Mysteries of Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention
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Mysteries of Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention

October 8, 2019

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC. [ Silence ]>>John Cole: Well, good
afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the
Library of Congress. I’m John Cole, I’m the director
of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which
is the arm that promotes books and reading around the country through affiliated state
centers for the book. And we also do programming here
at the Library of Congress. We are deeply involved in
the National Book Festival. And I hope some of you have
visited the National Book Festival in the past. This year, we are still in the
Washington Convention Center, but we’ve managed to snag a
late Saturday in September. This year, it’s going to be not on Labor Day Saturday,
but September 24th. However, I have to
say, with the crowds on Labor Day Saturday’s
turned out to be pretty good in the Convention Center. The Books and Beyond Program that
you’re joining us for today is part of the center’s programming
here at the Library. We feature new books that
have some relationship to the Library of Congress. Often, it is a — excuse me —
it is the use of the collections. Often, it is a project
that has been developed by the Library of Congress. And sometimes it’s kind of a
special occasion to talk to people that otherwise would not
have come to the Library to see them and have meetings. So it’s really worked out
to be a wonderful program. All of these programs are filmed. And with — on the website
later, you’ll be able to see the talk from today. We have around 350 of these
talks available on the website, and they all started in 1996. So actually, along with the talks
from the National Book Festival, which are also available on
the website, we have captured since 1996, and since the
book festival started in 2001, a fair sampling of speakers and
books that relate to all aspects of not only the collections
of the Library of Congress, but events both current
and historical. And I do love to point out, finally,
that we tried to have books, as I said earlier, that have
a relationship to libraries, and especially the
Library of Congress. And that is the case today. To introduce our speaker, however,
we have the chief of the Library of Congress’s manuscript division. James Hutson, Jim Hutson received
a PhD in history from Yale in 1964. He has worked in the Yale History
Department and also William and Mary, prior to
— and after he — well actually some of Jim’s
work related to the topic of today’s talk occurred after he
came to the Library of Congress. And I discovered that in
addition to several books, Jim also is the author of a
couple of articles that relate to the Federal Constitutional
Convention in 1787. And so he is an especially
appropriate and knowledgeable introducer
of today’s speaker. And let’s give Jim Hutson a hand. Jim. [ Applause ]>>James Hutson: Thanks, John. [ Background Sounds ] Thanks a lot. I — we were a little bit
worried about an audience today, because Professor Bilder
was here a few weeks ago at the great tumultuous day in
which the metro was shut down. So I assume perhaps some of
you couldn’t make it that day. And you’ll be here, and we’ll have
a real treat listening to her. There was an old joke
about law office history, that it’s completely unreliable. And there are also jokes about lawyers being
unable to write history. She’s an exception, certainly. Professor Bilder is the founders
professor of law at Boston College. And she has a law degree from
Harvard, but also a PhD in history, or history of American civilization
— in history from Harvard. And this gives her a rare
combination of skills, which she has put to
very good account. This is your second
book, right; yes. And this is [inaudible] prize
this year, Madison’s hand revising of the Constitution Convention. It was published by the Harvard
— Constitutional Convention, published by the Harvard
University Press. She’s going to talk today, she tells
me, more about the technological — or the processes of
studying Madison’s notes, which we have here, his draft. It’s one of the Library’s top
treasures, not often seen. And it’s down in the Conservation. In other words, you can’t — if you
walk into the Manuscript Division and want to see it, you
won’t be able to do that. It is now — however, there’s a
pretty good digital copy of it, since we have it online, so that
if your interests are stimulated by her talk, you can
find the notes online. She’s kind of joined an old fray
about the authenticity or integrity of the notes, which began
a long time ago I think with when Hamilton’s
children accused Madison more or less revising the notes to fit
his current political beliefs. And that debate has
