Founding Documents: The Constitution and the Constitutional Convention
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Founding Documents: The Constitution and the Constitutional Convention

September 20, 2019

so in annapolis when that little
conference fails we have Alexander Hamilton telling us we need a convention
of all of the states as a constitutional convention I’m Walter Isaacson to the Aspen
Institute and i’m here with a popular surprise winning historian Joe Alice
professor Ellis Ellis what does Madison want and motors Hamilton want when they
call this convention hey little Jamie Madison who signs
himself at this time James Madison jr. he said science junior until he’s 50
years old he’s a little guys 5 220 pounds but he is he is all mind and no
matter if you will he has been thinking about what they
ought to do in Philadelphia the convention reading David Hume reading
the history European histories and he is concluded that not just revision of the
articles is necessary but replacement a radical change and what he mainly
objects to is the fact that they’re all these separate states and he was one
national government he wants sovereignty to reside at the federal act rather than
the state level that’s a coup that’s not exactly what that was that
was not doing right it’s it’s a violation or let’s say it’s an
enlargement of their mandate because they would just call together to like
figure out terrorism taxes right that’s what most people thought that they would
probably say that you would find some way to cooperate in terms of treaties or
mercantil things now that how they’re going to pass taxes i don’t know how
they would have done that within the cut the confines of the state system but
everybody expected some kind of reform instead of some kind of radical
replacement like they’re you got Madison saying we need to be radically we need
to replace the entire article with a centralizing where did they gather
Philadelphia when they got to Philadelphia they the Virginia
delegation met was there about 15 days before there was a quorum there were heavy storms in New England
virtually none of the New England states got represented the first month of the
convention in that time when the Virginia delegation was there
but no business was being done by the foci constitutional convention they
caucus it several caverns the city tavern is the big one they brought in a few other like-minded
nationalist will sound wilson in $YEAR in Pennsylvania and Google tomorrow’s
also from Pennsylvania so these are the people that I wanted to do something
really radical just created the radicals gathered and caucus ah so they got
together first and they were 23 cooking this game that’s exactly what they
communicate with each other they obviously didn’t have email so that’s
actually a hard question for me to answer but once they got to Philadelphia
they just all sat down and drink wine together now one of the interesting
things is when they finally do decide to meet in a real full-fledged convention
they get most of the states represented there they use the exact same building
in the exact same room ah of the Declaration of Independence right i
think that that should not be overlooked and it often is namely that when you
visit that place you’re visiting both the place where the Declaration of
Independence was written and where the Constitution Hall the Statehouse and but
now called independent alright but it’s also making a statement about the
continuity between the two founding moments 76 when we declare independence
87 when we declare nationhood and so they were consciously saying let’s do it
the same place we did the declaration of independence so it doesn’t look like
we’re doing something radically different i think that continuing I
think that’s that was whether that was the original reason it certainly was a
reason another reason was it’s a central location more people can get to it more
easily than any other place it’s accessible by water blah blah blah don’t tell me the main issue of a
national government versus what we had which was a confederation how did
Madison define what we need to do to change that Madison thought that in order for that
to work two things had to happen that the there should be a bicameral
legislature the articles was a single house legislature but both of the houses
need to be elected proportionally in other words they were representing the
people not the separate state correct that’s way proportional
representation says its operating on the people and not on the state’s that’s
what we don’t have in the house of representatives not quite no but what do
we have in the house of representatives right but we don’t have it in the Senate
and we’ll we’ll get right on but the other thing he wants is a veto a
federal veto of all state legislation wow that really makes the national
government it does and we don’t have not even today necessary that one was what
they called dead on arrival and so a lot of these things with it basically you
have this radical caucus that presents the Virginia Plan which is Madison
Virginia Plan then dominates the agenda and sets the agenda for the whole congress
but it’s not fully adopted we ended up compromising on the issue of national
and federal is that right that’s correct they dominate the the radicals the
nationalist dominate the agenda however a procedural decision is made
with no opposition that the voting in the convention will be by state so in other words that force is
compromised because each of the smaller states in particular can say we don’t
like them they can block it and then you end up in some ways compromising on the
question are we won national nation government or we a collection of states
to sovereignty roadside with the national government or their states
rights and sovereignty designs will resides with the states and in the end
because of this thing you talk about which is each state has a vote we end up
compromising on that right ambiguous that they were forced into the
compromise Madison if he had gotten what he wanted namely proportional representation in
both houses in a federal veto the document would have never been ratified
so all throughout our history we have lived with this tension of states rights
versus the national central government’s rights was that a good thing or a bad
thing that we kind of left ambiguous i think in the end it was a good thing i
think that it creates an situation situation in which republican form of government with a
democratic base confronts separate issues and allows the arguments about
state or federal authority to occur in specific contexts now there’s one rather large occasion
where that doesn’t work we call that the Civil War but we are still the oldest
during Republican world history and the stability that made possible by this
willingness to argue and the built-in ambiguity what we initially Madison
thought this ambiguity was horrible when he left Philadelphia in September 87 he
was all upset he failed about letters to Jefferson is a failure it won’t last more than 13 months and
then he starts to realize when he starts to write some of the Federalist Papers
oh my God if I got my way wouldn’t work in what we’ve discovered is a wholly new
idea multiple sovereignties and it did work not just for 13 years but for more
than two centuries absolutely thank you

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