. In laying out his 15-point defense of religious freedom in 1785, Madison wrote that separation of church and state is essential to our form of government:

“The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people.”

How can we express our gratitude for such a foundation for religious liberty? Let loose a few lightning bolts, in remembrance of Madison.

Copyright © 2001 and 2006 by Ed Darrell. You may reproduce with attribution. Links added in May 2013.

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Nathan Bigelow on Woodrow Wilson, TODAY (March 5), at Austin College

March 5, 2014

Too late for most of us, but history teachers near Sherman, Texas, ought to zip out as soon as school is out this afternoon, and head over to Austin College.

From North Texas e-News:

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor [Woodrow] Wilson,” March 5, 2014.

Bigelow to share insight on political evolution of Woodrow Wilson

SHERMAN, TEXAS — Nathan Bigelow, Austin College associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science, will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor Wilson” on March 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Wright Campus Center, Room 231. A 4 p.m. reception in nearby Johnson Gallery precedes his presentation, which highlights his recent sabbatical study. The event, free and open to the public, is hosted by the Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching.

Bigelow said his talk will focus on the bookends of Woodrow Wilson’s academic career: Congressional Government (1880), in which he made a broad critique of the American constitutional system, and Constitutional Government (1908), written just before he left academia for a career in politics, in which he reassessed many of his original positions. “I contend that his evolving thought can be traced to changes in the political environment during this time – specifically, increased party discipline and invigorated presidential leadership,” Bigelow said.” I will use newly available quantitative measures of this time period to help support my argument.”

The Robert and Joyce Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching, is directed by Bernice Melvin, Margaret Root Brown Chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures and professor of French. Within the mission of the center is the encouragement of ‘bold exploration of intellectual frontiers” and “fostering lively intellectual dialogue within and across academic disciplines.”

Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.

Texas history and social studies teachers have been working to bolster teaching of the Progressive Era, Imperialism, and important figures of those times including Woodrow Wilson, after testing indicated Texas students are too often unfamiliar with the times and events.  Sherman area history teachers are lucky to have this close by.

I’ve been unable to discover whether professional education credit will be offered.


Keep your flags clean and dry for September

September 4, 2013

Labor Day passed, so you can put your flags away until . . . what, Thanksgiving?

Not so fast, patriot!

U.S. Flag Code rules list specific days for flying the flag, and Constitution Day on September 17 is one of those dates.

Also, the Flag Code urges flying the U.S. flag on the anniversary of a state’s entering the union, in that state.  California’s statehood day is September 9 (next week!)

California flag

California flag flies on the same pole as the U.S. flag; photo from tumblr deepspaceromans.

Stay ready, patriots.

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Can’t make this stuff up: Utah internet sales magnate wants Constitutional Amendment for . . . religious freedom

August 13, 2013

You know what?  The Stupid doesn’t burn, after all — if it did, this guy would have self-immolated long ago.

Utah Policy Daily is an online-newsletter of public policy stuff in the Beehive State — a very good one.  It’s done by some top Utah political consultants from both parties, and former political writers, colleauges and friends from the University of Utah and the political and culture wars in the state.

Utah Policy Daily carried this story, this morning, which I present in full only because you wouldn’t believe it otherwise:

Constitutional Amendment Would Protect ‘Religious Liberty’

By Bryan Schott

Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice-President of Overstock.com, is leaping into the political ring with a proposed constitutional amendment to protect religious liberty.

Jonathan Johnson of OverStock.com

Jonathan Johnson of OverStock.com

The Daily Caller reports Johnson wants his proposed amendment to exempt churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Johnson says the amendment wouldn’t interfere with the Supreme Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage, but it also protects groups opposed to the practice at the same time.

Johnson and some friends hatched an idea for states to pass a constitutional amendment saying: ”A religious organization, religious association, religious society or any person acting in a role connected with such organization, association or society and shall not be required to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its constitutional right of conscience or its free exercise of religion.”

(The wording is still being fleshed out, but that’s basically what it will say.)

In some ways, this shouldn’t be controversial. The proposed amendment “doesn’t get in the way of gay marriage,” Johnson notes — “but it [also] doesn’t have gay marriage encroach into areas of religious liberty.”

Read more: Utah Policy – Constitutional Amendment Would Protect Religious Liberty

As I understand it, this amendment would be aimed at preventing the government from ordering preachers to marry people they don’t want to marry.

Maybe Johnson is so much a Mormon (I do not know his faith) that he does not know that this “right” is protected by the First Amendment, and has been practiced by far too many Catholic priests, Baptists ministers, and even Mormon Bishops, over the past 225 years.  Preachers regularly refuse to allow their churches to be used by people for any fool reason whatever, and no preacher is forced to solemnize a marriage.  In short, his proposed amendment is wholly superfluous, already covered by the First Amendment.

Unless his real purpose is to create some new way of bashing homosexuals, as I suspect.  Bigot.

Here’s the scary part:  This guy has created a lobbying group to push for the amendment, and has already raised more than $100,000 to push it.  According to the RWNJournal Daily Caller:

As conservatives work to create a firewall on the issue of religious liberty, don’t be surprised if this effort catches on nationwide. Johnson already has a Utah PAC (First Freedom PAC) and a 501 (c)(4) that he says has “raised low six digits — and we’re not really trying yet,” he says.

How many stupid people, people wholly unaware of the First Amendment, are out there with the checkbooks open willing to be suckered by confidence schemes like this?  Enough to raise “low six digits.”

Hey:  For just $10,000, I’ll come to your home and explain why the First Amendment already gives us religious freedom, and tell you why it shouldn’t be mucked with.  I’ll bring PowerPoints and patriotic music, if you want, and give it all to you in less than an hour — or take a whole day if you want.  I won’t even charge expenses.

Then you can put your remaining money into a group that really works to defend the Constitution, or the First Amendment specifically — and I’ll tell you who they are.

Next thing you know, this guy will “come up” with an idea for an amendment to recognize Jesus.

History and policy ignoramii.  Santayana’s Ghost is grumbling and going back for another cup of coffee.  Has Chris Rodda heard about this yet?  Ed Brayton? (Oh, yeah, Ed’s on it already.  Good.)

One point of light:  My old colleague at the Daily Utah Chronicle, Bob Bernick, wrote a column detailing that Utah politicians generally are not so stupidly right-wing as many in the rest of the nation, “Utah, not as crazy as we could be.”  Maybe some of those not-stupid people will take Mr. Johnson aside and explain the Constitution to him.

Update:  Point of darkness:  Johnson has a law degree from BYU.  Seriously.  I thought U.S. Sen. Mike Lee was an aberration,

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Here in Texas, we have the First Amendment engraved in stone, at Southern Methodist University.

Here in Texas, we have the First Amendment engraved in stone, at Southern Methodist University. Photo by Ed Darrell – use encouraged.
Text of the First Amendment: Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


‘My right NOT to know, and your right to duck my bullets’

April 16, 2013

I like Morgan Freeberg — he’s entertaining.