gone on for a long time. And but I think she’s not
going talk so much about that as about her research, really, as to how she acquired the
information to write the book. Okay; Professor Bilder. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Background Sounds ]>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Thank you very
much to John Cole, and Anne Boney from the Center for the History
of the Book for inviting me, and to Jim Hutson for that
wonderful introduction. Jim’s work was very
helpful in this project, and so it’s particularly nice
to have him introduce me. Can everyone hear me? I never know if these — I have
such a loud voice naturally that I’m not sure always
when I speak. My book, “Madison’s Hand: Revising
the Constitutional Convention”, is a biography of Madison’s notes on the Constitutional
Convention of 1787. And it’s a story about how
Madison originally wrote, and then revised his notes as
he changed his understanding of the Convention, the
Constitution, and his own role. It’s a book that argues
that Madison wrote only part of his iconic notes
in the summer of 1787. I argue he finished
them two years later when Thomas Jefferson
returned from France. And he then continued to revise
them throughout his life. It’s a book that argues Madison
even replaced some key speeches to better accord with Jefferson’s
new Republican politics. It’s not the book I
set out to write. And so today, I will tell the story
behind the book, and the mysteries, investigations, and questions. I began the book in 2008 and I unfortunately repressed how
difficult I found it to write. I recently reread some
emails I wrote to people who serve as coaches and critics. “Am I going to be seen as a nut? I can’t figure out how
to arrange the material. I bump into puzzles at every turn. A snappy subtitle escapes me. I have no idea who will
possibly read this. And my editor is forcing me to spend
the weekend shaving 7,000 words out of the evidence section,
and she is completely right.” But one thing I have always
remembered is the extraordinary assistance given to me by the
outstanding staff of the Library. And one page of the acknowledgements
include the names of curators, librarians, and archivists,
both here and elsewhere in the United States, who
made this book possible. And so I want to thank Julie
Miller, Elmery Anugent, Mary Houty, Barbara Baref, Mel Franck,
and Bonnie Coles [phonetic], as well as the staff
of the Reading Room. And I hope that the professionals
in the audience realize that their assistance
is indispensable to projects such as this one. But I confess that I had not planned
to meet so many wonderful people. In 2008, with two then
very young daughters — and these are my daughters at the
Bancroft ceremony on the completion of the book eight years after I
started, so they were quite little at the beginning; I
decided to write a book that would require no
research trips at all. That was the plan. I had written on Madison
as a law student, and I noticed that no one had
written an interpretive account of his famous notes of the
Constitutional Convention. His notes are the only set
of notes that cover every day of the Convention,
beginning on May 14th, and ending on September 17th, 1787. Every history rely on the notes to
tell the story of the Convention. But no book interpreted his notes
as if it were a literary text. So to do this, I needed to first
figure out what the notes had looked like when Madison wrote
them in the summer of 1787. And answering that question took me
seven years, and in an abandonment of the original no research part of
the plan, and a growing appreciation for the notes manuscript
as an artifact. So the book is a study of the
notes manuscript as a text, and also as a historical
object and artifact. And the goal became to meld the
story of the notes as a text with that of the notes
as an artifact. American historians have viewed
the notes like many writings of the framing generation as a text, a piece of writing
to be interpreted. And it is. But the notes manuscript’s also an
artifact, that is a physical object with a particular history
of composition. Now, an artifact’s something
different than a relic. The papers of the framers were
actually originally collected as relics. Letters were taken out of
the historical context, and they were placed in
collections, for example, the signers of the Constitution. And this practice resulted
in many papers of the framing generation
being saved, but often destroying
their providence. Now, the marble Madison statue
in this building’s foyer looks like it symbolizes
the relic approach. That’s what we tend to think
of when we see marble statues. But it interestingly actually
emphasizes the artifact approach. Sculptor Walter Hancock
depicted Madison as he looked in the early 1780s, just
before the Convention. And Madison holds a volume of
