Monday, March 29, 2010

The James Madison Problem
Mike Rappaport

Famously or infamously, James Madison was a "nationalist" during the debate on the Constitution, favoring a strong national government.  But in the 1790 and thereafter, he was a leading member of the Jeffersonian Republicans who took a strong states rights position.  How does one account for these differing positions?

Most people argue that Madison changed his mind.  But in a really quite interesting paper, Gordon Wood argues that this is not the best way to explain what happened with Madison.  Instead, Madison the nationalist sought a federal government that involved an impartial elite that would protect rights.  He was not all that happy with the Constitution as a means of accomplishing this end.  But even more importantly, he rejected the type of government that Hamilton wanted -- a copy of the English state and the other great states of Europe.

There is quite a bit to Wood's argument.  He can account for much of the evidence, although in the end I need to think about it more to fully endorse his account.  But it is quite interesting.

Happily, the entire essay is on line.  Take a look at it.  Highly recommended.

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Mike Rappaport