Monday, March 29, 2010
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.