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Aristotle conceived of politics as the master science, encompassing both the most practical political concerns and the highest human purpose: the quest for human happiness through the life well-lived. In light of this classical perspective that recognized both the limitations on political life and the nobility of its highest achievements, the renowned scholar Martin Diamond once provocatively asked: How would Aristotle rate America? Diamond’s query was not merely an academic exercise, but was intended to prompt his fellow citizens to raise the profoundest of political concerns: Is my country worthy of my allegiance? And am I, as a citizen and human being, worthy of my country – of what it stands for, what it aspires to be?
For well over a century, the authorship of the individual essays of The Federalist was a matter of great uncertainty. The initial source of this uncertainty simply reflected the conventional practices of eighteenth-century political writing, when most polemical pieces, especially those appearing in newspapers, were published pseudonymously. When Alexander Hamilton, the instigator and chief author of The Federalist, chose Publius as the penname, he was paying homage to Valerius Publius Publicola, the sixth-century BCE aristocrat who was a chief founder of the Roman republic. His two co-authors, James Madison and John Jay, would have welcomed his choice. Madison in particular would have saluted Publius’s distinguished republican credentials. A major part of Madison’s preparations for the Federal Convention of 1787 involved his comparative study of “ancient and modern confederacies” and his thorough assessment of the failings of popular government recorded in his famous memorandum on the “Vices of the Political System of the United States.” Madison returned to that project shortly after the Convention adjourned on September 17, 1787. Within the next few years, he developed an even more ambitious plan – apparently never fulfilled – consulting writings either from antiquity or about it to provide the framework for a study of modern republican government.
The eighty-five Federalist essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison as 'Publius' to support the ratification of the Constitution in 1787–88 are regarded as the preeminent American contribution to Western political theory. Recently, there have been major developments in scholarship on the Revolutionary and Founding era as well as increased public interest in constitutional matters that make this a propitious moment to reflect on the contributions and complexity of The Federalist. This volume of specially commissioned essays covers the broad scope of 'Publius' work, including historical, political, philosophical, juridical, and moral dimensions. In so doing, they bring the design and arguments of the text into focus for twenty-first century scholars, students, and citizens and show how these diverse treatments of The Federalist are associated with an array of substantive political and constitutional perspectives in our own time.
In a study that combines an in-depth examination of Madison's National Gazette essays of 1791–2 with a study of The Federalist, Colleen Sheehan traces the evolution of Madison's conception of the politics of communication and public opinion throughout the Founding period, demonstrating how 'the sovereign public' would form and rule in America. Contrary to those scholars who claim that Madison dispensed with the need to form an active and virtuous citizenry, Sheehan argues that Madison's vision for the new nation was informed by the idea of republican self-government, whose manifestation he sought to bring about in the spirit and way of life of the American people. Madison's story is 'the story of an idea' - the idea of America.
About two years ago I was flying from Burlington, Vermont, to the Midwest. Across the aisle an older gentleman in jeans and a crisp plaid shirt, with weathered skin and hands not afraid of hard work, slowly turned the pages of a thick tome that rested on his lap. When we landed and stood to collect our belongings, I saw that the book he had been reading was David McCullough's John Adams. When I asked what he thought of it, he told me that he found it to be a fascinating account of a man and an age he previously hadn't known a lot about. He mentioned that he found in the character of John Adams a man worth getting to know. I nodded ever so slightly and returned the gentle, friendly smile of, I supposed, a New England farmer as we turned to exit the plane and go our separate ways.
At the time, I was working night and day on the manuscript that would become this book. My goal then, as now, was to come to know Madison as well as I could and to try to convey that understanding to others. I realized then that I also hoped one day a New England farmer would read my book and remark that James Madison was a man worth getting to know.
In the March 13, 1791, note Jefferson sent Madison asking him to join him for “a wade in the country,” he also invited Madison to stay at his larger and more comfortable residence in Philadelphia. Jefferson had transported a large shipment of books to Philadelphia and was renovating space in his new lodgings to house them. His library would soon be open, he told Madison, and “you will often find a convenience in being close at hand to it.” Madison declined Jefferson's offer, having just settled into his “harness for compleating the little task” he had allotted himself. “My papers and books are all assorted, around me,” he said. “A change of position would necessarily give some interruption – & some trouble on my side whatever it might do on yours.” Clearly, Madison had chatted earlier with his friend about his planned undertaking. Jefferson understood that it was a fairly extensive research project and that Madison would need to consult some volumes from his collection. I believe Madison's “little task” was not the correction of the Convention Notes, as has generally been assumed – which would not require access to Jefferson's library or, in fact, the use of any books at all – but the much broader scholarly task he undertook in the “Notes on Government.”
