Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America
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Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America

October 24, 2019


>>Doug Swanson: Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to welcome you to the McGowan Theater. I’m Doug Swanson, and I’m the producer
for the noontime lecture series. Before we begin today’s program, I just have a couple
of brief announcements. I hope you will join us this Friday, February 27th for our final
program celebrating Black History Month. At noon, history professor Allyson Hobbs will
be discussing her new book. Then on Wednesday, March 4th, William G. Highland will present
a talk on his book “Martha Jefferson, an intimate life with Thomas Jefferson.” This is the first
and only biography on the life of Martha Jefferson who died an untimely death at the age of 33.
And, finally, on Friday, the 6th, the National Archives and Records Administration will open
its newest exhibit “Spirited Republic, Alcohol in American history.” To launch this new exhibit
opening — (laughter) — there will be tastings, yes. Not on that day but there will be tastings
over the year. Let’s see. To launch — to launch this new opening, we’ll have a special
author talk on that day, “Mint Juleps” by Mark Will-Weber. To find out more about these
and other our public programs, take our monthly event calendars or visit our Web site at www.archives.gov/calendar.
You will also find in the theater lobby copies of an article on today’s speaker which may
be found in the current issue of the National Archives quarterly magazine “Prologue.” You
will find “Prologue” applications should you wish to subscribe and receive copies in the
mail. Today’s speaker is David O. Stewart, author
of “Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America.” Mr. Stewart turning to writing
history, his first book “The Summer of 1787, the Men who Invented the Institution” was
a “Washington Post” best seller and won the Washington Writing Award and best book of
2007. Two years later, “Impeached, the trial of President Andrew Johnson and the fight
for Lincoln’s legacy” was a David Kidd best seller. The Society of the Cincinnati awarded
David in 2013 its history prize for “American emperor, Aaron Burr’s challenge to America,”
an examination of the western expedition which shook the nation’s foundations at a time when
those foundations were none too solid. “The historical mystery about the John Wilkes Booth
conspiracy” was related in 2013. It was called the best historical novel of the year while
“Publishers Weekly” called it an impressive debut novel. “The Wilson deception, a sequel
to this novel” will be released later this year. David is also President of the Washington
Independent Review of Books, an online book review.
Please join me in welcoming David O. Stewart back to the National Archives.
(applause).>>David Stewart: Thank you very much, Doug.
And thank you all for coming out here on this — braving the cold and ice. I am reminded
many Februaries of something my father would always say which is if you get through February,
the rest of the year is easy. (laughter).
And this February I feel it acutely. I want to talk today, of course, about James
Madison. I became fascinated with Madison — and you’ve heard I’ve done some work in
this time period before. I became fascinated because — for two reasons. First was he was
so central to the nation’s founding. I finally became persuaded really that he was more central
to the founding of the nation than anyone else other than George Washington. Washington,
of course, is the most pivotal figure of our history. But Madison, I think, is the next
figure. And if you look at the list of his achievements,
you get a feel for this, I think. First, of course, the calling of the Constitutional
Convention in 1787 when the nation was at risk of falling apart. The Federalist Papers
which were written to support the ratification of the convention — of the Constitution.
He then led the battle for ratification itself. He was the first leading member of Congress
which established the new government. He wrote the Bill of Rights and secured their adoption.
I’m only halfway through my list yet. He was co-founder of the first American political
party, then called the Republican Party. In the pivotal election of 1800, he was the co-architect
of the transfer of government from the federalist party of John Adams to the Thomas Jefferson
as leader of the Republicans. It was many times said that the true test of a representative
government is if you can have a peaceful transfer of power between contending parties. And we
did achieve that in 1800. That’s when we came of age.
Secretary of State for the Louisiana Purchase. Which doubled the size of the nation. He was our first war-time President. Through the war of 1812. Not always a glorious chapter in our history but one that was ended successfully enough, I suppose is the best way to say it. And he was perhaps our only two-term President
who had a better second term than first term. Now, think about that and think about your
own life and the Presidents you’ve known who have served two terms. It is very tough to
have a good second term. And Madison when he left office was really
acclaimed around the country. He had some very difficult times through the war, but
the country was flourishing. Peace had brought tremendous benefits, and he ended up being
of all of our Presidents the President for whom the most cities, counties, and municipalities
are named. More even than Washington or Franklin. So we have this tremendous list of achievements.
