In reading Lynne Cheney's new book, Madison-A Life Reconsidered, I am struck by the miracle that is the United States of America. Previously, I had thought that defeating the British army, the most powerful in the world at the time, was the most unlikely outcome for the American Revolution. But the even more herculean task for the founding fathers was to unite 13 very independent states into a nation that would have a strong enough central government to protect the rights of a free people, without infringing upon them.
Even James Madison realized the need for a strong central government, tempered of course with the self-governance of a representative republic. Madison having been a student of the history of republics and constitutions throughout history up to his own time, understood that a central government must be powerful enough to protect the rights of the minority, and yet be carefully constructed so the people would have the ultimate control.
The fact that the former colonies, now states, were able to mesh differing priorities and disparate opinions of what their post revolution government would look like, is a testament to the political skills of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, et. al. Even after the Constitution was ratified by the states, and the new government formed, its success was not a forgone conclusion. There was much consternation over how much power this new government actually had, constitutionally speaking. The fight over assumption, the act of the federal government assuming the war debts of the states and raising revenue through federal taxing authority, was as contentious as any congressional battle waged today.
Madison felt that there were few things more abhorrent than public debt, but he realized that for this government to have any credibility, it must pay its debts, whether they be foreign or domestic. And the practice by some states of passing laws to simply erase their debt, lead Madison to believe that the central government of the newly formed country must have authority to impose taxes to pay debts, thus saving the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
But Madison did not wish to empower the federal government to the extent that the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, seemed intent on doing. The two friends in the 1780s, when they collaborated on the Federalist Papers, had become bitter foes in the 1790s once the constitution they were promoting became animated in the form of the new government.
I find the history of this great nation fascinating and engrossing. I truly believe that we can hardly understand where we are today, without knowing where we came from over two centuries ago. And while there were many men that contributed to the making of this great nation, none is so central and so important as the Father of the Constitution, James Madison. And no book like Lynne Cheney's book, in my opinion, reveals so much about the man and the pivotal times in which he lived, and how he shaped, not only those times, but the centuries that came afterward, and literally changed the world.