Politically, he’s rarely right, and he’s definitely afflicted with that virus that strikes conservatives and makes them feel that if they can cover a topic with enough words, and if there is enough snark in those words, they must be right, and everyone else is a fool for not seeing that and making them king.  Or at least a local lord.  You can see this on display at his blog, The House of Eratosthenes.

Morgan waded into the discussion on some of our less thoughtful U.S. Senators, who think a good reason to filibuster a bill is they can’t find their own ass with both hands a copy of the bill they just know they will oppose, before they know what’s in the bill (no bias here).

Specifically, Morgan’s defending Sen. Marc Rubio’s right not to know what’s in the compromise reached by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, because Morgan just knows that those two libruls from those two gun-hating states have put in language on ammunition magazines that will deprive crazy shooters of their sport in shooting babies somehow might “infringe” on the actual ownership of the gun.

I answered in a previous thread — but this really should get more discussion, and perhaps if I make a post out of it, someone will discuss.

This is the post — I won’t put all of it in quotes, to make it a bit easier to read (and I may add a link here and there):

Morgan said:

Alright. First, if you’re trying to make this look like “reasonable” or “common sense” gun “safety” legislation as they call it, it’s a good idea to stay away from this capacity-limitation stuff. To swap out a magazine — not clip — I don’t need eleven seconds, I don’t need half that. I’m not anywhere close to James Bond, or Barney in The Expendables…I merely maintain familiarity and confidence/competence with my sidearm. If I can do it in two seconds, a lot of other people can as well. So you’re counting on a payoff there that you’re not getting. The whole magazine-capacity thing is not only a distraction, it actually highlights for the benefit of the knowledgeable public which loudmouth legislators ought not to have anything to do with gun legislation, or guns either.

Helluva distraction. There’s no such proposal, but you’re so bugged about it you can’t argue straight.

English: Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Pat Too...

Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Candidate Pat Toomey addresses protestors at the Philadelphia Tea Party on April 18, 2009. (He won) Wikipedia image

Maybe we’re being sneaky. Maybe we’re getting you all worked up over something not in the bill so you’ll have a heart attack and be unable to lobby your senators to go easy on baby killers.

Or maybe you guys can’t read. Can’t, won’t, doesn’t make much difference — you’re so sure of your position you not only damn the facts, you damn the existence of the facts and the non-existence of the hoodoos you fear.

Here, tell this guy he got it wrong; you’re barking up a tree on the wrong side of the ocean here: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/powerful-argument-for-limiting-bullets-in-a-clip-colorado-sen-mike-johnston-pleads-to-give-victims-a-chance-to-escape/

[Here's the video at that post:]

Morgan wrote:

It comes down to this: A gun has a certain number of bullets with which it can be loaded, before it becomes an instrument of death — that number is one. Whoever isn’t familiar with that, should be escorted off the range.

Think of all the gun ranges put out of business if we did that!

Of course, that is a comment on the mechanics; as far as process goes, the number is zero, since one of the basic rules of guns safety is “the gun is always loaded.”

I don’t think a crazy guy should be allowed to pump out 150 soldier-killer bullets in 5 minutes, with most of them going into the heads and faces of more than a score of 6-year-old kids. You seem to think that is such a sacred right that we . . . well, I don’t know what you propose.

You seem to think that forcing crazy men to reload is unfair. I think you’re not being fair to those six-year-old kids.

The evidence in Newtown is that the one reload he did took 11 seconds, and a teacher got 11 kids out of the school, to safety, in that time.

It took him five shots to blast through the safety lock on the door — had he been limited to five-round clips, he’d have been out of ammo in one gun just getting through the door.

I cannot imagine why you think we can’t be fair to six year old kids, but we must give crazy men more than a sporting chance to murder 20 unarmed people. I think my rights would be safer if I didn’t go with your defense of the crazy man’s rights.

Now, is it technically impossible to limit the rounds and reduce the carnage? Not according to the record.

Facts are stubborn things. That old John Adams sure got that right.

If I were Sen. Rubio, considering for the moment supporting this gun “safety” bill, and decided to read it all the way through, I’d change my mind and oppose it the first time I saw something about magazine capacity limits, because that would tell me someone wrote it without knowing anything about how guns are supposed to be treated around a public that we don’t want to be hurt by them. Which is the subject of the bill.

We know you’re not going to read the bill, just like Rubio hasn’t. He has a sort of duty to read it — but you’re so cock sure that you’re smarter than every other guy in the country and that you can see the future before God, you can’t be bothered to read even the quick summary of the bill.

It pains me when you reinforce all the stereotypes of the right-wing, can’t-tell-me-nuthin’ nuts, Morgan. If you’re going to pretend to be thoughtful, at least read the stuff, will you?

English: Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Manch...

Gustave Doré drawing: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863 Wikipedia image

You’re so cock-sure that there would be a crazy proposal of the type you fear that you can’t be bothered to read the bill and see that there’s nothing at all like it. Worse than Don Quixote tilting at windmills, you’re shooting at windmills that are not dragons, but behind which children were playing a few minutes ago. See, Quixote was harmless with his lance. Facts again: Guns are not lances.

Sometimes it’s not the things we don’t know that gets us into trouble, but the things we know, that are wrong. It’s not the target practice of the safe and sane occasional hunter that gets gun ownership questioned, it’s the crazy shooting at dragons that don’t exist, in schools and theaters and workplaces, where real people do exist.

Second. The Constitution guarantees me certain God-given rights, which supposedly nobody can take away from me, and I wouldn’t be able to discard even if I wanted to. Conservatives and liberals would agree — with different examples in mind — that We The People have lately encountered considerable difficulty electing representatives who will truly protect these rights.

Quite to the contrary, we’ve succeeded in electing nuts who are so dedicated to protecting those rights, they’ll go overboard to be sure that anything even close to resembling a right of a white male with a gun cannot be regulated rationally. Rex Tillerson‘s right to pour oil in every backyard in Arkansas is defended, Rep. Joe Barton apologizes to the white guys who run BP for all those Cajuns’ having put their Gulf of Mexico where BP could pollute the hell out of it. A white guy wants sex, well, some women “rape easy,” “they’re just good-time-lovin’ football players and football is an American game,” and if he’s an Army or Air Force officer, his superior will dismiss the rape charges. Jeremy Dimon gets to keep his freedom, and all the money banks stole from black families put out of their homes in New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles because his bank and his cronies’ banks screwed up the mortgages.

And if you want to shoot up a theater, or a school, and kill a bunch of unarmed people — well, you know, that’s a right, right?

I cannot imagine what rights you think are not defended, for white males.

Right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Right to quiet enjoyment? Right to be free from assault and battery? Right not get life-saving and cheap medical care for your kid? Right not to have to bury your kid as child? Not all rights are enumerated rights. You seem to miss some of the more important ones, when we get right down to it.