But then there is the undeniable fact that Madison is often ignored. I found myself telling
my editor that I think of him sometimes as the Zelig of the founding. He is there but
he is not really noticed. That’s an interesting question. Why? There is a flip answer. He
was short. He was skinny. He had a soft voice. This is a picture — an artist’s rendition
of the Constitutional Convention. And there he is next to Washington at the front holding
a pen. That’s how you can tell, he has got a quill pen. You can pick out Madison there.
Yeah, he is short, he’s skinny, he has got a receding hairline. He had a soft voice.
And in rooms that were filled with noisy people like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton or
with large and charismatic men like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, Madison was
pretty easy to miss. It is a flip answer but I think there’s something to that actually.
But there is another answer, too. He was different from most great leaders. We think of great
leaders most often as men — most often men, but women too, who have strong streaks of
narcissism. They need to be at the front of the parade. They prefer to be on a white horse
or in a big convertible. They crave recognition and acclaim.
Madison had none of those qualities. He just disliked public events. He never became comfortable
at them. At his first inaugural ball, this is the pinnacle of his political career, he
has become the President of the United States, a nation that he has done so much to found.
He goes to the great party and a friend greets him and congratulates him warmly and Madison
says, thank you very much, but I would rather be home in bed.
(laughter). He was a man who cared about results, not
applause, about making the American experiment in self-government a success, about realizing
the promise of the revolution that was what he gave, dedicated his career to. I became
very interested in tribute from a long time colleague who wrote, “under all circumstances
Madison was collected and ever mindful of what was due to him from others and cautious
not to wound the feelings of anyone.” It doesn’t sound like a lot of great leaders, does it?
Ever mindful of what was due from him to others. My impression is they are a lot more mindful
from us to them and that they are not necessarily cautious not to wound the feelings of anyone.
As I continued to examine Madison’s remarkable contributions, it became clear to me that
he never really operated alone or at least very rarely did. His greatest achievements
were really the fruit of partnerships. And it seemed to me that it was almost as though
he had taken what today would be called a modern personality assessment, the sort of
thing organizations like their people to do and turn them into extroverts, introverts,
whatever. And that Madison was able to conclude that he was, in fact, short and skinny and
he had soft voice and he had zero charisma. But if he was doing an honest self-assessment,
he would have noticed some real powerful positives. He was smarter than almost anybody he met.
He had a rare appetite for hard work. He had a gift for making contact and connecting with
people and extraordinary political judgment and foresight. So why not take those gifts
and marry them to someone else who has the gifts he doesn’t have?
Now, we don’t know that Madison actually did that, made such an assessment, stared at the
mirror for the requisite period of seconds. But I found that the concept provided a clarifying
lens through which to look at his extraordinary career. He was a man who understood the power
of partnership. And modestly, I would even suggest that there are some important lessons
from his style that can be applied to any era of political life but maybe particularly
to our era as well. I became persuaded that the best way to think
about Madison was in terms of five central partnerships. Some of them waxed and waned
through his career. He had a long public career, 40 years. And they were formed with very different
people. The first is with Alexander Hamilton, a very different character. Hamilton was flashy.
He was charismatic. He was effectively orphaned at age 13. He came from nothing, came from
fly spec island in the Caribbean. He had to make his own way in the world speck.
Madison by contrast was a fortunate son, the inheriter of a great estate, a man who owned
5,000 acres of Virginia land. He never had his own home until he was 43. Just would live
in rooming houses or go back to Montpellier. He lived with his mom until he was 78. Dolly
was very tolerant. But they recognized something in each other when they first met each other
as the two youngest men serving in the Confederation Congress. This is in 1783 when we are still
operating under the Articles of Confederation. I think they recognized in each other, first,
great intelligence. Between them they were definitely the two smartest men in the room
but also a shared impatience to make the United States a great nation and a true nation which
in 1783 we really weren’t. There was much talk and serious talk that we should simply
form three nations: New England and the middle states and in the south would be the southern
nations. Maybe another nation on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.
Hamilton who took a backseat to nobody for impatience had first decreed the need to have
a national convention to rewrite the Articles of Confederation before the articles had even
been adopted. But Madison came along after a couple of years and agreed with him that
that was the only practical way to deal with the problems that the country was having.
