Historians are often baffled by James Madison… In 1787, there was no stronger voice for nationalism and strengthening the federal government; yet, by 1790 he was battling one-time ally, Alexander Hamilton over the very powers they helped create. Madison had become an advocate of limited government in less than a Presidential term. What happened?
Madison was the “Father of the Constitution”… and creator of the Bill of Rights- the commonly held description of our most overlooked Founder. We view this change in his political outlook as inconsistency, or even a problem. This opinion hangs on the assumption that Madison was responsible for the final draft of the Constitution. He authored the Virginia Plan, the radical framework that altered the course of the 1787 Convention. Of the document produced in September, Madison said, “It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.” Most historians assumed Madison was being modest- in fact, he was expressing his displeasure with the process. Madison wanted a Federal government that could control the wildly inconsistent passions of state governments, but he did not advocate a massive consolidation of power.
Federalist #10 is Madison’s warning about… the dangerous passions that consumed state governments. From 1784 to 1787 he toiled in the Virginia legislature, witnessing the worst governance(or lack thereof) he could imagine. The Federal government he envisioned would temper these passions(and blunders) and provide the regulation to help the Union move forward. Madison opposed Hamilton’s financial programs because he feared they brought the same economic passions driving policy in the states into Congress. The very threat Madison looked to alleviate caused his split Hamilton. Madison remained consistent to the end.