Now, if one worries about rights for anyone of color, or rights of children to health care or education, or rights of women to fair pay — well, none of those people are mentioned in the Constitution, are they? They all look like Dred Scott, to a Congress of white males.

In view of that, I like the idea of a Senator who made up his mind to oppose a gun bill before reading all of it (your headline would imply that he hasn’t read any of it, which is not substantiated by your story).

I see no evidence Rubio wasn’t telling the truth — and Cruz is probably too stupid to understand it, so I believe him when he says he can’t even find the bill that was placed in the middle of his desk on March 22. I swear that guy puts an icepick over his left eyeball every night he can.

This would be in keeping with his oath to uphold the Constitution: If the bill has something that cannot be reconciled with the Constitution, out it goes.

There is nothing in the Constitution which says anyone has to be an inadequate anal orifice. You’re reading it wrong.

Or have you even read it? You haven’t read the gun control bill. Why should you read the Constitution?

In reality, there is nothing in the Constitution that says any Member of Congress must be a roadblock, or should be a roadblock, nor that there should be any roadblocks at all. Filibustering is not a Constitutional right — not mentioned in any way.

After all, there is a period-end-of-sentence after the word “infringed.” It doesn’t say “shall not be infringed, unless something really spiffy is written that makes the infringing seem like a swell idea.”

Funny how you can completely miss the first 13 words of the Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” There are only 27 words in the amendment; you worry about punctuation while completely missing 48% of the text. That rounds to 50%.

But, you don’t read. I forgot. As with most conservatives, you think you know what is in a text without reading it, predudging it from . . . well, prejudging it, anyway.

“Prejudge” isn’t related to “prejudice” in the conservative dictionary, anyway.

This is the way I want ALL guarantees to me, or to anybody else, to be enforced. I want my renter’s insurance to be enforced this way. I want my employment contracts to be enforced this way. It’s only fair.

Can you do what no other gun rights advocate has done, Morgan?

Tell us what infringement there would be if you had to limit your automatics, semi-automatics, or single shots, to a five-bullet magazine. How would that, in any way, infringe on your right to keep arms, or bear them?

After you stumble over that one, tell us how it affects your right at all to fill out a form that lets a gun seller figure out whether you’re being straight about not being a felon, and not being a crazy shooter, and not fronting for a crazy shooter or felon.

How does filling out a form to make sure you’re legal, infringe on your right to keep and bear arms? There’s nothing in that amendment that says you can keep your gun ownership or bearing secret — in fact, in many states, keeping a gun concealed is a crime (without a permit).

Tell us how anyone’s rights are infringed by those common sense proposals, one of which isn’t even being proposed.

If I submit a form to the Social Security Administration, or to the IRS, or to some state agency like the DMV, and the form has 88 blocks in it and I botched something somewhere around the 8th or 9th block, it would be patently absurd for me to stand there and berate the DMV clerk who rejected it with “Why didn’t you read blocks ten through eighty-eight?? What am I paying you to do with your time??”

So you won’t do that anymore? That’s good news. I hope it’s a movement, and it catches on.

Aggravating as the situation would be, such a reaction would be very silly…because once the 8th or 9th block is screwed up, it’s an invalid form, and even though blocks 10 through 88 may be loaded with wonderfully accurate information, in context it’s still a bunch of nonsense until they’re copied on to another form that has been filled out PROPERLY. So reading them would actually be an inappropriate use of that time that I bought through my tax money by paying the clerk’s salary. Well, if that’s true of clerks, it’s certainly true of Senators, who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution.

I don’t think that’s a good analogy. Your paying your taxes is not similar in any way your elected representatives’ lying to you about whether they read bills or not, and using the pretense that they’ve not seen what they know is in the bill, to block the majority from even debating what is the best thing for the nation.

In their constitutional duty to represent you, they don’t have the right to boldly lie about what they’re doing for demagogue points.

It’s not illegal, but it’s dishonest, disgusting, and unpatriotic. It doesn’t represent you well — at least, I don’t think that you’re so corrupt that you can only get by by lying through your teeth and making phony excuses.

Sorta like enforcement of a lease — lying through your teeth about the rent isn’t a good idea, regardless you’re the tenant or the landlord.

Why am I having to explain the above?

Because you’re trying to defend ugly skullduggery on a bill you don’t know much about?

Because you sank all of your retirement funds into a gun manufacturer, and you just realized that rational gun laws might take that gold mine away? Because you’re a conservative, and these days that means “so congenitally unable to tell the truth that, when a conservative shoots a hole-in-one on the golf course, he writes ’0′ on the score card?”

I don’t know.

You’re doing a great job of supporting one of my pet theories, that liberals are people who haven’t actually had to deal with the bureaucracies their ideas create.

And you’re providing ample support for a couple of hypotheses I’ve wished didn’t need to be tested: One, that conservatives really DON’T know what a theory is, especially contrasted to hypotheses; two, that conservatives can’t be bothered to read the book, or the law, or the proposal, or anything else that might inform their arguments, probably out of fear they’ll realize their prejudices are wrong; three, that conservatives really like rules, out of their defense of “traditional” life and “order” — but they think the rules never apply to themselves or their supporters; and four, that the fact that the conservative position is correct should be so self-evident, no matter how half-wit or knuckleheaded the idea, that conservatives will never stoop to actually arguing the issues — keep John Walsh and Candy Lightner far away from conservatives, because they have no real defense for why we treat automobiles as more valuable than children or why we never stick to our guns about criminalizing drunk drivers who kill, especially repeatedly — and so, keep the parents of the Newtown victims far away from Washington, and demonize them as soft-on-crime, anti-patriotic, anti-Constitution liberal fuzzy heads, so we don’t have to look them in the eye and explain why we’re voting to defend the right of the idiot to shoot their children without cause, justification, warning, remorse or chance for retribution.

What’s more important, overarming people (the better to reduce the population), or keeping kids alive? (“We secretly hate children, which is why everyone of our policies is designed to make childhood difficult, cripple children educationally, mentally or physically, or kill them.”)

I do have to say though, I can see an upside to having it work the way you want…it would give me great pleasure, when I fill out a form wrong, to throw a hissy fit about “why didn’t you read the rest of my form?” But realistically, of course there’s no way it can work like that.

I thought you just had a mental burp — but now I see you’re on some tear about filling in forms incorrectly.

What difference could that possibly make?

Apparently there’s another trait of conservatives: The tendency to dissolve into irrelevant rants, instead of facing up to real problems, and making hard decisions about real solutions.

They weren’t your kids anyway, right?

More:

 


I get email (sorta): How long could U.S. survive without a president?

March 31, 2013

A brilliant and vexing former student, Bryan Sabillon, asked a question — on Facebook:

Remember how you said America can’t go two hours without a president? What’s the worst that can happen if it just so happens to take three-four hours? Or is it uneventful?