the encyclopedia [inaudible]. It appeared on Madison’s list
for the Congressional Library; and I think it was
volume number one. But the book itself is
an artifact with a story. Jefferson had sent the book
from France to Madison. And as I discuss in my book, Madison
used it to study the problems of ancient confederacies. So the statue tells us
that books are to be used, and Madison actually has his
finger holding a place in the book. Books and papers tell
stories as artifacts. And my book was only
possible because archivist after archivist made
the crucial decision that Madison’s papers were
artifacts, not relics, and that they could be investigated. Now, the notes are particularly
intriguing as a text and artifact. They’ve always been
known to be revised. Madison made a comment
to that effect on the last page of the manuscript. In 1840, Henry Gilpin, the
editor of the print edition, noted that they’d been
revised by Mrs. Madison. And the notes even contained signals
that they were used by others. Madison wrote in one section that
this section had not been copied by Mr. Epps for Thomas Jefferson. And so the notes have
always been a text that hint of their importance as an artifact. And you can see I use PowerPoint
the way people use picture books, so you just have to kind of look
at the images while I’m talking, because they kind of
show everything. The book implicitly considers
the classic historical question, “How do we figure out how people
in the past saw their world?” And the difficulty of seeing
the world from the view of the framing generation appears
in cartoons about the founders. The cartoons hint at the
unreliability of the paper left by the framing generation. My book focuses on how impossible
it is to escape the distance between events and
contemporary recording of events, and how important it is for
the historian to recognize and consider that distance. In particular, the framers
had the opportunity — or their widows and their
descendants had the opportunity, to curate and revise
their papers years later. Now, this is a particular
problem with Madison. He left the only seemingly set
of notes of the Convention. He also outlived every other member. This was actually not surprising,
his mom died at age 97 in 1829, shortly before his
own death in 1836. And as the other framers died,
Madison kept track of their deaths, and with the rest gone, he got the
final word what historian Drew McCoy nicely termed “Last of the Fathers”. So in 2008, I tried to find an
edition that showed Madison’s notes as they existed in
the summer of 1787. I actually thought this
would be relatively easy. But modern editions — and those
are all images of modern editions, regardless of what they said,
turned out largely to be the version that had been published
by the government in 1840. This edition, prepared by Gilpin,
was based on the transcript prepared by James Madison, and
left at his death. And various editions included,
at best, selected revisions. And you can see the transcript up
there and then the Gilpin edition. Fortunately, the Department
of State, where the manuscript was
housed in the 19th Century, had printed an extraordinary
version of the note, largely forgotten for
the last century. For this edition, begun in 1897
and printed in 1900, the Department of State tried to show Madison’s
notes with all of the revisions. In fact, a young staff member, John
Weisenhaagen [assumed spelling], actually detached the slips
from the original manuscript to prepare the edition. And he noted in red ink on news
slips inserted in the notes where they’d been attached. Now, there are some small
errors in this transcript, but it remains the best edition
of Madison’s notes as it appears. In 1914, the government
recommended against reprinting it, noting that there were
many sets still unsold. But you can — and I actually
was able to acquire like four for almost no money when
I started this project, you can now find it online. But the edition did not show
the pagination or layout. And so for that, I originally used
the microphone that was done in 1964 of the notes, and that’s now
digitized on the Library’s website. But it quickly became apparent
that digital images were needed. So the manuscript’s in
the Library in a vault. It’s been disassembled, and is
now in archival storage boxes. The Library sent images of, I think what was a
preservation copy apparently taken with a Nikon camera, in 2003. And the images were
labeled “Top Treasure”, and you can see that on the label. [ Silence ] The manuscript’s 136 and a half
sheets of paper, folded in half, four pages of writing each sheet. That’s over 500 pages. So it was actually a lot of images. But technology was moving so
fast that by 2008, the resolution on these images was
less than desirable. Today, current phones shoot at
about five times the resolution of the images. But digital photography, even at that resolution,