They collaborated in a campaign to call the Constitutional Convention in the summer of
1787. And then they collaborated again most importantly in the campaign to ratify the
Constitution. We often forget what a close struggle that was.
They jointly wrote the Federalist Papers. They wrote them as a propaganda piece. But
they’ve endured as really the finest writing about political theory, political philosophy
that any Americans have ever produced. And then they went out as practical politicians
and each one ran ratifications in their conventions. Madison in Virginia and Hamilton in New York, The second partner is, of course, George Washington. And Madison would never be a peer of Washington.
Nobody was a peer of Washington. Washington wouldn’t have that. He was the great man of
America. He had won the Revolutionary War. There is a wonderful anecdote that when King
George III heard that Washington after winning the war had resigned his commission and gone
back to be a farmer in Mount Vernon, the king had said, if that’s true, he’s the greatest
man in the world. And Washington had won extraordinary trust of every American, not only by winning
the war but then by being willing to give up power. He was the trump card of American
politics. Madison could see that, and he could see that
if he was an ally of George Washington, the things he wanted to get done could get done
better. So Washington was the indispensable man. So Madison made himself the indispensable
man to the indispensable man. When Washington wanted to get through the
Virginia assembly the development of the Potomac river or anything else, Madison would make
it happen. He would be the leader. If he needed legislation through Congress, the Confederation
Congress, Madison would make that happen, too.
And over a period of five years, Madison became Washington’s closest political confidant.
He spent days at Mount Vernon closeted with the general. Washington’s diary, and he kept
a diary his whole life, would say spent today in conversation with Mr. Madison. Indeed,
during the first Congress, Madison is often referred to as having served as Washington’s prime minister. Their most important achievement, most durable achievement I think, was the Bill of Rights.
There was a wonderful moment in Washington’s first administration when he is first coming
to office. He needs an inaugural address, so he asks Madison to write him an inaugural
address which is done. And it asks for only one thing, a Bill of Rights, constitutional
amendments to protect individual rights. Congress wants to write an answer to Washington
and a gesture of respect.They ask Madison to write the answer. (laughter) Washington’s
flustered so he asks Madison to write the reply. Congress in many ways of a conversation
among Madison. (laughter).
But the Bill of Rights comes the closest to being Madison’s solo achievement. He wrote
them. He got them through Congress. He made it happen. But he also made it happen with
Washington’s essential support. Now, the third figure is Thomas Jefferson.
In many ways, his soul-mate. They came from the same background. They grew up 30 miles
apart in Virginia Piedmont country, both from the same background. Jefferson inherited his
3,000 acres when he was 14, not when he was 49. That was their biggest difference. They
were both book worms, both interested in everything, both knew something about almost everything.
Their correspondence to each other is a delight. They would write about everything, science,
philosophy, animals, crops, and politics. They agreed on most political questions but
they had a different style many times. Jefferson was more the visionary. He was not so good
on details. Madison had a very analytical mind and was extremely good at that sort of
thing. And Jefferson adopted a program through his career of when he would have an interesting
idea that excited him, he would first run it by Madison. And Madison was not shy about
saying usually in a very polite way “that’s a wonderful idea but have you thought about
these nine problems with it.” (laughter).
And Jefferson would take his advice. They both became very disenchanted with Hamilton’s
financial system. This is the great switch. Madison enters Congress as George Washington’s
prime minister. But after a year and then some, he discovers that the secretary of the
treasury has a financial program that he can’t support, nor can Jefferson as secretary of
state. So Madison goes into opposition with Jefferson. In order to oppose the Hamiltonian
policy which they found unduly centralized the government, they thought it introduced
financial instability — we had a number of financial panics under the Hamiltonian system.
They had to create a political vehicle for this opposition. And, although they both despised
partisan politics, they created our first political party.
I think they would both be appalled to be remembered for it. But they did it. They did
it very assiduously and very well. And they did win the 1800 election as I mentioned.
And their party dominated American politics for the next six decades.
Now, Monroe was a bit of a revelation to me. I had not studied him much. I was really discouraged
at first to discover just how many people who were his contemporaries and felt it necessary
to recall that he really was a little dim. This was not what I was looking for.
