Primary

Pearls of James Madison, Founder

 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  Matthew 7:6

I have little occasion to quote the Bible, and have serious doubts about who first penned or uttered this maxim, coming as it does from a translation of the Bible from the old Latin text to the Vulgate, a task which reputedly engaged several apocryphal hands over the course of centuries. But, Matthew seemed an appropriate place to start, because it is arguably a pearl of wisdom.

We move on to the first set of pearls.

The two premier publishers in the U.S. for books of unmatched quality in terms of printing, design, affordability, and readability, are the Liberty Fund of Indianapolis, and the Library of America in New York.

The Liberty Fund specializes in publishing books about the history, progress, investigation, and value of liberty, and boasts an impressive catalogue of works from the high Renaissance throughout the Enlightenment, and the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It is completely private, founded by a businessman, Pierre F. Goodrich, in 1960, and is sustained by sales and donations from individuals of means. Its most recent quarterly catalogue boasts eight pages of some 720 titles, authors and editors, from Lord Acton to Simone Zurbuchen. Its mission statement page states:

Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals. The Foundation develops, supervises, and finances its own educational activities to foster thought and encourage discourse on enduring issues pertaining to liberty.

The Library of America, on the other hand, was founded in 1979 with “seed money” from the National Endowment for the Humanities, itself established by Congress in 1965. Its purpose is to preserve the literature of America. It published its first volumes in 1982. While I oppose government subsidies for any literary or artistic project, the Library of America, which is now an independent non-profit organization, seems to have been one of the government’s more successful investments. It, too, sustains itself by sales and private donations, and, as far as I could determine, receives no federal subsidies of any kind. Its mission statement reads:

The Library of America, a nonprofit publisher, is dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing.

I would say it has republished and kept in print many of America’s best and worst writers. Its titles are in the hundreds. Many are indeed worth reading. Some titles can legitimately be deemed “best.” Others are the favorites of the literary establishment, not necessarily “best” or even “good.” It also publishes a quarterly catalogue with new titles.

But what sets Liberty Fund and Library of America books apart from mainstream publishing is the meticulous attention both publishers pay to book design, organization, and text. I have read several titles from both publishers and I think I found perhaps two typos or errata in over 5,000 pages. And both publishers print their books to last, hard backs and soft covers. They can be perused repeatedly for years with little evidence of wear. Barring book-burnings or bannings by neo-Nazis, Progressives, or Muslims, these books will be around for a long, long time.

(What is not a typo, but an isolated problem with word or line spacing, occurs in Library of America’s James Madison: Writings,* on page 89, the first page of “The Virginia Plan: Resolutions Proposed by Mr. Randolph in Convention, May 29, 1787.”  The problem does not recur elsewhere in the text.)

Having said that, we move on to the second set of pearls to be found in that volume. I was reviewing notes I took while first reading James Madison: Writings. Here I offer some random pearls of political wisdom from America’s fourth president, dubbed the “Father of the Constitution” and “Father of the Bill of Rights.”  These pearls are particularly relevant today. Wise Americans should learn their value.

Aside from having been a prolific contributor to the Federalist Papers, Madison was a frequent speaker at the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia between May and September, 1787. Madison spoke from written notes, or extemporaneously, and his (and others’) remarks were recorded in shorthand by a clerk reporter. As with Thomas Jefferson and some other notable Founders, Madison was not the compelling orator as Patrick Henry was. Often his remarks were inaudible, and the assembly of delegates and reporters could not hear what he said.

Speaking on the role of what would eventually become the U.S. Supreme Court and its relationship with the two other branches of the federal government, the executive and the legislative, Madison said:

In England…the Executive had an absolute negative on the laws; and the supreme tribunal of Justice (the House of Lords) formed one of the other branches of the Legislature. In short, whether the object of the revisionary power to restrain the Legislature from encroaching on the other coordinate Departments, or on the rights of the people at large; or from passing laws unwise in their principle, or incorrect in their form, the utility of annexing the wisdom and weight of the Judiciary to the Executive seemed incontestable. (p. 95)

The next day, June 7th, Madison spoke of the function and composition of what would become the U.S. Senate, which was established primarily to act as a brake on populist legislation arising in the House of Representatives, and secondarily as a presence of the states’ legislatures, who elected each Senator:

The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate the vices which they are meant to correct.

The function and character of the U.S. Senate were obliterated with passage of the 17th Amendment and its ratification by the states in 1913. The U.S. Senate was a party to its own neutering. For all practical purposes – and given its conduct in recent decades – the U.S. Senate became a legislative auxiliary of the House, in effect enlarging the size of the House, and defeating the Senate’s fundamental purposes. 1913 was a watershed year in U.S. politics, with passage of the 16th Amendment (the Income Tax Amendment), the establishing of the Federal Reserve System, and ratification of the 17th Amendment.

Madison and his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention could hardly have imagined that 129 years after the Constitution was ratified, it would be largely nullified by statist policies empowered by a president, Woodrow Wilson, and his administration, and by Congress itself.

