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:


What would a real man do? Samantha Stendal’s brilliant, short video

March 26, 2013

From Samantha Stendal, a film student at the University of Oregon, a brilliant film reaction to the Steubenville, Ohio rape and trials.

Samantha Stendal, filmmaker at the University of Oregon

Samantha Stendal, University of Oregon

More:


Historic images, encore: Quanah Parker, Last Chief of the Comanches

March 25, 2013

Glenn Frankel at the University of Texas wrote a book about the John Ford movie, “The Searchers.” It’s release, and stories about it, should remind us of the history of Quanah Parker, the last great, chief of the Comanches.  “The Searchers” was loosely based on a true story, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Comanches, and her subsequent life with the tribe, and her recapture by white relatives.  She had married in the tribe — Quanah Parker was her son.

Back in June 2008 I posted this:

Quanah Parker, photo by Lanney

Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Photographed by Lanney. Public Domain photo.
National Archives, “Pictures of Indians in the United States”

Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.

Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.

  • Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
  • Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
  • Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (“What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
  • Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (“antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
  • Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
  • Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
  • Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.

    Quanah in European-American business attire.

    Quanah in European-American business attire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
  • Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
  • Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
  • Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.

Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

Other Resources:

Resources new in 2013:


Renaissance shadow over contemporary art: Penultimate suppers (an encore)

March 24, 2013

It’s that Easter season among western Christian sects; this is Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus’s final entry into Jerusalem and the events leading Jesus’s crucifixion.

Our congregation will stage a “living” Last Supper a la da Vinci, which got me to thinking about the painting, which reminded me of this post from years ago; some minor updating, and I’ve added a new version I found from ABC’s series, “Lost,” which was in the middle of its run when I posted this originally in 2008:

Jeremy Barker at Popped Culture assembled more than 30 versions of contemporary recastings of DaVinci’s painting of “The Last Supper.” There’s the Simpsons version, the cartoon version with Disney and Warner Bros. characters. There’s the Sopranos version, and the Battlestar Galactica version.

For example, the Robert Altman version, from M*A*S*H:

Last Supper, M*A*S*H style

Last Supper, M*A*S*H style

If you need a 20 minute lesson on the influence of Renaissance art on contemporary art, this is one many high school kids may find interesting, if not amazingly historically informative. I suspect there is a great lesson plan hiding in there about 20th century history as reflected in parody art.

It’s a brilliant and subtle demonstration of the power of DaVinci’s art that there are so many copy cat pictures, don’t you think?

I did notice, however, that Barker left out the Mel Brooks version, from “History of the World, Part I.” It may not fit the meme.

Mel Brooks'

“Last Supper” as portrayed in Mel Brooks’s “History of the World, Part I”

Finally, looking today I found this “Lost” version of the Last Supper at Art is Everywhere, showing the meme is live and well.

“Lost” Last Supper; probably a publicity still, found at Art is Everywhere.

Do you have favorite parodies or homages of the Last Supper left off of these lists of 31 different versions?  By all means, list them in comments, with links if you have them.

Resources:

Resources added in 2013:


Milestones: 4,500 posts

March 24, 2013

4,500 posts here? Where else is “4500” notable? Look at this beautiful, vintage computer from 1986, a National FS-4500: This MSX 2 computer was marketed as a wordprocessor system, and indeed it is! It has a big 24 dots thermal printer built-in, wordprocessor software (Word Processor, MSX Sentence Paragraph Exchanger, Dictionary, MSX Address Book, Name Card and MSX JE 1 & 2). Impressive. It was available in black or white case. Image and caption from OldComputers.com

Just passed 4,500 posts here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.  Closing in on 4 million views.

If I had a nickel for every post, or a penny for every view . . .

4,500 is a good number, for posts for a blog named after a hoax perpetrated about the obscurity of our 13th president.

Any other significance to the number 4,500?

Dodge Ram 4500

Dodge Ram 4500, at Chrysler’s Saltillo Plant, Saltillo, Mexico.


Obama Derangement Syndrome, described in 2013

March 24, 2013

Superman stands with President Obama

This photo will set off most sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome — who can’t stand Superman’s duplicating Obama’s stance. Can’t find details on this photo — I believe it was taken in Metropolis, Illinois, in 2008.