He was a military type. He had been a soldier as a very young man in the revolution. He
always had a military bearing. He was a strapping six-footer, charismatic, not an intellectual.
His letters with Madison are friendly. They’re warm. They’re collegial. He was a very canny
politician, but we don’t get a lot of political philosophy. This is not what James Monroe
did. They were sometimes rivals. Indeed they ran
against each other in the first election for Congress in 1789. They are the only future
Presidents whoever opposed each other for a lower office. It was a bit of gerrymandering.
Patrick Henry had actually set it up so Madison would have to run against Monroe. Henry had
a real vendetta against Madison and was hoping to get him beaten. Madison won fair-handedly.
Nearly 20 years later when Madison is a candidate for President, Monroe stands as a candidate
against him and actually is on the ballot in 1808. He’s not a serious candidate, but
it was a measure that they had a serious falling out after many years of close relationship.
And, indeed, they didn’t speak for two years or have any contact at all.
But Madison reached a point as President in his first administration when he thought it
was essential that the United States go to war with Britain. Britain had been seizing
our ships at sea for years as a result of the Napoleonic conflict. They had been taking
our sailors and impressing them into the British Navy. And Madison simply thought for our own
self-esteem, for our own respectability as a nation, we could no longer just take it.
But Madison was not a man anybody would think of as a military sort. He needed somebody
to put a little steel into his administration. And Monroe was the perfect character. He had
great experience in Europe as well and credibility as a diplomat. He had negotiated the Louisiana
Purchase. So he reached out to Monroe. They were able
to patch up their differences. He brought Monroe into his administration as Secretary
of State where he was an essential pillar of the government through the war. In fact,
for periods of the war, he served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War simultaneously,
a fairly neat trick. Now, his final partner is the one I want to
talk about most and is in many ways the most interesting one, and that’s Dolly, of course.
His wife of 42 years. She was the star. Madison would never be the star. It just wasn’t in
his skill set. She brought charisma and warmth, great charm.
Well, Madison hated the spotlight. Dolly bloomed in the spotlight. She loved it. She was a
natural. She started out in life as Dolly Payne, and like James she grew up on a southern
plantation. Although it was a significant difference.
As this image — it is the earliest image we have of her — reflects, she’s wearing
a Quaker bonnet there. She was raised a Quaker. On instruction from the Quaker hierarchy,
when she was a young teenager, her father sold the family slaves and moved to Philadelphia
and tried to start a business there. His business failed. But Dolly flourished. She was tall
for the time. She had an hour glass figure, a mischievous smile. You could sometimes see
it in her images, almost all of them. Black hair, creamy complexion, blue eyes. Men liked
her. Men liked her a lot. And I always like to point out that say what
you will about James Madison, small stature, his receding hairline, his social reserve
and awkwardness, of all the founders, he had the hottest wife.
(laughter). Now, Dolly married a Quaker lawyer. She had
a first marriage and had two sons with him. But her husband and won son died in a yellow
fever epidemic in 1793. As a single mother, she was in great demand. She did not want
suitors at all. But one of the most ardent was James Madison. The story is he saw her
on the street or at a social event and essentially said “who is that woman” and learned who she
was and discovered his good friend from college, Aaron Burr was renting a room from her mother.
So he arranged for Aaron Burr to introduce them.
And he was 17 years older. That was not viewed as a great obstacle in those days. I’m not
sure it is today either. And on the occasion of that first meeting, I love the note that
Dolly sent to a friend that afternoon which reveals both her playful nature and her sophistication
because she writes to her friend that she is going to meet the great little Madison.
And she really captures him. Because, of course, he is short. He’s balding. But he also was
great. He was a national figure politically, leader of the Republican Party. He was wealthy.
He was kind. He was intelligent. And in a Jane Austen era when the match you made was
so important for a woman’s life, you could do a great deal worse than James Madison.
In studying their relationship was a delight in many ways. I was able to see a side of
Madison that you just don’t get. The political philosophers had drained the life out of them
to some extent. I discovered he could be flirtatious. The few letters to Dolly, they were rarely
apart but he did write letters to her. They were warm and loving, long after the infatuation would have cooled. In his flirtatiousness, Dolly’s sister moved
into the White House and lived there for several years Madison according to these accounts
delighted in kissing Dolly in front of her sister and asking whether it made her sister’s
mouth water. (laughter).
