The Father of the Constitution?

203px-JamesMadisonA conclusion that is hard to avoid after reading Mary Bilder’s book on James Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Constitution is that he does not really deserve the nickname “Father of the Constitution.” Much of what he wanted in the text was not adopted, and much of what was put into the document was the result of a collective effort that Madison (to some extent) obscured in the Notes.

Why, then, does Madison have this nickname?  My hunch, though I need to look into this further, is that when he ran for President in 1808 this slogan was coined for his campaign.  Something similar happened with Jefferson, as people enlarged his role in producing the Declaration of Independence when he ran for President to make it seem as if he wrote the whole thing himself.

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4 Responses

  1. Shag from Brookline says:

    Perhaps Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration, which would have made it easier for “editors” with changes.

  2. Joe says:

    The DOI was more Jefferson’s baby though there was a committee of five that edited it and then the whole Congress was involved though Joseph Ellis (the historian) recently noted on a C-SPAN segment that Congress basically left the first part (in the end the part with staying power) in place. The Constitution was more a group effort in that respect, putting aside that even the “Virginia Plan” was not the product of one person. Also, a lot of authority is given to the Federalist Papers, which are after all a bunch of op-eds, a majority by someone who didn’t even speak for his own state’s delegation.

  3. Joe says:

    I found the book hard going as a matter of reading but it to me is clearly a major moment, perhaps a rare game changing one, of scholarship.

  4. Shag from Brookline says:

    New discoveries in history continue to surface from time to time. Sometimes discoveries are a form of revisionism for reasons that may be ideological. Bilder’s book seems to be forensic. But Americans like heroes. Even when exposed on some matters, once a hero always a hero. I note a post by Chris Green at the Originalism Blog with the title “Bingham’s Lack of Precision on Due-Process Cases ” suggesting the stronger role of Jacob Howard perhaps with the 14th A. Bingham, if he has hero status, it is of more recent vintage. We can accept heroes who may have some flaws. But there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the flaws in proper perspective. Meantime, we do have to address more closely “law office” history.