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James Madison: Founding Father and Lawgiver

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 7, 2023 3:03 am

James Madison: Founding Father and Lawgiver

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 7, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, President of Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, tells the story of our fourth president, James Madison. 

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Head to slash international for ways to watch. And we return to our American stories and one of our favorite things to tell stories about is American history is always brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College where you can go to learn all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that matter in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Go to

That's In 1751, our fourth president of the United States, James Madison, was born in Port Conway, Virginia. Besides being president, Madison was one of the three writers of the Federalist Papers and a strong supporter of the Constitutional Convention.

Here to tell the story is Hillsdale College's president, Dr. Larry Orr. The first thing to know about James Madison is he was a little short guy. You know, he's probably five foot four.

You know, Washington was a foot taller than he was. We have a great painting done by the longtime chairman of our art department, Sam Connect, of the signing of the Constitution. It's six feet tall and eight feet wide.

It's very beautiful. And it's got Madison and Washington standing side by side. And Sam is very artful.

So he doesn't make it look ridiculous. But Madison is much shorter. Madison is, you know, he's a Virginia legislator. He becomes close to Thomas Jefferson doing that.

He gets his mind around revolution pretty early. He didn't do much war service in the colonial army for Virginia. He was a state legislator through most of the war. And then he was in the member of the Continental Congress.

And the point about him was he said, so I happen to have a big soft spot for him because I just, you know, he wrote this passage. What is government but the profoundest of all commentaries on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be needed. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. Now, that's a piece of beautiful logic that is, by the way, undeniable.

And it justifies the Constitution of the United States in two sentences. It's more than one can say to say that he was more important than Alexander Hamilton. It's hard to think anybody was. But he probably was because he and Jefferson invented the party that, you know, ruled the country, you know, until Lincoln pretty much.

The Whigs opposed them, but they were really like them for the most part. And here's, you know, here's the service he performed. He was Thomas Jefferson's best friend in every sense of that word. He was very good for Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a theoretic politician a little bit. You know, he had principles, you know, he was big on principles.

He could state them flowingly. And so when the Constitutional Convention is meeting, Jefferson writes a long letter, many long letter to Madison. The main thing he did for Madison at that time was Madison said, send me books about constitutions.

And he sent him 200. Madison had already read most of them, but he read them all. He's a very determined individual. So Jefferson writes Madison a long letter, and the letter is famous, the earth belongs to the living letter. And what he says is that every law, including a constitution, and every private contract, needs and everything, they should sunset every 33 years and we should start over. This is his advice about how to write the Constitution of the United States to James Madison. And it's a perfect microcosm of their relationship, because once in a while Jefferson would be a little wild. And Madison writes it back and he says, yes, those are brilliant points, take them very seriously. It is the fact that the particular purpose of a constitution is to prejudice the next generation so they don't have to start over. And Jefferson writes back, yeah, yeah, I get it. He was like that. And then with Jefferson, he created a political party that was good for our country for a long time and replaced the Federalist Party while serving its same aims.

And that's a kind of decency in moderation. You know, first of all, he wasn't a wildly successful president. They burned the White House while he was its occupant, the British did, in the War of 1812.

And that was, you know, a little embarrassing. And he did send a force up to Canada with the word, you know, take Canada. We're going to go take Canada from the bridge.

We want to do it for a long time. And he said, it's only a matter of marching up there. You know, well, it may have been, but it was proved that they couldn't get there. They never found their way there.

They just floundered around, right? So he wasn't the greatest president. That would probably be Lincoln and Washington. But he was a lawgiver. That's what he was.

He was like the great classical lawgiver. He and, you know, he wasn't alone in doing this, by the way. He and Hamilton had a whole scheme, you know, and he and Hamilton, by the way, would be party opponents after 1796, when Washington retired.

And they were already picking each other a lot. When he was secretary of state under Washington, Thomas Jefferson paid a scurrilous man named James Callender, who was a journalist, to write dirty articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Alexander Hamilton. And he used public money to do it.

You know, America has its partisan episodes like today. But you have to think of Madison as possessed of the deepest understanding that I know of the reasons for and the workings of the Constitution and its most intelligent preserver through his careers. Oh, one more thing.

Madison, like the rest of the founders, feared the institution of slavery and thought that a way had to be found to get rid of it. And that's just almost all of them thought that. Right. And they did get rid of it very far. They got 60 percent of the union. And the most dramatic example is that the Northwest Territory, where I live, five states in the Upper Midwest, that's our first expansion. And it's actually the first time a free government ever grew. It got bigger.

Right. And it's a different model because the Northwest Ordinance provides that when you get a certain population, you can elect a state government. When you get a certain larger population, you can petition the Congress to be an equal state with the rest.

That law was passed by the Confederation Congress in 1787, the same year as the Constitution. But it also contains a provision that in this Northwest Territory, there can never be slavery. And that land came to the union as a gift from the state of Virginia. And it was Thomas Jefferson, more than anybody else, who organized that gift and organized that stipulation that there would never be any slavery there. So Madison, it turns out, lives a long time.

He lives till 1836, if I remember right. But, you know, in 1832, with the Missouri Compromise in 1820, that's a sign that slavery is becoming a serious issue. And what made it a serious issue is the opinion led by John C. Calhoun that slavery was a positive good. That claim amounts to a complete departure from the dictates of the Declaration of Independence.

And that's deliberate, because Calhoun at Yale was connected to students of a man named Francis Lieber, who was a Hegelian and known to Hegel. And this new doctrine of history that human beings and human societies evolve was taken by Calhoun to justify slavery. And so when Andy Jackson was president in 1832, they get into a fight about the tariff of 1832. And the tariff was outrageous. And the reason it was outrageous was the Southern delegates, who didn't want the tariffs, see, because that's a tax on imports of manufactured goods to support American industry. But, you know, that's what they were importing.

They were selling their raw materials, their cotton and stuff abroad. So they didn't want it. And so what they did was they conspired in the Congress to inflate the tariff to a huge rate.

And they thought that would be sufficient to defeat it. But darn if it didn't pass. And so now Calhoun comes up with the idea from South Carolina that a state by itself can nullify a law, nullification crisis.

In other words, we just vote that that law is no good here. Now, you know, you can read the Constitution, all 4,500 words of it. You can read it in 30 minutes. You can read it over and over and you'll find that power in there. And darn if it wasn't James Madison, still alive, who raised the main contest against those points. And he explained the nature, the federal nature of the union in the most elaborate terms in his life when he was a very old man during and immediately after the nullification crisis.

And a special thanks to Dr. Larry Arnn, James Madison's story, the lawgiver, the main driver behind our Constitution, here on Our American Stories. With so many streaming devices out there today, what sets Roku apart? Roku players are made for one thing, to get you the entertainment you want quick and easy. That means a simple home screen with your favorites front and center, channels like iHeartRadio that launch in a snap, and curated selections of TV for when you only sort of know what to watch. Not to mention all the free TV you can stream, including over 300 free live channels on the Roku channel. Find the perfect Roku player for you today at Happy streaming. I'm Malcolm Granville.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-07 04:50:01 / 2023-09-07 04:54:53 / 5

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