Tag Archives: James Madison

Comparisons Must Make Sense

Edward Coles freed his slaves… and was a neighbor(at one time) of Thomas Jefferson.  Paul Finkelman wants to know why Jefferson couldn’t follow the example of this “contemporary.”   Professor Finkelman’s analysis suffers a fatal case of contrariwise-  Coles was following the examples set by his illustrious neighbor.

Just a kid

Jefferson and Coles were not contemporaries… Jefferson was 43 years older than Coles-  an overlooked distinction in Finkelman’s interrogatory.  Coles grew up and matured in a Virginia largely crafted by Jefferson.  The anti-slavery spirit so many associate with Coles was made possible by the liberal society Jefferson helped reform(we should also note that Coles freed his slaves in Illinois territory, not Virginia.)

You have done well, my son.

You have done well, my son.

Edward Coles was the perfect representation… of the generation Jefferson predicted would have an impact on slavery.  Much ink has been spilled about Coles writing Jefferson encouraging emancipation.  While Jefferson never emacipated all his slaves- his anti-slavery views and actions have been documented.  Coles’ activism was the next step forward in the cause, while Jefferson’s were becoming a footnote.  Jefferson said as much in response to one of Coles’ letters:

“The sentiments breathed through the whole do honor to both the head and heart of the writer. Mine on the subject of slavery of negroes have long since been in possession of the public, and time has only served to give them stronger root…. I had always hoped that the younger generation receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, & had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth, analogous to the motion of their blood, and above the suggestions of avarice, would have sympathized with oppression wherever found, and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it….Your solitary but welcome voice is the first which has brought this sound to my ear; and I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope. Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come…”  Jefferson to Coles; Aug. 25, 1814

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The American Spirit

Madison argues that oligarchy is difficult in America because of our size and diversity… but critics consistently cited the House of Representatives as the most susceptible institution in the new government.

james-madison

Anti-Federalists argued that the Representatives would have the least amount of sympathy… with the masses of people; focusing exclusively on the narrow interests of their few electors, ignoring the will of the majority.  Madison first counters with a historical analysis of the British system and the necessary role of states in the Federal system.  But he concludes his argument in Federalist #57 by appealing to what he describes as the American Spirit:

 

“If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

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Defining Misdemeanors

Madison and Hamilton allowed the grounds for impeachment of the President… open to necessary judgments and deliberations in the House of Representatives.  Madison’s original draft suggested only the term “maladministration” of the duties of the office.  Later amended to “misdemeanors” it is clear that the Framers were not only discussing indictable crimes- public men of this order would be above petty larceny and the like-  abuse of the office and the neglect of official duty is what concerned them.

You doubt our words?

Hamilton explained the difference in Federalist #65:

“Those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Impeachment applies to political abuses of the office… not necessarily criminal acts.  Delegates at the ratifying conventions were concerned about the President interfering in the legislative or judicial processes.  Madison responded to the concerns by equating such Constitutional misconduct with criminality:

“Were the President to commit any thing so atrocious… he would be impeached and convicted, as a majority of the states would be affected by his misdemeanor.”

Failing to discharge the duties of his office

The President cannot abuse or misuse the powers of his office… without risking impeachment.  The term “misdemeanor” as applied by the Framers establishes a standard extending far beyond simple criminal acts.  Public men should be held to a greater standard.

 

 

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The American Spirit

Madison argues that oligarchy is difficult in America because of our size and diversity… but critics consistently cited the House of Representatives as the most susceptible institution in the new government.

james-madison

Anti-Federalists argued that the Representatives would have the least amount of sympathy… with the masses of people; focusing exclusively on the narrow interests of their few electors, ignoring the will of the majority.  Madison first counters with a historical analysis of the British system and the necessary role of states in the Federal system.  But he concludes his argument in Federalist #57 by appealing to what he describes as the American Spirit:

 

“If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

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Tale of Two Digs

The recent announcement by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of the restoration of Sally Hemings’ “room”… was based on the opinions of several historians and archaeology supposedly completed through a $35 million grant.  The Foundation promises that the newly renovated room will show “Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t”    —  A recent visit to Monticello revealed a gutted room and some renovation, but little evidence of actual archaeology.  ** see image below

Hardly scientific

The historical record provides no evidence of this room being used by any person, let alone, Sally Hemings…. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation continues to rely on speculation and a disingenuous brand of conjecture disguised as authoritative narrative.  If major archaeological discoveries were made, why weren’t they included in the media release?  The alleged affair between Jefferson and Hemings is good for business; it sells tickets, books, and research proposals to impressionable philanthropists and  unwitting spectators.  It diminishes the impact of  the Founder who gave this country its creed.

 

Archaeological science

30 miles to the Northeast at James Madison’s Montpelier…  archaeologists are meticulously plotting search grids and unearthing artifacts.  Since 1999, archaeology has been a centerpiece of understanding Madison’s life at Montpelier.  The excavations are providing insight into the original layout and functionality of the plantation, as well as the daily existence of Madison’s slaves.  The historians and archaeologists are working with the historical and archaeological records to provide visitors a more complete picture of daily life at Montpelier.  Research done at Madison’s home is academically and professionally sound.  There is no predetermined narrative  being propagated for the sake of political correctness or financial gain.

 

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The American Spirit

Madison argues that oligarchy is difficult in America because of our size and diversity… but critics consistently cited the House of Representatives as the most susceptible institution in the new government.

james-madison

Anti-Federalists argued that the Representatives would have the least amount of sympathy… with the masses of people; focusing exclusively on the narrow interests of their few electors, ignoring the will of the majority.  Madison first counters with a historical analysis of the British system and the necessary role of states in the Federal system.  But he concludes his argument in Federalist #57 by appealing to what he describes as the American Spirit:

 

“If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

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Picking the Wrong Fight?

Pop history proclaims that eager “War Hawks” … in the United States forced the War of 1812 upon the American people.  Jeffersonians long antagonistic to the British empire wanted to strengthen our bonds with the French through a war.  Claims are also made stating that expansionists wanted to use the war as a vehicle to finally take possession of Canada.  Could all this be possible?  Did American statesman foolishly risk our republic for such dubious motives?……the historical record can answer those questions….

Here are my suggestions…

Does James Madison sound like a saber-rattling tyrant … in his war message delivered June 1, 1812 ?

We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain, a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Great Britain…Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations and these accumulating wrongs, or, opposing force to force in defense of their national rights,  is a solemn question which the Constitution wisely confides to the legislative department of the Government.  In recommending it to their early deliberations I am happy in the assurance that the decision will be worthy the enlightened and patriotic councils of a virtuous, a free, and a powerful nation.

Seems rational

It’s about honor, you fools

War Hawk and Speaker of the House Henry Clay… stated the case for war clearly in 1811

What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked? In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?—commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor!  Let those who contend for this humiliating doctrine, read its refutation in the history of the very man against whose insatiable thirst of dominion we are warned.  Let us come home to our own history. It was not by submission that our fathers achieved our independence.

Looking to our history

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