I’ll admit it is a little creepy. (laughter).
But that’s not the way you’ve ever thought about James Madison. Another aspect that was
fun to learn about was that, although the Madisons never had children of their own and
are sometimes imagined as the semi-sad childless couple, usually had a house that was overrun
with children. They had dozens of nieces and nephews, upwards of 50 as near as I can tell.
And they were often would them for weeks on end, sometimes months. Friends would send
their children to stay with them for a long period, particularly when they were in the
White House. And Dolly would always see that the young ladies were introduced to suitable
potential matches. It is also often missed that the Madisons
were a lot of fun. In small groups, James was quick with quip and humorous anecdote.
He was reported to keep the table in stitches. Dolly was always vivacious and engaging. A
niece called her a faux to dullness. One of the entertaining stories is on the
front porch at Montpellier, you can see in this image, it is not a huge front porch but
apparently James and Dolly would run races against each other. It was in their retirement
so they weren’t looking for a long racetrack. But it gives you a feel for the spirit they
had with each other. Indeed there is an account that in retirement, Dolly who was always a
bit taller than James and became a good bit wider than James would load him on her back
and carry him around the mansion. (laughter).
But I want to emphasize that their fun had a purpose. Through James’ eight years as Secretary
of State and eight as President, Dolly set a bright social tone. I like this image to
give you a feel for sort of Dolly Madison in her flower. She was gay, she was gracious.
She always sought out the most awkward, uncomfortable person in the room and to put him or her at
their ease. She is understood the need to provide charisma and glamour to the government
which, again, is not something James could do.
She was wife of the President and she was called sometimes the lady President Tess.
We didn’t use the term first lady yet. She took to wearing turbines, either of velvet
or silk and she would stick flowers or fruit at the top of the turbine. The result was
in a big crowded room, you always knew where Dolly was.
(laughter). You could miss James very easily, but Dolly
was visible. She had a famous exchange with Henry Clay
which may have been apocryphal. They played cards together. They took snuff together.
He was reported to say everyone loves Mrs. Madison and, of course, she responded, that’s
because Mrs. Madison loves everybody. It wasn’t strictly speaking true. She actually was better
at keeping a grudge than James was. But it seemed to be true. And as we know in politics,
that’s far more were than what is true. The Madisons freely mixed foreigners and federalists
and Republicans, producing a social swirl that allowed the sinus of policy and politics
to form in an informal setting, sometimes that’s a terribly valuable opportunity. Office
seekers would come to Dolly and ask her to intercede with the President to get jobs.
And as near as we can tell, she was pretty good at it.
In fact, she really was a political partner, always a loyal and sure-footed one who not
only warmed his private life but also helped him forge a new Republican style for the nation.
Indeed, the losing federalist candidate in 1808 claimed he had lost to Mr. and Mrs. Madison.
“I might have had a better chance had I faced Mr. Madison alone.”
So many of you will recall Dolly’s shining moment during the War of 1812 which came actually
on James’ worst day probably of his entire career. In late August of 1814, British Army
had been disembarked from ships in the Chesapeake Bay, marched on Washington. There was a very
brief skirmish at Bladensburg. Sometimes referred to as the Bladensburg races because our militia
ran so quickly. Madison had gone to the field to rally the troops and inspire them but it
was just not something that he was going to be able to do. And the militia wasn’t ever
going to be inspired anyway. So the British marched into Washington and
they burned the public buildings. This is a black mark on his presidency which sometimes
I think has caused him to be underestimated over the years. But there was a shining moment
which is right before the British got there, Dolly who had to flee remembered to take down
the portrait of George Washington. We were a republic. We were not a monarchy. We didn’t
have crown jewels. But we did cherish the memory of George Washington. And this was
a presence of mind, a spirit, a redoubtable attitude which was much valued through the
country. James Madison was reviled by many of his countrymen after the burning of Washington’s
public buildings. He was called a coward repeatedly. But people kept a warm spot in their hearts
for Dolly. Now, their retirement at Montpellier was generally
a happy one but a dark cloud formed increasingly over it. He lived for almost — James lived
for almost 20 years in retirement. He lived to be 85. For a fellow who was sick much his
life, it was a surprise to him that he lived so long. And that dark shadow was slavery.