Interesting question — to me, at least, and maybe even to Bryan.  Here’s my response, with a few links added:

Did I say that? (Some context would be nice. No I don’t remember saying that.)

Technically, can’t happen now with the 25th Amendment and succession laws; if a president dies, another is there, probably without regard to swearing in.

A few historical examples suggest no big problem; these are nullified if missiles are in the air at that moment, though:

1. When Tyler succeeded Harrison 1 (first death of president in office), John Tyler was more than 24 hours out of Washington. Worse, many people thought that while the duties of the president fell to the VP under the Constitution, that should be a temporary condition settled by a special election. Despite all this uncertainty, nothing bad happened in the interim.

U.S. Sen. David Rice Atchison, from Missouri; photo by Matthew Brady

U.S. Sen. David Rice Atchison, from Missouri; photo taken by photographer Mathew Brady at the United States Capitol at Washington, D.C., March 1849. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, via Wikipedia. Photo taken the same month some say Atchison was acting President, for one day.

2. On March 4, 1849, [James K.] Polk’s term expired. But it was Sunday, and incoming Pres. Zachary Taylor refused to be inaugurated on Sunday. So did incoming VP Millard Fillmore. Some argue that David Rice Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and then-third in line for the presidency under the laws then existing, was president for one day. He didn’t claim that, but in any case, spent most of the day sleeping, as the outgoing Senate had been working late for several previous nights. Some argue that because the Senate had adjourned sine die on its last session, not even Atchison was president. In any case, nothing happened.

President of the Senate Vice President Chester...

Official Senate bust, President of the Senate, Vice President Chester A. Arthur (it’s a bust; he was not really that pallid) Photo from Wikipedia

3. When [James] Garfield was shot, he did not die immediately, but hung on for more than a month before infection took him. Vice President Chester A. Arthur did not assume duties of president, nor did anyone else, in that period. A lot of stuff got delayed, but no big deal. Government continued during the long dying process, and until Arthur was sworn in.

4. Similarly, when [William] McKinley was shot, they thought he’d survive. VP Teddy Roosevelt took off to hunt in the Adirondacks. When McKinley took a turn for the worse, guides had to be dispatched to find Teddy climbing a mountain (Mt. Marcy); by the time he got to Buffalo, McKinley had been dead for several hours. Nothing of consequence happened as a result of there being no president on hand (and they were in Buffalo, New York, not Washington, anyway).

5. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke on October 2, 1919, that left him blind in one eye and unable to walk. He was kept out of the presence of the VP and cabinet for months; when he finally returned to cabinet meetings in 1920, he was clearly unable to function as president. It’s an interesting case with his second wife essentially taking over the office under the guise of intermediary and care giver to the president. This one may have had some consequences – the Senate never did ratify the Treaty of Versailles, for which Wilson was campaigning when he was stricken, and so the U.S. never joined the League of Nations, dooming it to failure years later as World War II erupted. But perhaps Wilson couldn’t have gotten it ratified had he been fully active, anyway. Perhaps Wilson could have influenced the election of 1920, which Warren G. Harding won (who would die of a heart attack in San Francisco, making Calvin Coolidge president). But all of that is pure conjecture.

6. The funniest (in retrospect) was when Ronald Reagan was shot. At a press conference at the White House as Reagan was being prepped for surgery, a reporter asked some cabinet officials “who is in charge?” Perhaps reacting too much to the question as a challenge to whether the government was leaderless and vulnerable, Secretary of State Al Haig grabbed the microphone and said “I’m in charge here!” In reality, Vice President George H. W. Bush was in full communication mode of the modern presidency; control of the “football,” the nuclear strike code case which accompanies the president at all times, could have been an issue, but was not.

President Obama waving

President Obama at an airport; the Marine in the background looks to be carrying the “nuclear football.” Photo from Cryptome (Is this an AP photo? Anyone know?)

Under the 25th Amendment and the Succession Act, it’s difficult to imagine how the U.S. could be without a president at any time; the confusion around the death or disability of a president offers a window of a de facto gap, but that should last only minutes under the procedures and precautions now in effect (some of which we saw on 9/11).

Worst that could happen now? If missiles were incoming, and confusion over who has control of the football went on for more than 10 minutes, a retaliatory strike could be late in getting launched. It takes about 15 minutes for intercontinental ballistic missiles to get to their downward path, or to register on known radar, so a ten minute delay might be encouraging to a Russia that hoped to knock out the U.S. before a retaliatory strike could occur; but that’s probably not realistic. And, even that would be of no great consequence if the secret “missile net” many people think the U.S. has, actually exists.

Is this a class question, or are you involved in some odd drinking game again?

(Update:  Sheesh.  Turns out he just saw “Olympus Has Fallen,” and wondered.

Everyone knows we’re really safe, so long as Morgan Freeman is anywhere near the presidency, even Speaker of the House.)

(Anyone else seen the movie?  Is it a scenario not already contemplated under the 25th Amendment?)

More:

Voice of America video on Al Haig’s life, featuring the famous quote:


“Return to Madison,” urges James Madison U president on the great man’s birthday

March 22, 2013

What would Madison do?

James Madison’s work, not only on the Constitution, but on making the Constitution and new government work, and on creating the foundation pilings for that Constitution and society, should make his words and ideas key points of study for us, and his principles should be our guiding principles much more than they are today.

Madison is the forgotten founder, I’ve argued.

JMU President J. R. Alger and others present wreaths at tomb of James Madison, March 16, 2013 (Madison's birthday)

JMU press release caption: JMU President Jon Alger, second from left, presents a wreath at the tomb of President James Madison in honor of his 262nd birthday.

James Madison University President Jon Alger spoke at the ceremonies honoring Madison’s birthday last Saturday, March 16, at Madison’s mountain home, Montpelier, Virginia (a few miles from Jefferson’s Monticello).  In his speech, Alger urged a return to civility in discussion of politics, a return to focus on important ideas and the processes by which we discuss them, and make decisions in our national government.

Alger’s remarks deserve a much wider audience, I think.  I asked JMU for a copy, and they pointed to the university’s website where the entire speech is posted.  I repost it here.  Please spread the word.

Jon Alger’s Montpelier remarks

President Jonathan R. Alger
James Madison University
Remarks on the Occasion of James Madison’s 262nd Birthday
March 16, 2013
at James Madison’s Gravesite, Montpelier
Orange, Virginia
(Remarks interrupted by rain)

Good afternoon.  Honored guests, members of the Montpelier Board of Directors, President Imhoff and Montpelier staff, members of the James Madison University Board of Visitors, faculty, students and alumni, family, friends and fellow Madison enthusiasts, it is my great honor to speak at this hallowed place.  On this day 262 years ago, James Madison was born.  Perhaps more so than any other president or founder, James Madison is responsible for the creation and miraculous endurance of our republic.  Known as the Father of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison’s contributions to our nation should be remembered by every American.  The sacred fire of liberty lit by Madison’s ideas burns to this day and draws us here to honor him.