There is a somewhat anemic movement reported in some blog sites to press Congress to impeach Barack Obama. I think these will come to naught. However, Madison, on July 20, 1787, was recorded by the clerk as saying:

Mr. Madison thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate [the President]. The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might even betray his trust to foreign powers….(p. 128, square brackets mine)

These words, excepting the provision for the incapacitation of the President, could describe the candidacy for impeachment of virtually every president from FDR onward. They especially apply to Barack Obama.

It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray, their trust. Besides the restraints of their personal integrity and honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining members, would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic. (p. 128)

The “restraints” of most members of Congress evaporated long ago. Few can boast of any personal integrity or honor. There is no “security to the public” left. Corruption and political ambition have been the rule, not character or any regard for the enumerated powers of Congress cited in the Constitution.

Madison repeatedly, throughout all his writings, insisted that the form of government Americans were adopting must be a republican one, not a democratic one. A republican government was better advantaged to protect individual rights, while a democracy, regardless of the size of its population, was inherently prone to degenerate into tyranny.

A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property….Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized, and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions. (Federalist No. 10, p. 164)

Criticisms of the republican form of government were heard from delegates to the Convention and in the press of the time, that it had never been tried before, and so would never work. Madison answered in Federalist No. 14, in November 1787:

Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great respectable and flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. (p. 172)

Later in that same number, Madison pays tribute to the genius of the American people:

But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected merely because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favour of private rights and public happiness….

Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. (p. 173)

Madison, like many southern delegates to the Convention, was a Virginia slaveholder, and, like Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and others from the region, opposed the institution. But neither he nor they could conceive of a way to end slavery without ruining themselves and precipitating economic and social chaos, and even violent strife. It was proposed during the Convention that the Constitution provide for abolishing slavery in the U.S. by 1808. The idea was opposed inside and outside the Convention because it was perceived to be a violation of property rights. In Federalist No. 42, Madison wrote:

Attempts have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the constitution, by representing it on one side as a criminal toleration of an illicit practice, and on another, as calculated to prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. (p. 237)

Later, Madison spoke before the Virginia Ratifying Convention on the Slave Trade Clause, in June, 1788. He argued in vain for at least a federal or state tax on the slaves brought to American shores, to make the trade economically impractical, and for a total ban by 1808:

I should conceive this clause to be impolitic, if it were one of those things which could be excluded without encountering greater evils. The southern states would not have entered into the union of America, without the temporary permission of that trade. And if they were excluded from the union, the consequences might be dreadful to them and to us….I need not expatiate on this subject. Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the union would be worse. (p. 391-392)

Like Jefferson and others who recognized the evil of slavery and of regarding enslaved men as “property,” Madison resigned himself to the reluctant consolation that the moral conflict over slavery would need to be resolved by another generation, and possibly violently, and not in his own time.

Citing the great Enlightenment political philosopher, Baron Montesquieu, Madison, in Federalist No. 47, reflected on the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of a republican government:

The reasons on which Montesquieu grounds his maxim are a further demonstration of his meaning. “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body,” says he, “there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.” Again, “Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.” (pp. 275-276, emphases Madison’s)

Madison was initially ambivalent about a “bill of rights” that would better protect the liberties of Americans. But he eventually warmed to the idea and became one of its most articulate champions. In an October, 1788 letter to Jefferson about what the Constitutional Convention had accomplished and the function of a bill of rights that might be appended to it, in October, he noted:

…[T]here are many who think such addition unnecessary, and not a few who think it misplaced in such a Constitution. There is scarce any point on which the part in opposition  is so much divided as to its importance and its propriety. My own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights; provided it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the enumeration. At the same time I have never thought the omission a material defect….

Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments [the federal and state governments] the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents. (pp. 420-421, emphasis Madison’s, square brackets mine)

Finally, Madison realized that no government founded on and dedicated to the preservation of freedom, could be made so tyranny-proof that it would automatically inhibit the rise of tyranny and statism without the conscious, active intervention of men of principle. The integrity of such a government depended wholly on the moral rectitude of men charged with the functions of such a government, men intransigently committed to the proper function and original purpose of such a government. In Federalist No. 55, he warns:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another. (pp. 319-320)

Obviously, our current lawmakers and ambitious tyrants see Americans as wild beasts that must be restrained by an incrementally imposed despotism. Our electorate has been balkanized into numerous factions that wish to destroy and devour one another, but that is the fault of Congress and every president, Congressman, think tank, and advocacy group that preached victimhood and exemption from the rule of law that was established in the Constitution.

Looking at Madison, and recounting his pearls of wisdom, and remembering that men did exist, though in dwindling numbers from 1788 on who upheld the principles which animated the creation of the Constitution, one feels the sense that one is immersed in a dream-like time of myth and legend.

But, if Madison and the other Founders were the immaterial stuff of legend, if they were truly figments of our imagination, as the swine-like nihilists and deconstructionists claim, none of us would be here today.

*James Madison: Writings. Jack N. Rakove, Editor. New York: Library of America, 1999. 966 pp.