I was struck that it is so rarely remarked upon that Madison’s grandfather was poisoned
to death by his own slave. This is an episode that Madison never commented on and one has
to assume was not really talked about at Montpellier. Madison often lived there with five or six
or seven other white people and about a hundred black slaves.
But I think we can assume also that all of the white people and all of the black people
knew that story, and it created a very corrosive environment. Madison’s opinion of slavery
was of abhorrence. He struggled between his commitments to human liberty and the fact
that he lived on the labor of slaves. He bought land in upstate New York and he wrote a friend
that he hoped to move there and never to rely upon the labor of slaves. He didn’t do it.
We don’t know exactly why, the pull of his family, the pull of his success. It seems
to me as he gets into the core of his public career, he is able to put these feelings about
slavery aside and he simply doesn’t confront them.
But then in retirement, he can’t look away anymore. It is there every day in Montpellier.
It is all around him. And he’s living into an era, the Missouri compromise, the rise
of abolitionism, and that rebellion in 1831. 160 people are slaughtered as part of that
rebellion. He now can see what he’s always predicted as a young man. He predicted that
slavery was the one thing that could tear the nation apart, and now he could see that
it is coming. And he almost compulsively tried to figure
out a way out of the box, how do we fix slavery? And he’s a creature of intellect, more on
policy issues. He figured out how to set up a government. He figured out how to take on
the British. And he wants to figure out slavery. And he writes memos to himself. Well, we can
sell off all the land out west that’s owned by the government and we will use that money
to pay the slave owners. We have to get the slaves out of the country because prejudice
is so bad that they will have terrible lives if they stay here. We will just have more
violence. So we have to then get them over to Africa or South America or anywhere else.
And it is a poignant, terrible, disturbing spectacle. This great statesmen grappling
with this issue that he can’t solve because he is failing to see it for what it really
is, which is a failure of the human heart that is prejudice at its core. That is why
he can’t solve it. Indeed, one of the sort of pathetic things
he does — this is at Montpellier.If you visited, and I encourage you to, they have done a wonderful
job restoring his place. They are reconstructing slave cabins he built late in his life. It
was customary, of course, to have your slaves live somewhere where nobody could see them
because they didn’t live very nicely. They were kept in poor conditions. Well, Madison
built essentially a Village of slave cottages. He got tired of having northerners and Europeans
come and lecture him about slavery. So he built these nice slave cabins. They were sort
of duplexes with glass windows and hung doors. And it was to show people that slavery wasn’t
so bad. And it is pretty sad, frankly, that that was the best he was able to manage.
He never did free any of his slaves. Indeed, Dolly despite her Quaker background leaves
not a word spoken ever about slavery. So we don’t actually know what she thought either.
In his final years, James became increasingly decrepit. I love this image of him two years
before he died. He spent his days in his dressing gown and night cap. He really lived in two
rooms at Montpellier. But his mind remained bright, his intellect sharp. These years were
hard on Dolly. She had to take care of him all the time. She wrote once that his hands
and fingers are sill so swelled and sore to be nearly useless but I lend him mine.
He could always be happy with ideas or at least occupied with ideas and newspapers and
books. She needed people and it was hard for her to be isolated without them. When he died
in 1836 at the age of 85, she moved back to Washington City and reentered the social world.
And we got this wonderful blessing which is she lived long enough to have her photograph
taken. This is taken just a year or so before she died in the Zachary Taylor administration.
Her reentry into the social life was applauded. She had a good time for few years but then
the money ran out. Financial management was not among her gifts. She had her own son who
was a bit of a waster and burned up a lot of money, too. She ended up in a sort of Gentile
poverty with only a couple of slaves who were sold upon her death.
Now, having held forth on two of Madison’s productive partnerships or just one of them,
actually, I want to close with a note about Madison himself. I do think he was able to
form these partnerships because of who he was. He was not the dry creature of intellect
that we sometimes think of. He was referred to by a contemporary as I have never seen
so much mind and so little matter. (laughter).
But he had a genuineness and an integrity and open-heartedness. These qualities for
me shine through in the way he received the news of the Treaty of Ghent which is the agreement
that ended the War of 1812. As I said, he pushed the nation into war and it didn’t go
terribly well much of the time. It’s February 13, 1815. Just about 200 years before now.
