14 July 2007
James Madison, 4th President of the United States
I just finished reading Ralph Ketcham's James Madison: A Biography (University of Virginia Press, 1990; originally published 1971). A brief glimpse of what I learned:
And now, on to Monroe.
- Madison was originally for representation proportional to population in the Senate, as well as in the House. He was opposed to the compromise by which the states got equal votes in the Senate, which, of course, gives voters in Wyoming disproportionate power relative to voters in California. However, he came to embrace the compromise and the Federal system that evolved from it.
The document finally approved was in some ways very different than the plan he had proposed in May. The small states had imposed what Madison persistently regarded as the unjust and impractical principle of state equality in the Senate. The clause empowering Congress to "negative" state laws, long thought by Madison to be the only effective way to prevent state encroachment on national authority, had been dropped in favor of the less explicit supreme-law clause. ...Madison came gradually to see the virtue of this change. An enumeration of the powers to Congress was substituted for the broad power "to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent." After the decision in favor of state equality in the Senate, Madison more and more approved enumeration as a necessary check on a poorly constructed Congress.
- What one might call Madisonian Republicanism—Aside for a pet peeve: The anti-Federalist faction of Jefferson and Madison that continues today in the form of the Democratic Party came to be called, at the time, Republican. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and more all considered themselves Republicans, devoted to republican principles. The "Democratic-Republican" label popular in lists of office holders is an after-the-fact usage designed to distinguish that faction from the contemporary Republican Party, founded before the Civil War in Ripon, Wisconsin. The rate of evolution of the then Republican Party into the Democratic Party will progress in a step-like fashion when we get to the administration of Andrew Jackson. End pet peeve. Where was I? Oh yeah—Madisonian Republicanism is based on the idea that all political power comes from the people. It is assigned by the people to the national government formalized by the Constitution, and it is, in parallel, assigned by the people to the various state governments. In no way was the Constitution as envisioned by Madison, or the national government, a result of the allocation of power by the states to the national government. The power is allocated by the people to both.
- Madison, by serving as Jefferson's Secretary of State, helped deal himself the bad hand he had to play as President. The slowness by which he and Jefferson came to understand the necessity of a strong navy in order to have a chance to stand up to British or French insults meant that when Jefferson left office, the navy that John Adams had gotten built up had largely been let go to rot. Madison showed no willingness to expend political capital to develop the military means of resisting either European power. Madison had to wait until into his term for War Hawk Republicans to be elected (e.g., Henry Clay), almost organically and not by any strength of Madison's leadership, to pass legislation to strengthen the military.
- Madison's main weakness as President has to be seen, in my opinion, as his inability or delay to put the right people into the right positions. Because of a divergence of opinion with Monroe during the end of the Jefferson administration (Monroe was run by some Republicans as an alternative to Madison for President), Madison ended up with a Secretary of State who actually worked against administration efforts. Monroe only assumed the office in 1811, two years into Madison's first administration. He had several ineffective Secretaries of War, not relieving one, Armstrong, until after the burning of Washington, even though it was obvious that the Secretary was not following Madison's directions.
- Madison's second weakness as President was an unwillingness, in general, to lobby Congress to pass laws supporting his policies. The naval example above is just one instance. Likely from his role in the development and ratification of the Constitution he was constrained by his previous statements as to what Presidential power was, how it was to be exercised, etc. So he stayed put, at the White House, certainly socializing with Congressmen and their wives at Dolley Madison's regular events, but not really doing the kind of horse trading required to advance policies. (That approach may last until Jackson: I'm not expecting either Monroe or John Quincy Adams to behave much differently.)
- In reading both Jefferson's and Madison's biographies, you learn who the people were that give their names to so many of the locales in the southeast and other parts of the USA: Albert Gallatin, the Swiss-born financier who was Secretary of the Treasury to both Jefferson and Madison; Alexander Dallas, the Pennsylvania financier, who replaced him; Giles, Lowndes, Grundy, Macon, and Roane all morph from place names to the people those places are named for.
- Madison actually served longer as Rector of the University of Virginia than Jefferson did.
- Madison lived until 1836, dying within a week of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Some wanted for him to take stimulants so he could last until that day, joining Adams and Jefferson (1826) and Monroe (1831) as Presidents who had died on Independence Day.
And now, on to Monroe.