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James Madison was the 4th president of the United States, so most people recognize the name, if not the image included with this post. But as he does not have a musical written about him – though he is a pretty prominent character in the second act of Hamilton – a lot of folks may not realize how important Madison was to the founding of our country.
Prior to ascending to the presidency on the heals of friend and fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, Madison was perhaps the first person to serve in Congress that truly helped to define what role that particular branch of our government would have in our fledgling nation. But even before that, he played an instrumental role with building the structure of our government in drafting the Constitution, as well as campaigning for its ratification through the The Federalist Papers. But he, along with Jefferson, may have been primarily responsible for the advent of political parties in this country, and this was primarily due to their rivalry with a man named Alexander Hamilton.
But it wasn’t always a rivalry. As the Revolutionary War was ending, and America was taking her first breaths of an independent nation, Hamilton and Madison were part of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, initially called to strengthen the Articles of Confederation. This Philadelphia meeting (or series of meetings) eventually led to the scrapping of the Articles and the drafting of a new Constitution, which was based on a compromise between Madison’s so-called Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan of William Patterson.
Hamilton proposed his own plan, which many historians – including Ron Chernow of Alexander Hamilton fame – think may have been to present a “radical” version so that the attendees would some how come to the center and agree to compromise between the Virginia and New Jersey plans, which occurred with the Connecticut Compromise. In the end, Hamilton and Madison were successful in their attempt to create a new form of government, and they agreed on a lot of the same things regarding that government. Now it was time to get the Constitution ratified by the states.
Enter The Federalist Papers. These were 85 essays drafted by Hamilton (51 essays), Madison (29), and John Jay (5), published under the pen name Publius, that expanded on the thoughts and philosophy behind the new Constitution. Though written primarily by Hamilton, all the articles were written in the same tone, and though intended to influence passage of the Constitution, they also expanded on early American political thought, becoming a treatise on politics in America that are still referenced (and revered) to this day. Needless to say, the Constitution was ratified, though only after a Bill of Rights was proposed and “amended” the Constitution as written.
Their collaboration on The Federalist Papers was the beginning of a solid working relationship between Hamilton and Madison. When Hamilton took over as Treasury Secretary, he used the power that Madison had in the House of Representatives to pass many parts of his economic plan, including the assumption of state debt from the Revolution by the federal government. This plan was unpopular in the South, which was buoyed by the free labor provided by slavery, and it was a hard fight for Hamilton to get the votes in Congress to pass his assumption plan.
This led to the Compromise of 1790, which allowed for Hamilton to proceed with his plan to assume state debts, but also gave Madison (and Jefferson) and the southern states the U.S. capital – what became Washington, D.C. – in a piece of land carved out of the state of Maryland. This is generally viewed as a positive development for both sides of the rivalry, but it was Hamilton’s next legislative push that really began to drive the wedge between the once friendly collaborators.
In 1791, lifted by his success with his funding plan, Hamilton pressed on with the creation of a national bank. A national bank was necessary for his assumption plan to work, as well as put the new United States government on an equal footing with many of its more established European counterparts. The South objected to the idea of a central bank, railing against the “moneyed interest” that would soon own the federal government. The leader of this charge was James Madison, who felt that a national bank was not something that was enumerated in the Constitution.
Hamilton was able to use his own allies in the House to present words from an article of The Federalist Papers – written by Madison per Hamilton – that argued that the creation of a national bank was implied as a power of the federal government. Though Hamilton eventually won the fight for his bank, it further led to his alienation by Madison and Jefferson, at least regarding matters of state, primarily because both of the Virginians were adamant Anti-Federalists – or “Southern mother fucking Democratic-Republicans,” while Hamilton always pushed for a strong central government.
Hamilton was protected by the support he had from George Washington, but once Washington decided to leave the presidency, Hamilton’s shield from real attacks was gone. Hamilton admitted to the Reynolds affair in part because of pressure from Madison allies (among them future president James Monroe), which ultimately led to the end of Hamilton’s political career, though his influence was still felt among his Federalist allies. The Democratic-Republicans ultimately “won” the fight for the government, however, winning every election between 1800 and 1824 – Jefferson (1800 & 1804), Madison (1808 & 1812), Monroe (1816 & 1820) and John Quincy Adams (1824) – though Adams’ victory in 1824 was iffy and the party ceased to exist after he lost re-election in 1828 to Andrew Jackson.
After the murder of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr, the animosity felt by Madison towards Hamilton softened. Madison later admitted that Hamilton had a better grasp of the Constitution than he was given credit for, and that his financial plan was actually helpful in establishing the new United States government. Hamilton now gets a lot more respect than he did when I last studied American history formally, most likely because of things like Chernow’s biography and Hamilton: An American Musical. Of all the non-presidents from the early days of our country, only Benjamin Franklin might be more “famous,” especially now.
Though I haven’t personally read a Madison biography – he’s about 12th or 13th on the list of books that I’m going to read once I finish Alexander Hamilton – the picture painted of Madison through the “eyes” of Hamilton is flattering yet incomplete. Hamilton spends most of his adult life trying to overcome the stigma of being a bastard foreigner with “crazy” European/classical ideas about the role of government. Madison is at first on his side in this regard, but once Madison gets under the influence of the older Thomas Jefferson, their paths diverge.
It’s hard for me to say that this was because Madison was that impressionable or if the philosophies of Jefferson were what Madison truly believed. However, Madison’s contributions to The Federalist Papers indicate he may have been somewhere in the middle of the two politically, but may have always defaulted to Virginia first over the United States, whereas Hamilton’s status as an immigrant allowed him to adopt the cause of the United States instead of always fighting for his adoptive state of New York.
Regardless, both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were extremely monumental in the foundation of this country, and they are rightfully mentioned by most historians when it comes to discussing the “Founding Fathers.” In my opinion, only Hamilton’s untimely death because of his hubris prevents Hamilton from being further revered, fancy hip-hop musical be damned.
Until next time…
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