made this book possible. An extraordinary group of
curators, librarians, and archivists across the United States took
or helped me take photographs of Madison’s manuscripts. And so as I began to
read the transcript now with the digital images, I
realize there were mysteries about the manuscript. And so let me mention just a few. There were visible revisions on the
first 98 sheets in the manuscript, but not very many on the last
34 sheets after August 22nd. The revisions often were
in the official language of the Convention Journal. But on the last sheets, the official
language already had been integrated into the text. Why? Slips only appeared attached in the first two-thirds
of the manuscript. And similarly, for the first
two-thirds, Madison had written “Mr. M”, and then later
inserted “Addison”. But in the last third, he originally
wrote his name out, “Madison”. There were blank pages in
strange places, like August 22nd. One page, September 8th, ended
abruptly partway down the page. And material had been missing when
Jefferson had the manuscript copied. There were also mysteries
noted by earlier scholars. People had noticed odd
things over the years, but they weren’t sure
what the reason was. For example, when Jefferson
had a copy made in the 1790s, three and a half weeks in
June and July were omitted. And Madison even went
so far as to note in the margin they
had never been copied. And the early editor, Max
Ferrand, realized Madison made over 50 insertions
from a set of notes by Robert Yates, published in 1821. This was odd, because Madison
had openly criticize these notes, particularly Yates’ claim that Madison had suggested
the states might have less than full sovereignty. But Madison had nonetheless
used them, and had actually paraphrased
the insertions as if disguising their
place of origin. So faced with these puzzles, I
decided to compare the manuscripts that Madison and others created. And so let me explain
what sources exist. Madison was not the only
note-taker at the Convention. Notes exist from ten
other note-takers. Many may have problems
similar to those that I describe in Madison’s notes. And Madison criticized some of
these during his own lifetime. Historians have tended to
favor Madison’s version. I try to be more agnostic. An official record of the
Convention was compiled by its secretary, William Jackson. It included a journal and
a series of vote tallies. And the image shows you the
vote tally on the final day when the Constitution was adopted. At the end of the Convention, this official journal was
given to George Washington. And only in 1796 did he deposit it
publicly with the State Department, and only in 1819 was
it finally published. And Madison actually then used
it to further revise his text. But Madison had a secret
copy of that journal. In the fall of 1789, Madison acquired the official
journal from George Washington. Washington’s diary is
missing for the dates during which Madison would have
borrowed the journal. And so we don’t know how or why
Washington decided to lend it. Madison nonetheless made a copy. This is not my discovery. In 1930, Charles Keller and
George Pierson wrote a wonderful, quite speculative at the time,
article about this journal copy, which then was at Yale
where it still is. They argued that Madison had copied
the official journal in the fall of 1789, and he had then
used it to revise the notes by including official language
on slips and insertions. In 1937, Farand ignored the
implications of this discovery, and chose to reprint
his 1911 edition. And so Keller and Pierson’s
article was largely forgotten. Yale permitted me to take photos
— there is no microfilm available, and these photos were critical. There turned out to be small
notations in Madison’s journal copy, and the notes that suggested that
at one time, Madison had imagined that the two manuscripts
would be read together. And it was also apparent
that the front page of the journal copy wasn’t actually
the first page Madison had copied. Instead, it seemed, he started
with Monday, August 20th, 1787; and that’s the image you
can see on the screen. That’s not the front page of the
manuscript, but it’s the page that has the title as
if it’s the first page. Why? [ Silence ] Thomas Jefferson was responsible
for two other copies of the notes. Jefferson had a young man
studying with him, John Epps, make a partial copy of
Madison’s notes in 1791 to 1793, and also a very partial duplicate
press copy that you can see here; it’s at the New York Public Library. But Jefferson’s copy had
actually additional puzzles. Many pages were replaced. After Madison’s death,
Judith Reeves, wife of Senator William
Cabell Rives, had helped turn the Jefferson copy
into another one for Dolley Madison to use for foreign publication. And many pages were