Madison's inquiry in the “Notes on Government” led him on a journey far afield from Philadelphia and America, to the world of the classics as depicted in the great books of Western civilization.
When John F. Kennedy stood on the Capitol steps and took the oath of office as the thirty-fifth president of the United States on that hoary January day, America had only fifteen years before defeated the greatest external threat to freedom the Western world had yet known. By 1961, with the advances in military technology and the increasing threats associated with the Cold War, the world had become a different and a more dangerous place since America's birth in 1776. “Yet,” Kennedy said, paraphrasing the words of Jefferson, “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.” And “let every nation know,” Kennedy continued, “that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Almost a half-century later, with technology keeping stride with the passage of time, our world is now an even more dangerous place. The Cold War may be over, but the threats to freedom and the burden that must be borne by its defenders have not lessened.
On March 28, 1797, James and Dolley Madison began the journey from the United States capital at Philadelphia to the Madison family home at Montpelier, Virginia. Three and a half weeks earlier, on March 4, Thomas Jefferson had taken the oath of office for vice president of the United States. Though Jefferson originally contemplated not traveling from Monticello to Philadelphia for the inauguration ceremonies, perhaps because he thought the office as “insignificant” as Adams had, he ultimately decided to make the trip out of respect for the public, as well as to dismiss reports that he considered the second station beneath him. Jefferson and Madison were now trading places. Madison had remained on the scene of national politics and at the helm of the Republican Party throughout the Washington administration, while Jefferson had resigned his post as secretary of state in the second term and resettled in Virginia. Now it was Madison's turn to return home. Finally, he could devote his attentions to the woman he adored, his wife of only three years. Adding color and vivacity to his life, Dolley Payne Todd Madison had changed her husband from a reticent bachelor to a man at ease with domestic life. Gone were the late nights poring over ancient musty texts in a rented room more than 200 miles from home. Gone was a life dedicated almost exclusively to philosophy and politics.
Despite his elevation to the second highest office in the nation, Jefferson too expected extensive periods of domestic quiet.
It was one of those pleasant Philadelphia days in early spring when the wind changes direction to a southwesterly and folks of every age and description, shut indoors over the cold and frosty winter months, venture forth to enjoy the awakening of nature. At noon on March 13 a horse and carriage party of family and friends was seen driving forth for a “wade into the country.” Two gentlemen, one tall and lean, with burnished copper hair and an alluring personality to match, the other substantially smaller, younger, shier, and dressed in black (as was his wont), formed part of the cheerful assembly. Best friends for many years, they had first met and formed a lasting bond when they were in public service together in their native Virginia. Now, after a hiatus of five years during which the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean had separated them, they were delighted to be in each other's company once again.
The year was 1791. The day was Sunday. The gentlemen riding in the light breeze under a fair midday sun were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The former served as secretary of state in the Washington administration, having two months prior returned from service as minister to the court of Louis XVI in Paris, France. The other had only ten days ago completed his first term in the House of Representatives of the United States under the new Constitution.
In the first term of the Washington administration James Madison had very little time he could call his own. Since he was approaching forty and still a bachelor, this might have been a time devoted to personal considerations and establishing a basis for future domestic happiness. Instead, during this stage of life Madison dedicated himself fully to public affairs and to shaping the future of the new nation. In speeches on the floor of Congress, in public writings, and in private studies, he worked to change the direction in which the Federalists were leading the country. His personal sacrifice was consciously made. He believed that the success of the Federalist program would mean the subversion of republican government in America.
Madison's goal was not merely to resist Federalist views and policy. He also sought to promote a positive alternative to the opposition's philosophy of government, one that, in his view, accorded with the true principles of republicanism. In 1791 he took the lead in promoting the republican cause and providing a philosophic defense of republican principles and policies. Rather than encouraging schemes that mimicked the antirepublican British system of balanced government, increased the power of the national executive at the expense of the local organs of self-government, and diminished the role of the citizenry in shaping public decisions, Madison sought to meet the age-old problem of placing power and right on the same side and to vindicate the idea of republican self-rule.