He’s actually living in an octagon house which still stands over on 17th Street. A rumor
arrives that the treaty has been signed with Britain and that Pennsylvania senator rushes
to Octagon House to ask Madison if it is true. Let me just read a short passage from the
book. “the senator found the house dark, the President
sitting solitary in his parlor. In perfect tranquility. Not even a servant in waiting.
The senator asked if the rumor was true. Madison bad him sit down. I will tell you all I know,
he said. Then confirmed that he thought there was peace but he had no official confirmation.
The senator recalled with some wonder what he called the President’s self-command on
the occasion and greatness of mind.” The War of 1812 truly had been Mr. Madison’s
war, as his opponents called it. It was about principles, not gain. It was fought with a
quiet tenacity, sometimes ineptly and with endless tolerance of those who opposed it.
As a friend of Madison’s wrote years later, the war had been conducted in perfect keeping
with the character of the President of whom it may be said that no one had to a greater
extent firmness, mildness and self-possession. And when peace came, Madison welcomed it in
a darkened house alone with his thoughts. Thank you.
(applause) Thank you. I would be happy to take questions
but it is great if you could make your way to one of the microphones.
>>Thank you for that informative presentation. In the dim recesses of my memory, I remember
writing a paper in college. I think it was about a landmark case, was it Marbury versus
Madison. Can you refresh my memory? I don’t recall any specifics.
>>David Stewart: Really? (laughter).
It’s kind of an accident that his name is on the case. It was because he was Secretary
of State. The case involved the midnight judges of John Adams. At the very end of Adams’ administration,
he appoints a bunch of judges in the last 24-hours before he leaves office. And they
are not able to take their commissions and have them confirmed and take office. So when
Jefferson becomes President, these judges show up and Mr. Marbury was to be some sort
of officer in the District of Columbia. They go to the Secretary of State and say, okay,
here’s our commission. We are now in office. And Madison said, no, you’re not.
And they brought suit saying they were entitled to the office. This ends up — it takes two
years to litigate, God bless the lawyers. And it ends up before Chief Justice Marshall
who rules in Madison’s favor and in favor of Jefferson saying these judges can’t take
office. But it does so on such a technicality. And after basically holding that — the courts
have the right to judge the Constitutionality of every federal statute that Jefferson hates
the ruling. So I’m pretty sure my federal jurisdiction
professor would be appalled by that description of the case. But that’s a quick description.
>>Thank you very much.>>David Stewart: Yes, sir?
>>Thanks also for a wonderful presentation. You stress the rigger of Madison’s intellect.
What was his formal education, where and how?>>David Stewart: He was sent away to a secondary
school which he resided at. He was largely taught by Scotts which in America was in that
era the best way to be taught. There was a lot of Scotts who had come overlooking for
opportunity who were very well-educated and were fine instructors.
He then did not do what most Virginia young gentlemen would do which is to go to the College
of William and Mary. His family sent him to Princeton which was also run by Scotts.
This had two effects. It put him in the influence group of John Witherspoon who was President
of the school at the time and other instructors who were engaged with the Scottish enlightenment
and it exposed to a non-Virginia culture. I think it was a very formative experience
for him. And all these Scotts were Presbyterians. They were a minority, a somewhat discriminated
against minority. And I think it gave him a heightened sense in how minorities can be
picked on by majorities. So it was a terribly important experience. He finished Princeton
in two years and then stayed for a third year of graduate study but worked himself into
a breakdown. And the rest of his life his intellectual
self-discipline is kind of staggering. He would — the year before the Constitutional
Convention, he basically trained himself to be a lawyer. He had never practiced law. He
didn’t have any need to or interest in it. But he knew he had to understand law to do
what he wanted to do in setting up the government. So he just read everything there was to know
about British and civil law. He always had this ability with incredible
powers of concentration. He was very obsessive about his work. He did tend to work himself
sick. That was a pattern also in his life.>>Thank you. The founders were opposed to
a standing Army and they preferred state militias. With respect to the Second Amendment, from
your research and from your background, would Madison’s interpretation of the Second Amendment
be in conformity with the Heller case?>>David Stewart: It’s not an easy question
to answer. Let me answer something easier first, which is the attitude towards the standing
Army, you are exactly right. They terribly mistrusted it. As did Madison. It was his
attitude. When he was President during the War of 1812,
he discovered, in fact, the militia was a lousy way to fight a war. We had militia when
we wanted to invade Canada they would stop at the border and say “I didn’t sign up for
that.” And they were not well-trained, by definition. They could not stand up to British
regulars. And at the end of the war with his first budget after the war, he says to Congress,
he issues — sends a statement in his budget and says we do need to have an Army. I was
wrong. You really do need an Army. So he was — his opinion was changed on that subject.