I came to Montpelier for the first time only a few months ago.  As a great admirer of James Madison, to me the trip here felt like a pilgrimage.  When the mansion first came into view as we made our way up the long sweeping drive, I was struck by the majesty of the moment—as we feel when in the presence of greatness.  During that visit, Montpelier board president Greg May invited me to speak at this annual event as we strode down a pathway that Madison himself must have walked many times.  I could not have been more honored.

Indeed, this is a dream come true for me.  As a political science major and history minor in college, I read many of the same texts Madison himself studied—as well as some of Madison’s own work.  Even as a young child, I admired the creative genius of our forefathers.  While other kids had stuffed animals or model airplanes displayed in their bedrooms, on my dresser I proudly exhibited a set of small ceramic statues of the American presidents.  I like to root for underdogs and was always partial to Madison, because his was the shortest statue.  Today his picture hangs proudly in my office.

As many of you know, Montpelier and James Madison University have long had a special bond.  It began when Dr. Clarence Geier, an archaeologist at Madison, arranged an archaeology field school here at Montpelier more than 25 years ago.  Our students and faculty have been coming to Montpelier ever since and have participated in digs all across the grounds. (Except for right here, of course.  They are not allowed to dig in this particular area.  You never know with undergraduates!)

From then the relationship between our two institutions has blossomed.  This past November a bus containing JMU faculty, staff and me – as well as my wife Mary Ann and daughter Eleanor – came here to spend a day brainstorming with the Montpelier leadership and staff on ways to deepen our relationship even further. The primary objective of this deeper relationship is to bring more attention to James Madison and his ideas.  This objective reflects the missions of our two great institutions, but it must go beyond those gathered here today.  As a nation, we are in great need of what I will call a Return to Madison.

It is true that, during the past few years, more and more American citizens are professing respect for the U.S. Constitution.  The document was read on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for only the second time in history this past January.  In fact, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia’s Sixth District – JMU’s district – opened the reading with a delivery of the document’s Preamble.  That’s a good start, but as a nation we must go much further.  For this newfound reverence toward the U.S. Constitution to elevate us as a nation, we must explore and gain a deeper understanding of the principles on which the U.S. Constitution is based.  We must Return to Madison.

Now, by suggesting this return, I don’t mean that we become a nation of history buffs (although that would be OK with me).  Rather, a Return to Madison would provide us with very real and practical insights into how we as a society should confront issues facing us all.

Starting with a realistic view of human nature, Madison believed that politics was driven by “interest,” not by “virtue.”  In his excellent work, The Sacred Fire of Liberty, Madison scholar Lance Banning captured this core principle.  He wrote, “Madison did not assume that a republic could depend upon a superhuman readiness to sacrifice self-interest to the common good. Taking humans for the interested, opinionated creatures they are, Madison asserted that in a pluralistic, large republic, partial interests would be counterbalanced by competing interests.”

This was not new political thinking, of course.  During the 16th century in Florence, Machiavelli (whose work was more nuanced than is often remembered today) explored what he called the “effectual truth” of politics.  In other words, as Paul Rahe writes in his book, Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy, “[I]n order to avoid their ruin and achieve their preservation, men should govern themselves in accordance with how they do behave rather than in the distorting light of how they ought to.”

So Madison’s great innovation was to devise a system of government that sought to create political and civic conditions allowing the interests of individual citizens, groups, regions and other entities to balance one another so that no one of them could overtake the rest.  He recognized that we would be a society with diverse perspectives and experiences, and that we needed a structure to allow that diversity to flourish.

Today – while publicly professing faith in the Constitution as a document – we seem to have forgotten this essential element.  Far too often, our public discourse on the important challenges of our time degenerates into shallow shouting matches and name-calling in which we cry for the elimination of opposing views on political, social, economic and cultural issues. The people we despise across the political aisle, the fools on the television spouting their ridiculously wrongheaded opinions, the heathens who believe in a different god than we do – we not only hold them in utter contempt, we behave as if we want their ideas extinguished.  And if they were extinguished – oh, if only they were extinguished – we believe the world would be a better place.  If only we all agreed on everything – wouldn’t that be great!  Yet we must be careful what we wish for.  If that kind of wish were to come true, not only would our lives be much more boring—but our society would stop progressing and stagnate.

A Return to Madison would shine a light on the fact that the strength of our republic relies on the existence of opposing ideas and perspectives.  Voices who advocate for Wall Street and others who focus on Main Street?  They need each other.  Republicans and Democrats need each other.  Without the diversity of ideas and opinions, our civic balance would tilt and our system eventually would topple.  The great man we honor today knew this was true.  We as a society need to embrace this notion and continue debating the important issues of the day, but with reason and civility—not with hatred and hopes for total domination.  We need each other.  And I believe that spreading the understanding that our great Constitution is based squarely on this principle could lead to greater social harmony.  Boy, do we need a Return to Madison.

Madison’s Federalist 10 is recognized the world over as one of the great examples of political thought in history.  You might remember that Madison published the Federalist with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in newspapers while the states were considering whether to ratify the proposed Constitution.  Of these 85 essays, Madison’s 10th is widely considered to be one of the best, and it’s about balancing competing interests.  I love it for the philosophy it expresses, but also because it contains one of his most elegant turns of a phrase.  If you’ve read much Madison, you know that his writing can be (to be honest) dense and elliptical.  He is not often quoted in today’s sound-bite culture.  But in the Federalist 10 he wrote, “liberty is to faction what air is to fire…”  Think about that for a moment.  “Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire…”  Madison was making the point that liberty creates a nourishing environment for faction.  At the time, great fear existed that too much liberty could lead to dangerous factions emerging.  Madison was resolute, however, and he completes the idea by writing, “But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

Madison is saying that even though liberty allows faction to thrive, it should not be curtailed.  He goes on to observe, “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

Thus even as Madison advocated for liberty despite its dangers, he was sure to remind his Federalist readers that man’s passionately held views are imperfect.  Therefore, if we claim to respect our Constitution and if we understand this fundamental premise, we have a responsibility to change the tone of much of our civic dialogue.  Now, to be clear, I am not arguing that we should hold our views any less dear.  Passion leads great people to act. And I am not suggesting that we all adopt a relativist perspective – right and wrong do exist.  As enlightened as Madison and his colleagues were for their time on so many issues, for example, even they were unable to come to grips with the tragic injustice of slavery

If Madison were here today, however, I believe he would remind us of our human limitations when we encounter and react to opinions that differ from our own.  We can all benefit from trying to listen to and understand the views of others with civility and respect, even as we hold and espouse our own cherished points of view.  As the president of the university named for James Madison, I feel strongly that our institution of higher education can best honor his legacy by embracing the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds in our society, while fostering and modeling civil and respectful discourse on the great issues of our time.  That is part of the reason why I began my own presidency with a “Listening Tour” to hear, and learn from, the richly diverse voices and opinions of our university community.

