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James Madison

Father of the Constitution and 4th president of the United States. Madison had been preparing for the Constitutional Convention for two years before it finally met. He is responsible for three monumnetal contributions that led to the success and lasting signficance of that meeting in Philadelphia—the Virginia Plan he drafted prior to the Convention, his informed speeches during the Convention, and his notes of the proceedings, which are the best record of what happened at the Convention. He was a principle author of the Federalist essays, and is considered the chief architect of our Bill of Rights.

It made sense that Edmund J. Randolph was the person to present what would be called the Virginia Plan.  He was governor of one of the country's most powerful states and he came from a prestigious family.

James Madison was not the sole author of these resolutions that Randolph would present.  The Virginia delegation had arrived in Philadelphia by May 13, and its seven members began to discuss the issues before May 29.  However, Madison played an instrumental role in developing these proposals, because he had been studying the issues and writing his colleagues about these concepts. 

As early as 1786, Madison had studied the history of confederacies and wrote the Notes on Ancient and Modern Confederacies in the spring/early summer of 1786.  He then wrote the Vices of the Political System of the United States in April 1787, which outlined his thoughts on why the Articles of Confederation was a failure.
Annotated by bacraig on October 09, 2014
Madison understood what Staurt Leiberger argues that "Washington's participation was indispensable to the convention's success because it guaranteed a large turnout of dedicated men and added legitimacy." Before coming to the convention, Washington realized that reforming the Articles of Confederation would not be enough, and Washington was able to rely on Madison's friendship to exchange ideas.  Washington arrived in Philadelphia on May 13, and he worked with his fellow Virginia delegates on the Virginia Plan.


Annotated by bacraig on May 26, 2014
Although Madison's view of the presidency going into the Convention is less clear, he did play an important role in developing the executive branch.  According to Jack Rakove and Susan Zlomke, Madison's experience in the Virginia assembly helped shaped his support for a joint council between the judiciary and the executive to offset unwise legislation and give the executive some independence from the legislature. 
Annotated by bacraig on March 21, 2014

This motion by General Pinckney and Madison’s response – both immediately following the Convention’s decision to take up the Committee’s Report – are fascinating.  It should be remembered that both Pinckney and Madison were on the Committee that drafted this Report.  Although there are no records of the Committee’s meeting, it seems plausible that there was a disagreement between these two men when the Report was drafted, and Pinckney left the meeting convinced that he was on the losing side of the compromise.  He is here trying to make the compromise more advantageous for his own state.  Unfortunately, Madison is the only one to resist extending the period that the slave traffic may be permitted.  Thus Pinckney had better luck appealing to the Convention as a whole than he did to the eleven-man Committee, which included some very anti-slavery delegates.  Later, when Pinckney had to defend the twenty-year compromise within his home state, it is not surprising that he complains of contending “with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia, who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves.”  It is possible that he may have been ruefully remembering Madison’s interference on this question. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This motion by General Pinckney and Madison’s response – both immediately following the Convention’s decision to take up the Committee’s Report – are fascinating.  It should be remembered that both Pinckney and Madison were on the Committee that drafted this Report.  Although there are no records of the Committee’s meeting, it seems plausible that there was a disagreement between these two men when the Report was drafted, and Pinckney left the meeting convinced that he was on the losing side of the compromise.  He is here trying to make the compromise more advantageous for his own state.  Unfortunately, Madison is the only one to resist extending the period that the slave traffic may be permitted.  Thus Pinckney had better luck appealing to the Convention as a whole than he did to the eleven-man Committee, which included some very anti-slavery delegates.  Later, when Pinckney had to defend the twenty-year compromise within his home state, it is not surprising that he complains of contending “with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia, who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves.”  It is possible that he may have been ruefully remembering Madison’s interference on this question. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

James Madison was well aware of the importance of taking careful notes at the Constitutional Convention. From his "Preface to Debates in the Convention of 1787":

"On the arrival of the Virginia Deputies at Phila it occurred to them that from the early and prominent part taken by that State in bringing about the Convention some initiative step might be expected from them. The Resolutions introduced by Governor Randolph were the result of a Consultation on the subject; with an understanding that they left all the Deputies entirely open to the lights of discussion, and free to concur in any alterations or modifications which their reflections and judgments might approve. The Resolutions as the Journals shew became the basis on which the proceedings of the Convention commenced, and to the developments, variations and modifications of which the plan of Govt proposed by the Convention may be traced.

The curiosity I had felt during my researches into the History of the most distinguished Confederacies, particularly those of antiquity, and the deficiency I found in the means of satisfying it more especially in what related to the process, the principles, the reasons, & the anticipations, which prevailed in the formation of them, determined me to preserve as far as I could an exact account of what might pass in the Convention whilst executing its trust, with the magnitude of which I was duly impressed, as I was with the gratification promised to future curiosity by an authentic exhibition of the objects, the opinions & the reasonings from which the new System of Govt was to receive its peculiar structure & organization. Nor was I unaware of the value of such a contribution to the fund of materials for the History of a Constitution on which would be staked the happiness of a people great even in its infancy, and possibly the cause of Liberty throught the world."

Annotated by Jen on September 05, 2013

A wealth of possible meanings may be attached to James Madison’s cryptic statement, “... Where slavery exists, the Republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.”  On the one hand, he may simply be referring to the fear that slaves may unite with white rebel factions, which would endanger the principle that rule should be by a majority of citizens.  In Federalist No. 43 he warns that “in the tempestuous scenes of civil violence,” slaves may “give a superiority of strength to any party with which they may associate themselves.”  If that is his meaning, then it is merely a pragmatic consideration, based on the widespread fear of slave uprisings, and not a statement of moral or political principle. 

On the other hand, Madison also believed that the prevalence of slavery in the South invalidated some states’ claims to possessing a republican form of government.  Within his private notes, Madison wrote that many Southern States, like many ancient regimes, were republican in name only.  Their democratic pretensions were called into question partly because of the high property qualifications for suffrage in some of these states, but principally because of the number of slaves who were excluded from the political process.  To be a genuinely republican form of government, according to Madison, a critical mass of adult male residents must be in possession of full political rights.  If this is Madison’s meaning here, then this brief comment about the republican theory being “fallacious” in those states where slavery exists should be interpreted as an indictment of those state laws that permit slavery.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013