The question to the Second Amendment is not an easy one because he never commented on
it. He had no reason to. It was never a disputed subject in his life time. So you are just
left with the text of the amendment. It wasn’t really debated in Congress when the Second
Amendment goes through Congress. We only have records from the House because the Senate
met in secret in those days and we have nothing for what they did.
My sense is that there’s so much about the modern world that Madison could not have imagined
that the proliferation of guns in an urban society would surprise him. He grew up on
the frontier, a society that had guns and needed guns. There were Indiana scares around
his house when he was a boy. There was violence everywhere. The French and Indian War was
in his childhood. So he did not have a negative attitude about
guns. And would he feel the same way today? Hard to say. I think we can’t do much better
frankly than fall back on the language of the amendment.
>>Thank you. If you don’t mind. I would just like to add an addendum to your response to
the question about Marbury versus Madison because I think it is probably one of the
three or four most important cases the Supreme Court ever decided in 1806 because it laid
the foundation for the continued power of the Supreme Court right up until today to
declare acts of Congress and federal treaties and everything that the states do, if they’re
ever challenged in the courts, unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction
— excuse me. Congress had passed The Judiciary Act of 179 which was the act under which Marbury
brought his suit. In that act, Congress expanded the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
which otherwise is provided for only in the Constitution.
>>David Stewart: We need to stick with Madison here.
>>Pardon me? Well, this is about Marbury versus Madison.
So it is about Madison. But it is a very extremely important case.
>>David Stewart: It is absolutely, and possibly the most important. I would also emphasize
that it was anticipated very much by Hamilton federalist paper number 78 which also does
talk about judicial review. I think it was not an unanticipated outcome. I think many
of the Framers intended it.>>Doug Stewart, white, fascinating, thank
you. Two quick ones. First, Dolly and then Madison for a quick one. Did Dolly — which
southern plantation did she grow up? Just curious.
>>David Stewart: I wish you hadn’t asked. There’s arguments about this. North Carolina
puts in a claim for her. I found only evidence of Virginia locations. It is not even clear
if her father owned the plantation or if he was a manager or was leasing the plantations.
It’s not clear.>>Okay. Then she had been a mentor so to
speak for a number of women because of her (inaudible). That’s just fascinating what
she did. Madison himself, the main thing besides the brilliance and his influence which doesn’t
get there with the other grates, but did he ever cross paths with Benjamin Franklin?
>>David Stewart: I didn’t understand –>>Did Madison ever cross paths with Benjamin
Franklin?>>David Stewart: Did Madison cross paths
with Ben Franklin? Certainly during the Constitutional Convention. He made it a point of cultivating
Franklin. He went to Franklin’s house many times during the convention and basically
was sit at his knee and ask him questions and listen to him and have him tell stories.
He admired him tremendously. He was young enough to be Franklin’s grandson. There was
a big age difference. But it was somebody he valued. They were never peers, of course.
But for that one period, they did have a lot of contact.
>>Thank you much.>>David Stewart: You bet. Last question here?
>>I wonder if you thought that a slave in the White House by Paul Jennings gives any
light, can you comment on that at all?>>David Stewart: The question relates to
there was a book a couple years ago “A Slave in the White House” which are recollections
of Paul Jennings, who was Madison’s valet in the White House. He became a slave to the
Madisons when he was about 8. And ultimately bought his way out of slavery with Dolly after
James died using money that was loaned to him by Daniel Webster. And he became a free
man and a self-supporting individual here. His family descendants still live in the area.
And it is an impressive story about Jennings, again, a disappointing story about the Madisons
that the only way out was to buy your way out.
Thank you very much. (applause).

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