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James Madison and the Making of America

February 22, 2012
Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Kevin Gutzman’s James Madison and the Making of America takes what we thought was a familiar story and gives it a fresh and important interpretation that challenges old orthodoxies and helps us better understand important episodes in American history.

For instance, proper credit for the world-historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is at last granted not to its draftsman, Thomas Jefferson – who had his gravestone list the statute along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia as his proudest achievements – but to James Madison, who actually managed to get the statute enacted (and who would have nothing inscribed on his gravestone).

More significantly, we are treated to a precise and detailed description of Madison’s evolving role vis-a-vis the drafting of the Constitution. At the Philadelphia Convention Madison had championed a much stronger central government, a veto over state laws, and a diminished role and significance of the states.  He favored a national rather than a federal government, and one in which the states would be retained insofar as they might be “subordinately useful.” His major proposals, including the veto of state laws, a legislature with plenary authority, and basing both legislative houses on population, were all rejected.

Madison may be known as the father of the Constitution, but Gutzman is having none of it. “Far from being the ‘father of the Constitution,’ Madison was an unhappy witness at its C-section birth. Perhaps he might be more appropriately called an attending nurse. He certainly did not think of it as his own offspring.”

What emerged from the Philadelphia Convention was a federal government with enumerated powers, not a national government with plenary authority.

And now… the rest of the story. …..

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