In my post drafts I have a longish one on various forms of crazy that, well, make me crazy.  It includes a lot of illogical things that populate the internet and political discussions like dysentery in a poorly-run refugee camp on the border of two third world nations at war with each other.

But it’s still hanging fire.  Plus, my description of the various anti-Obama crazinesses isn’t so cogent as our friend Jim provided in comments to an earlier post.

So, for your edification, and in the hopes that some sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) may seek help on their own, or that you may be able to persuade them to seek help, here’s what Mr. Stanley wrote about it (all links added by me, here):

As with any mental illness, Obama Derangement Syndrome’s treatment must begin with an accurate diagnosis. It is certainly possible that what passes for ODS may actually be nothing more complicated than food poisoning. Got ahold of some bad clams? It will pass. It could be severe constipation. Nothing an enema can’t clear up. But if you’ve ruled out the usual suspects, follow this handy checklist to determine if you are an ODS sufferer. Remember, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward lucidity and wellness.

You may have Obama Derangement Syndrome…

  • . . .  if you believe he was a CIA operative fighting with the Afghan rebels and against the Soviets in the 1980s. Your case of ODS may be terminal if you believe this, and yet now believe Obama is, himself, a Marxist.
  • . . . if you suspect he had that great American patriot, Andrew Breitbart, murdered. Extra points if you are sure the Obamas have had as many people murdered as you believed the Clintons did. Still more bonus points if you think gay sex orgies were connected to his murder spree.
  • . . . if you are reasonably sure President Obama orchestrated Hurricane Sandy in order to improve his chances at the polls in 2012; planned and ordered either the Sandy Hook school massacre or Aurora Theater massacre to create a pretext for a giant “gun-grab”; and was behind the BP oil spill and/or the Massey Energy coal mine disaster in an effort to justify tighter regulation of business.
  • . . . if you believe the President used an executive order to hand over U.S. territory to Russia. [Or to the UN, or to anyone else.]
  • . . . if you have seen incontrovertible “proof” that Obama removed the American flag from Air Force One and replaced it with his campaign logo; has consistently refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag; seldom if ever wears an American flag lapel pin and steadfastly resists suggestions from staffers that he say “God bless America” at the end of his speeches.
  • . . . if you know that he was a member of the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the American Communist Party, the American Fascist/Third Way Movement, the Illuminati, the German-American Bund, the Campfire Girls of America and Friends of Ish Kabibble.
  • . . . if you believe President Obama has a “secret plan” to remove evangelical Christian young people from their homes and place them in FEMA or UN-run re-education camps.
  • . . . if you believe the birth certificate is a forgery, never existed in the first place or that it exists – but that it, upon careful examination, shows that Barack Obama was sired by a jackal.
  • . . . if you have seen “evidence” that he furnished the Oval Office with Islamic or Middle Eastern décor; that he has changed the name of the WH Christmas tree to the WH “Holiday” tree; that he wears jewelry with secret Koranic verses on it; or that he was sworn in on the Holy Koran and not the Bible.
  • . . . if you believe he had the October, 2012 jobs report altered.
  • . . . or if you believe President Obama is part lizard, the Antichrist or a former CIA operative who was teleported to Mars.

If any of these resonate with you as plausible, reasonable or outright true, seek help for ODS immediately. There is no shortage of treatment options. One might begin by cancelling subscriptions to Stormfront, Newsmax, Citizen Magazine, World Net Daily, Conservapedia and World Magazine. Additional recommendations include a Fox “News” fast, putting your “Left Behind” books in the recycle bin and avoiding those personalities who may function as enablers of ODS. Such individuals include Glenn Beck, James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Sowell, Laura Ingraham, Texe Marrs, Hal Lindsey, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Allen West and Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum. (This is, of course, not an exhaustive list.)

Side effects resulting from successful ODS treatment may include increased lucidity, rationality, compassion and diminished feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. People who have recovered from ODS report a significant reduction in suspicion and mistrust of those of different races, religions and cultures. Ask your mental health professional if receiving ODS treatment is right for you.

Mr. Stanley got through that entire list without mentioning  Kenya, Bill Ayers, or the Illinois Bar disciplinary procedures.

You may be suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome, if the symptoms listed above describe you.

There’s hope for you, if you are a sufferer. ObamaCare covers treatment.

Obama Derangement Syndrome may be a lot more prevalent that he thinks!

More:


“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.


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