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James Madison, Executive Power, and the Question of Consistency
Unformatted Document Text:  The purpose of this paper is to identify another area of consistency in Madison thought by tracing the relationship between Madison’s quest for balance, stability, order, and harmony in the polity of the United States, and his ambivalence toward executive power. As we shall see, because Madison sought for balance in the body politic he never was comfortable with executive power. He sought a moderate balance between the twin dangers of Banning, The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995); Drew R. McCoy, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980; Drew R. McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Jack N. Rakove, Original Meaning: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, 1997), 131-160; Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); . Drew McCoy identified Madison’s ideas on political economy as the factor that separated Madison’s political thought from Hamilton’s and provided the sinews between Madison’s behavior in the 1780s and in the 1790s and beyond. According Drew McCoy, Madison was a “land expansion agrarian.” McCoy’s Madison was bent on preserving the United States’ agrarian character. McCoy asserted that Madison agreed with Jefferson’s assessment that yeoman farmers made the best citizens in a republic because they were independent of the government and of employers. Their occupation instilled in them the habit of thinking for themselves. In order to maintain America’s agrarian character, Madison believed the United States needed European Markets for its produce, and westward expansion to support future generations of farmers. Consequently, American statesmen should vigorously seek to break the commercial bonds with which Great Britain continued to enthrall the United States. In other words, to consummate the Revolution the United States needed to expand westward, and free herself from any commercial thralldom to the British. The most telling evidence that McCoy produces in support of his thesis is the fact Madison had developed his political economy and his plans before the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Thus, Madison’s political vision for America was at direct odds with Hamilton’s conception of America as a commercial powerhouse modeled after Great Britain, and friendly toward the British. Jack Rakove, in his biography of Madison, and in his Pulitzer prize winning work, Original Meaning: Politics and Ideas in the Making, identifies other areas of disagreement between Hamilton and Madison, which manifest a consistency in Madison’s thought hitherto ignored. For instance, Rakove points out that although during the 1780s Congressman Madison quite frequently supported Robert Morris’ attempts to strengthen the federal government, unlike Hamilton he was never a member of Morris’ inner circle. And while Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris enthusiastically supported Morris’ proposal to have Congress incorporate the Bank of North America, Madison opposed the charter. Furthermore, Rakove distinguishes the “split personalities” of Publius. On the one hand, Hamilton expected the Federal Government to expand its power at the expense of the states. On the other hand, Madison believed the state governments would remain powerful, partially because they would retain the devotion of the people of the states. Madison’s essays in the Federalist papers emphasized the limited character of the Federal Government and the continued sovereignty of the states over most areas of government, whereas Hamilton’s contributions focused on the expanded power of the national government. Finally, Rakove emphasizes that Madison was always concerned about “preserving ‘the exact balance or equipoise contemplated by the Constitution.”Two scholars who have endeavored to comprehensively explain Madison’s thought and behavior during the 1780s and 1790s are Lance Banning, and Garrett Ward Sheldon. Both Banning and Sheldon detect important elements of continuity in Madison’s political philosophy and career. Banning insists that throughout his political career, Madison continually manifested the deepest respect for the written limitations of power explicated in Constitutional frames of government. I.E. Madison opposed the chartering of the Bank of North America, and the establishment of the First Bank of the United States on Constitutional grounds. Furthermore, Banning asserted that Madison consistently gauged the effect any act of congress or the states would have on the delicate and proper balance of power within the United States. Banning also challenges the premise that Madison ever wanted to establish a consolidated national government like Hamilton did. According to Banning, Madison’s support for a national veto on state laws was intended to be defensive, to prevent the encroachment of the state governments on the “practicable sphere” of the federal government. What this 3

Authors: Edwards, Gregory.
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The purpose of this paper is to identify another area of consistency in Madison thought by tracing the
relationship between Madison’s quest for balance, stability, order, and harmony in the polity of the United States,
and his ambivalence toward executive power. As we shall see, because Madison sought for balance in the body
politic he never was comfortable with executive power. He sought a moderate balance between the twin dangers of
Banning, The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic (Ithaca, N.Y.:
Cornell University Press, 1995); Drew R. McCoy, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980; Drew R. McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison
and the Republican Legacy
,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Jack N. Rakove, Original Meaning:
Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
(New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House,
1997), 131-160; Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2001); . Drew McCoy identified Madison’s ideas on political economy as the factor that
separated Madison’s political thought from Hamilton’s and provided the sinews between Madison’s behavior in the
1780s and in the 1790s and beyond. According Drew McCoy, Madison was a “land expansion agrarian.” McCoy’s
Madison was bent on preserving the United States’ agrarian character. McCoy asserted that Madison agreed with
Jefferson’s assessment that yeoman farmers made the best citizens in a republic because they were independent of
the government and of employers. Their occupation instilled in them the habit of thinking for themselves. In order to
maintain America’s agrarian character, Madison believed the United States needed European Markets for its
produce, and westward expansion to support future generations of farmers. Consequently, American statesmen
should vigorously seek to break the commercial bonds with which Great Britain continued to enthrall the United
States. In other words, to consummate the Revolution the United States needed to expand westward, and free herself
from any commercial thralldom to the British. The most telling evidence that McCoy produces in support of his
thesis is the fact Madison had developed his political economy and his plans before the Constitutional Convention of
1787. Thus, Madison’s political vision for America was at direct odds with Hamilton’s conception of America as a
commercial powerhouse modeled after Great Britain, and friendly toward the British. Jack Rakove, in his biography
of Madison, and in his Pulitzer prize winning work, Original Meaning: Politics and Ideas in the Making, identifies
other areas of disagreement between Hamilton and Madison, which manifest a consistency in Madison’s thought
hitherto ignored. For instance, Rakove points out that although during the 1780s Congressman Madison quite
frequently supported Robert Morris’ attempts to strengthen the federal government, unlike Hamilton he was never a
member of Morris’ inner circle. And while Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris enthusiastically supported Morris’
proposal to have Congress incorporate the Bank of North America, Madison opposed the charter. Furthermore,
Rakove distinguishes the “split personalities” of Publius. On the one hand, Hamilton expected the Federal
Government to expand its power at the expense of the states. On the other hand, Madison believed the state
governments would remain powerful, partially because they would retain the devotion of the people of the states.
Madison’s essays in the Federalist papers emphasized the limited character of the Federal Government and the
continued sovereignty of the states over most areas of government, whereas Hamilton’s contributions focused on the
expanded power of the national government. Finally, Rakove emphasizes that Madison was always concerned about
“preserving ‘the exact balance or equipoise contemplated by the Constitution.”Two scholars who have endeavored
to comprehensively explain Madison’s thought and behavior during the 1780s and 1790s are Lance Banning, and
Garrett Ward Sheldon. Both Banning and Sheldon detect important elements of continuity in Madison’s political
philosophy and career. Banning insists that throughout his political career, Madison continually manifested the
deepest respect for the written limitations of power explicated in Constitutional frames of government. I.E. Madison
opposed the chartering of the Bank of North America, and the establishment of the First Bank of the United States
on Constitutional grounds.
Furthermore, Banning asserted that Madison consistently gauged the effect any act of
congress or the states would have on the delicate and proper balance of power within the United States. Banning
also challenges the premise that Madison ever wanted to establish a consolidated national government like Hamilton
did. According to Banning, Madison’s support for a national veto on state laws was intended to be defensive, to
prevent the encroachment of the state governments on the “practicable sphere” of the federal government. What this
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