In my inaugural address yesterday at the university, I called for James Madison University to be the national model for the engaged university—an institution that combines a commitment to teaching and learning with a conviction that all humans are interconnected.  This combination embodies James Madison’s ideals.  If we enlighten ourselves through education and believe that we all are connected – even with those with whom we might passionately disagree – we honor Madison.  I intend for this idea to be a hallmark of my administration at JMU.

Another hallmark will be to continue deepening the relationship between the university and Montpelier.  Some of the ideas generated during our visit here in November already are taking shape.  For instance, staff in our department of History and our Adult Degree Program are working with faculty here in the Center for the Constitution to create a course about James Madison and his ideas that includes online and in-person instruction, as well as visits here. The course will be available to JMU students and the general public.  As we celebrated Madison Week on our campus these past few days, Montpelier has honored our university by loaning us several artifacts from its own collection.  These exchanges are reminders of the man to whom we owe so much.  Our educational initiatives can go a long way to motivate those who profess their faith in the U.S. Constitution to deepen their understanding of its underlying principles, and thus inspire a Return to Madison.

Let me share with you a personal story of my own heightened sense of Madison’s, and Montpelier’s, significance.  While inside the house, I was surprised by how moved I was when I sat in the modest room that is believed to be Madison’s study.  The thought that I was in the very room where James Madison read Machiavelli and Locke and Montesquieu and all the others; the room where he synthesized thousands of years of thinking into a framework for our most important founding document; the room looking west toward unsettled lands of great promise; the room in which James Madison addressed civilization’s most intractable problem – how to govern ourselves – I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe.

Yet another way in which the university will connect with Montpelier and its legacy will be to honor the memory of Dolley Madison, the great woman buried beside our 4th President.  Dolley was herself an intellectual and social force who played a profound leadership role by convening people of different backgrounds for civil discourse.  In fact, Yale University historian Catherine Allgor wrote, “Dolley’s assumption that compromise would be the salvation of the system marks her as one of the most sophisticated politicians of her time.”  Through a new initiative called Women for Madison, our university will celebrate the vital role women play in leadership and cultivating a culture of philanthropy.

Finally, as an advocate of education and an ardent student himself, I believe Madison would have enjoyed meeting today’s students who benefit from his legacy in this free and civil society.  I wonder how he would have felt meeting students attending the university named for him. We have several with us today – can you come and join me here?

As many of you know, JMU has a robust study abroad program. I will tour several of our study abroad programs this summer for the first time as president, and my second stop will be Florence, the great city where republican thought reemerged during the 16th century.  Machiavelli was the most influential Florentine political thinker of that time, and his work influenced Madison greatly.  In fact, Machiavelli appears in one of James Madison’s adolescent “commonplace” books.  A commonplace book was like an academic diary.  Students during the era when Madison grew up dutifully filled their commonplace books with notes, quotations and poetry.

Students of our era – such as these fine students – and I will visit Machiavelli’s gravesite at the Basilica di Santa Croce in central Florence this summer. We will take with us the moving experience of being here at James Madison’s gravesite, and reflect on the republican ideal with which both men—and so many other people throughout history—have grappled.  It is quite fitting that students attending a university named for James Madison make this journey, connect these two places and contemplate their meaning.

With this symbolic gesture, we hope to inspire all the students of James Madison University, the visitors to James Madison’s Montpelier and all who bear witness, to Return to Madison.  Let’s go from this ceremony with a renewed sense of our roles as citizens, and of the power we have to live the ideals James Madison handed down to us through the ages.  Thank you

Who in Congress listens?  Who in media and commentary listens?  Who in the academic life listens?

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Fireworks at James Madison U, at inauguration of President Jonathan R. Alger

Fireworks over James Madison University, on the inauguration of new University President Jonathan R. Alger, in early March 2013. Despite the somewhat tenuous links to this post, I like the photograph. Image from JMU’s UBeTheChange blog.


March 16, Freedoms Day – How to celebrate James Madison?

March 16, 2013

March 16 falls on Saturday this year, so celebrations of James Madison, who was born on March 16, 1751, will get lumped into the “something else to do” during Saturday errands, category.

March 16 is not a holiday.  It’s not even a Flag Flying Day (though, if you left your flag up for March 15th’s anniversary of Maine’s statehood . . . no one would notice).

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marb...

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marbury v. Madison, but lost Judicial review. Photo: Wikipedia

Should we leave James Madison out of our celebrations of history with such vengeance?

Madison left a great legacy.  The question is, how to honor it, and him?

  • Madison is known popularly, especially for elementary school history studies (the few that are done anymore), as the Father of the Constitution.  It’s fitting:  Madison engaged in a great, good conspiracy with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to get the convention to “amend” the Articles of Confederation and create a better, probably stronger, national government.  But Washington stayed behind the scenes, and pulled very few strings Madison didn’t tell him to pull. Hamilton’s support from New York was weak; while Hamilton played a hugely important role in getting the convention called, and in getting New York to ratify the Constitution with the creation of the Federalist Papers project, the day-to-day operation of the convention and direction of the political forces to make it work, fell to Madison.
  • Madison’s notes on the Philadelphia convention give us the best record of the then-secret proceedings. 

    English: James Madison, fourth president of th...

    Notice the error in this caption:  “James Madison, fourth president of the United States wrote the Constitution at his estate near Orange Virginia, called Montpelier. Pictured here after an extensive renovation.” Photo from Wikipedia.  (James Madison didn’t write the Constitution; it was hammered out in Philadelphia, not Montpelier; the patriot and rake Gouverneur Morris wrote out the final draft.)

