An Interview with James Madison

by thoughtsatlarge

Published July 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thanks to Doc Brown, Marty McFly and time travel, James Madison was cryogenically preserved when he died in June of 1836 at the age of 84.  He was the last surviving Founding Father, considered the Father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights.  Today, healthy and alive, he celebrates his first “second” birthday, having been reborn on July 4, 2011.  We sat down at the Off the Record bar in the Hay-Adams Hotel here in Washington to discuss what he thinks of the political experiment he helped craft over 220 years ago.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

First of all Mr. President, let me thank you for taking the time to meet with me and to wish you a very happy first birthday.

Madison:

Thank you, although I must say, I feel rather like the 261 year old I really am!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Well, I can only hope to look as good as you at 261, if you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. President.

Madison:                  

Very kind of you to say.

ThoughtsAtLarge:          

Mr. President, as one of the original architects of the American democracy, how do you think it has performed?  And as a follow-up, is it what you had envisioned it maturing into?

Madison:          

Let me first qualify your statement.  Yes, I was one of the people involved in the formation of the government, although, you must understand two things straight away. First, most of us were very young and the times were very uncertain.  I, myself, was only 26!  Second, we consciously created a republic, not a democracy.  The distinction is worth noting.  But to answer your question, I am generally pleased with how it has withstood time, although, it was intended to be more fluid than it has been interpreted.  For example, the three-fifths compromise as written in the Constitution seems both offensive and silly today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You are talking about Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 which states:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Madison:

Yes, that was a compromise between the northern and southern states regarding slavery.
But the 13th and 14th Amendments rendered that clause moot, thankfully!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You were originally a Federalist, or a proponent of a strong central government, but ended up changing to a Democratic-Republican, in favor of strong state’s rights.  Why the change?

Madison:               

Well, you have to understand that, at the time, there was no sense in having strong state’s rights without a strong central government.  However, once that was achieved, we could turn our attention to assuring the ability of individual states to control their own destiny.  Certain concepts lend themselves better to an overarching unanimity, while others can be subject to a more regional interpretation. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It is ironic that as the chief author of the Bill of Rights, you were originally against having them at all!

Madison:  

That’s correct!  I didn’t think they were necessary.  I also worried that by delineating specific rights, others, not delineated would not be protected.

ThoughtsAtLarge: 

There are now 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.  Doesn’t that speak to your desire to have the government’s framework remain fluid?

Madison:     

To a degree, yes, although it was not our intention to have future Supreme Courts attempt
to opine on our intentions in 1789 without taking into consideration society today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Can you give us an example?

Madison:         

Of course, the First Amendment never foresaw radio, television, the internet, and iPhones, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.  The Second Amendment never foresaw any firearm more powerful than a single shot musket or the rise of the United States military to be the most powerful in the history of mankind. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It’s ironic you should mention the Second Amendment.  You were a strong proponent of protecting the citizenry’s ability to bear arms.

Madison:                     

Yes, I was, but, again, times were very different.  Our concerns revolved around foreign invasion and insurrection rather than a federal government evolving into a tyrannical dictator.  After all, it was the government we created!  We certainly never foresaw the awesome firepower now available to our citizens.  Remember, it was within the confines of a well-regulated militia that this amendment was conceived.  Today, it has been interpreted to mean that virtually any and all manner of firearm is available to our citizens.  I have read the gruesome accounts of mass murder committed by citizens with access to unbelievably powerful weapons.  Indeed, every day there are firearm murders, suicides and accidents committed under the auspices of my amendment.  This sickens
me!  Our government has evolved over time.  So too, must the Constitution, including the Amendments!  Common sense!  Where is the common sense?

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

So you would be open to changing the Amendment?

Madison:                    

Times change, sir, and so too must law.

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

I see our time has expired, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss your unique perspective on our government.  May I ask what your upcoming plans are?  Given the changes to which you must be adapting, I am curious to hear your plans.

Madison:        

I have relatives, descendants really, that live out west, far beyond what I knew as “west”!  I am traveling on my first airplane later this month and meeting with them.  I am also fascinated by the cinema.  My, let’s see if I can get this correct, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter wants to see the new Batman movie.  I am very much looking forward to it!

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

That’s lovely.  Where does she live?

Madison:           

Aurora, Colorado.

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