  • Madison devised the scheme of getting conventions to ratify the Constitution, instead of colonial/state legislatures.  He had Patrick Henry in mind.  Henry opposed any centralized government for the colonies, to the point that he refused to attend the Philadelphia convention when he was appointed a delegate; by the end of the convention, Henry was off to another term as governor where he hoped to orchestrate the defeat of ratification of the constitution in the Virginia legislature.  Madison circumvented that path, but Henry still threw up every hurdle he could.  (Henry organized the anti-federalist forces in the Virginia Convention, and hoping to kill the Constitution, called it fatally flawed for having no bill of rights; when Madison’s organizing outflanked him, especially with a promised to get a bill of rights in the First Congress, Henry blocked Madison’s election to the U.S. Senate, and organized forces to stop his popular election to the U.S. House.  That failed, ultimately, and Madison pushed the legislative package that became the Bill of Rights).
  • Andrew Hamilton started writing a series of newspaper columns, with John Jay, to urge New York to ratify of the Constitution; but after Jay was beaten nearly to death by an anti-federalist mob, Hamilton invited Madison to step in and help.  Madison ended up writing more than Hamilton and Jay put together, in that collection now known as The Federalist Papers.
  • Madison backed down George Mason, and got the great defender of citizens’ rights to add religious freedom to the Virginia Bill of Rights, in 1776.  Religious freedom and freedom of conscience became a life-long crusade for Madison, perhaps moreso than for Thomas Jefferson.
  • A sort of protege of Thomas Jefferson, Madison pushed much of Jefferson’s democratic and bureaucratic reforms through the Virginia legislature, into law.  Especially, it was Madison who stoppped Patrick Henry’s plan to have Virginia put preachers on the payroll, and instead pass Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom into law in 1786.
  • Madison wrote the best defense of American religious freedom in the Memorial and Remonstrance, a petition to the Virginia legislature to get Jefferson’s bill passed.
  • Madison sponsored and passed more Constitutional Amendments than anyone else in history.  We have 27 amendments to our Constitution.  Madison pushed through the first 10, now known as the Bill of Rights.  In the original package proposed out of Congress were a dozen amendments.  One of those became salient again in the late 20th century, and was finally ratified in 1992 — the 27th Amendment.  Madison is the author of 11 of the 27 amendments, including the first ten and the last one.
  • Yeah, James Madison was the defendant in Marbury v. Madison; he made history even when he didn’t do anything
  • Madison is the only president to face enemy gunfire while president, commanding troops on the frontlines during the British invasion of Washington in 1814.
  • Madison took over the creation of the University of Virginia when Jefferson’s death prevented his following through.
  • Madison’s record as an effective, law-passing legislator is rivaled only by Lyndon Johnson among the 43 people we’ve had as president.  Both were masters at get stuff done.
  • Madison is the ultimate go-to-guy for a partner.  In his lifetime, to the great benefit of his partners, he collaborated with George Washington to get the convention in Philadelphia; he collaborated with Ben Franklin to get Washington to be president of the Philadelphia convention, without which it could not have succeeded; he collaborated with Hamilton on the Constitution and again on the Federalist papers; he collaborated with Jefferson to secure religious freedom in 1776, 1786, and 1789; Madison collaborated with Jefferson to establish our party political system (perhaps somewhat unintentionally), and to get Jefferson elected president; Madison collaborated with Jefferson and Jay to make the Louisiana Purchase; Madison took James Monroe out of the Patrick Henry camp, and brought Monroe along to be a great federalist democrat, appointing Monroe Secretary of State in Madison’s administration, and then pushing Monroe to succeed him as president.  Also, Madison was a prize student of the great John Witherspoon at what is now Princeton; Witherspoon took Madison, studying for the clergy, and convinced him God had a greater calling for him than merely to a pulpit.

As the ultimate Second Man — when he wasn’t the First Man — Madison’s role in history should not be downplayed, not forgotten.

March 16 is Madison’s birthday (“new style”).

What would be fitting ways to celebrate Madison’s life and accomplishments, on his birthday?  Nothing done so far in the history of the Republic adequately honors this man and his accomplishments, nor begins to acknowledge the great debt every free person owes to his work.

(Dolley Madison?  There are two topics for other, lengthy discussions — one on their marriage, and how they worked together; one on Dolley, a power in her own right.)

Previously, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

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Gun nuts at Fox pull a bait and switch; Obama already outflanks them

February 26, 2013

President Obama visits with survivors of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. July 22, 2012

President Obama visits with survivors of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. July 22, 2012 – White House photo. Click image to go to White House site, with more information on reducing gun violence.

Yeah, I know: Someone has sent you a post on Facebook claiming there are more murders from hammers than guns, and they quote Fox.

If they’re not complete nuts, they were careful and noted it was rifles being compared, and not all guns.

Here’s the Fox headline:

January 03, 2013

FBI: More People Killed with Hammers, Clubs Each Year Than Rifles

Then, just to rub it in, that person who sent you the link said something like, ‘so you propose hammer control, too?’

The best debaters in college learn to listen to what their opponents say, and not what they think their opponents should have said.  Good lawyers listen like that, too, in court, and in depositions.

See that last word in the headline?  “Rifles.”

Yeah, it’s a limited part of the total population of guns.

Total gun deaths in 2011 were 8,583 — continuing a five-year trend downward, thanks for small blessings.  Homicides only, not counting suicides — according to figures compiled by the FBI.

Did more than 8,500 people die from hammer assaults in 2011?

No, the same tally shows 496 people were murdered by use of  “Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.).”

496 is 8,087 fewer than the 8,583 gun deaths.  But rifles?  Oh, yeah.

323 people died from rifle fire.  356 died from shotgun wounds.  6,220 died from handguns, 97 from “other guns,” and 1,587 died from gunshots where the type of gun was not recorded on the report to the FBI.  Add them up, you get 8,583 dead, murdered by gunfire.

Now, the gun advocates nuts say that it’s fair to compare rifle deaths only, since only the AR-15 is being questioned, and is the target for “taking guns away.”

That’s inaccurate.  President Obama laid out a plan of more than a score of actions, but only two refer to assault rifles, and only one refers to assault rifles directly:

Reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons:  The shooters in Aurora and Newtown used the type of semiautomatic rifles that were the target of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. That ban was an important step, but manufacturers were able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons. Congress must reinstate and strengthen the prohibition on assault weapons.

And:

Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds:  The case for prohibiting high-capacity magazines has been proven over and over; the shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Newtown all used magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which would have been prohibited under the 1994 law. These magazines enable any semiautomatic weapon to be used as an instrument of mass violence, yet they are once again legal and now come standard with many handguns and rifles. Congress needs to reinstate the prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

President Obama laid out a plan that will make it substantially more difficult for people who shouldn’t have guns suitable for mass killings, to have them.  More important, however, the President’s plan steps up the non-gun means available to stop mass shootings before a shooter gets to a campus armed and ready to kill.

The “discussion” will get more ugly, I predict, before it gets better.

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January 9 – fly your flag today for Connecticut statehood

January 9, 2013

There were not states at all, yet.  But on January 9, 1788, Connecticut became the fifth of the 13 colonies to ratify the proposed Constitution for the United States of America.  Within 12 months, four more colonies ratified the document, making it effective.  When the government of the new nation started functioning in 1789, Connecticut was counted as the fifth state.

Connecticut capitol building, Hartford

Capitol building for Connecticut in Hartford; this photo is from the rear of the building, so the U.S. flag is flying correctly on its own right. The building was completed in 1878. The dome is covered in gold. Image from Wikimedia Commons

To avoid political scheming by anti-federalist colony governors, especially Patrick Henry in Virginia, in September 1787 James Madison proposed that the draft constitution be ratified not by legislatures in the colonies, but instead by a specially-called convention of the people of the colony.  Connecticut’s convention met first on January 3, 1788, and with six days of discussion and debate, passed a resolution of ratification on January 9.

So by tradition, January 9 is Connecticut’s statehood anniversary.  According to U.S. law, citizens and residents of a state should fly their flags on statehood anniversaries.

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Carol Highsmith photo of Connecticut's Hall of Flags

Hall of Flags in the Connecticut State Capitol Building; photo by the great photo-historian Carol Highsmith, from the Library of Congress collection; the statue is Connecticut’s Civil War Governor, William A. Buckingham (1804-1875), honored for his personal contributions to the equipping of Connecticut’s men fighting in the Civil War;.


225 years ago today, in this room

September 17, 2012

Independence Hall, Philadelphia; room where the Constitution was created and signed; Dept of Interior photo

Caption from Department of Interior’s Tumblr site: 225 years ago today, the Constitution of the United States was signed in Independence Hall. Today, you can tour the Hall and see where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both signed, and you can also view the Liberty Bell [close by]. This is a site not to miss while visiting Philadelphia.
Photo: National Park Service

Does this room look a little familiar?  You’ve probably seen Howard Chandler Christy’s paintingof the event we celebrate today.

Howard Chandler Christy's "Signing of the Constitution," 1940; Architect of the Capitol image

Howard Chandler Christy’s “Signing of the Constitution,” 1940; Architect of the Capitol image. This massive, 20′ x 30′ painting hangs in the House Wing of the U.S. Capitol, in the east stairway — a location where, alas, most people cannot get to without a guide anymore.

Click to the Architect of the Capitol’s sitefor the story of the painting, intended by Congress to fill a gap in the story of America told by art in the Rotunda and throughout the halls of the building.

Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and expert in the Constitution and its history.

Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and expert in the Constitution and its history. I met Lloyd almost a decade ago, in programs for history teachers, sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, and by the Liberty Fund.

My old friend Dr. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University, working with the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, created a study tool from the Christy painting which should be used a lot more in classrooms.  Click over to the Edsitement site, and see for yourself.

Every year there are a few more tools on the internet to study the Constitution with, for teachers to use in the classroom on Constitution Day and every day.  I wonder what will be the effects in another decade.

How important is it that students learn the Constitution, what it says, and how it affects our daily lives?  How important is it that students learn the history of the creation of the Constitution, and does that history reverberate for those students as they venture out into their roles as citizens in the republic created by the document?

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Fly your flag today, Constitution Day 2012

September 17, 2012

 

Did you remember to put your flag up today?  September 17 is Constitution, one of the score of dates on which Congress recommends everyone to fly their U.S. flag.

Flag at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, with fireworks - National Park Service image

U.S. flag flying at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, with fireworks – National Park Service image. Fort McHenry is one of the sites Congress designated to fly the flag 24 hours a day, lighted or not.

 


Constitution Day, September 17, 2012

September 17, 2012

Happy Constitution day!  (Remember to fly your flag today.)

Have you read the U.S. Constitution lately?

First page of the U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration photo

First page of the U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration photo

Okay, maybe that’s a little tough to read.  Check out the on-line display of the National Archives and Records Administration in the Charters of Freedom section:

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Rotunda for the charters of Freedom at Nationa...

Rotunda for the charters of Freedom at National Archives (NARA) building in Washington, D.C. Here displayed are the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 


First Amendment: Still engraved in stone

August 18, 2012

In a discussion about teaching evolution in biology classes a few years ago, I had carefully explained how and why the First Amendment does not require creationism to be taught in biology classes, and in fact is the reason that creationism isn’t taught, in the Establishment Clause. My explanation irritated the tarnation out of a creationist woman who exclaimed, “Well, it’s not like the First Amendment is engraved in stone!”

Heh. Guess what I found at Southern Methodist University. There, outside the main door of the Umphrey Lee Center, which houses the Department of Economics and the Division of Journalism of the Meadows School for the Arts:

The First Amendment, at SMU

This is an encore post from April 2008.

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If it’s an election year, it must be Bogus Quote Time! Patrick Henry on the Constitution

August 14, 2012

Keep your collections of Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and “the founders” close to you, and right next to your Bartlett’s or Yale.  It’s an election year, and that means people are pulling out all the stops to get you to act against your interests and common sense, including making up stuff that they claim famous people said.

This quote attributed to Patrick Henry piqued my interest last night:

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”  ~ Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry before the House of Burgesses, painting by Peter F. Rothermel

As the painter imagined it, Patrick Henry before the House of Burgesses, by Peter F. Rothermel. The painting was done in 1851, 52 years after Henry’s death. It commemorates his famous speech against the Stamp Act of 1775, “If this be treason, make the most of it.”  Henry was both fiery in oration and stubborn in policy; it is unlikely that he would have abandoned his staunch opposition to the U.S. Constitution, to praise its defenses of individual rights, the very thing he criticized it for failing to do.

Recall, you students of history, that Patrick Henry bitterly opposed the Constitution and its ratification.  He considered it too much government, too much intrusions of a centralized, federal government over the states and the citizens of Virginia in particular.  Henry refused to serve when elected delegate to the convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  Henry made it clear that he opposed any new charter of government that set up a real, workable, national government. Henry held considerable sway in Virginia — he was serving one of his six terms as governor, and he had the legislature wrapped around his finger, doing his bidding.  Because of that, James Madison devised a plan for ratification that excluded governors and state legislatures, but instead asked for ratification by the people of each state, in specially-called conventions.

Henry tried to stack the Virginia convention against ratification.  He did his best scuttle Madison’s attending.  Henry thundered against the Constitution from the floor of the convention, claiming that it would forever trample the rights of citizens.  Partly as a result, and partly to get the document approved, Madison pledged that he would create a bill of rights to clarify protections of citizens.  Madison thought that rights were already protected, but he conceded for political reasons.

Madison won in the convention, and Virginia voted to ratify the Constitution.  Henry was livid.

To prevent Madison from creating a bill of rights, Henry fixed the election of the new senators in the state legislature, excluding Madison.  If Madison were to carry out his promise, he’d have to get elected to the House of Representatives — but as a popular man in his home county, that should not have been a problem.  Henry persuaded the only man in the county more popular than Madison, James Monroe, to run against Madison.  It’s a great story, but for another time — Madison eked out the win.

Henry opposed ratification of any of the twelve amendments Madison proposed, which Congress approved.  Eventually ten of the amendments won ratification; we call those ten our Bill of Rights.

President-elect George Washington asked Henry to serve in the new government, perhaps in the president’s cabinet as Secretary of State.  Henry refused.  Supreme Court?  Henry refused.

Get the picture yet?  Patrick Henry was not a fan of the U.S. Constitution.  He complained that it fettered citizens of the states, and that it fettered the states.

How likely is it that he would then turn around and praise the document as a tool for restraining the state against the citizen?  Henry was a stubborn man.  It is not likely.

On history alone, then, we should regard that quote attributed to Henry as bogus.  It’s a fake, a sham, a blot on Henry’s legacy and a warping of history.  Heck, it covers up great stories about Henry fighting the Constitution — it’s not much fun, either.

The words offered most likely never crossed Patrick Henry’s mind, let alone his lips.  Of course, this quote shows up at many so-called patriotic sites — none with good attribution.  I was interested to find this very statement at Wikiquotes, listed under quotes misattributed to Henry:

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.

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