altered to match the notes as they stood at Madison’s death. The untouched press copy, however, showed what the Jefferson copy had
looked like in its original state. But there were, again,
puzzles upon puzzles. Jefferson’s copy reflected
an odd division in the notes between August 21st and August 22nd. Epps had never been given the
notes from mid-June to July. Epps had even noticed that there was
a page missing from the manuscript. And the link the account that now
stands in Madison’s manuscript of the final days seemed too
long to fit on the three pages that the press copy suggested had
originally been the only final days of the notes. Now, we know that the transcript
looked like after Madison’s death, because Madison left
a transcript copied by his brother-in-law John C. Payne, that was begun basically
after 1818-1819. So I began to try and create what
the notes looked like originally. Now, I tried originally to
do this high-tech computers, and that was a total failure. And so I resorted to the
old-fashioned technique of using colored pencils; [laughter]
something to be said for that. I marked the material
copied literally from Madison’s journal copy;
that’s his secret journal. I marked what existed when Epps
had copied it in the early 1790s. I marked what seemed to have
been revised afterwards. And what emerged, obviously
imperfectly, was the notes from 1787. Two Madison comments intrigued me. First, in late August 1789, Madison
had written to Edmund Randolph to make up his opening speech for
Madison; because Madison explained, “My notes do not do
justice to the substance.” Randolph refused. He wrote, “He would mingle
inadvertently what I have heard since without being able to separate
it from what occurred then.” And so Madison and Randolph
instead sent his original notes, and Madison inserted them. But why was Madison
comfortable having Randolph write up his speech two years later? And second, as an elderly man
in the 1830s, Madison reflected that his writings during 1790s
might have been too often tinged with the party’s spirit
of the times. And by “party spirit”, he didn’t
mean party in the sense of fun and games; although if you go see
“Hamilton”, which I haven’t seen, I think it suggests some of
the fun parts of the 1790s. At the same time, he wrote an
editorial note discussing the controversial Pinckney Plan
that had been published in the official journal. Madison had long thought that
the Pinckney Plan was not the original one. And for years he’d actually
obsessively been trying to prove that. And that’s part of what you see
on the far right of the screen. But in the 1830s, Madison
became forgiving. He explained Pinckney might have
used a rough draft with revisions that was confounded
with the original text. And the revisions might
have been confounded also in the memory of the author. So was Madison talking
about himself also? Might the notes not date entirely
from the summer of 1787; and if so, how had Madison actually
composed them? These questions led me to reconsider
assumptions about the manuscript. People have used the notes as if
they were contemporaneous copy. But had Madison written every day
in the summer of 1787, and if so, why did he always start
with a summary sentence? Why did he refer to decisions
that didn’t yet happen? And why were Saturday speeches
always mysteriously the longest? I recall that Madison wrote his
correspondence twice a week, and suddenly the pattern appeared. In the summer of 1787, twice a
week on Wednesdays and Sundays, Madison probably wrote his
rough notes up into a fair copy. And if so, how did he
originally take his rough notes? He was limited by available
technologies, the quilt pen and steel eraser. He didn’t know shorthand. And so he probably used
abbreviations, such as up here in a few of his extant papers. This would have meant that similar
words, like “judicial”, “judiciary”, and “judge”, would have been
hard to figure out afterwards. Writing from a rough copy explained
the strongest stylistic aspect of the notes. Madison summarizes the point
of the speech at the outset. He created a first sentence that
always summarized the position of the speaker or the proposal. And so consistent is the style
that you can read the notes by reading the first
sentence of every speech. It explained why the longest
notes appeared on Saturday; not because they were most
important, but because a Sunday without any meetings gave Madison
time to decipher his rough notes. And so when we wrote about
events on Monday and Thursday, he knew what the Convention
had gone to decide. These days were always
written with hindsight. So there was always distance,
even in the original notes between what Madison
wrote and the Convention. From the very first day, he
was revising his understanding. For myself, it is this
contemporaneous revising that summer that is as important as
any of the other revisions. Now, a second assumption
needed to be revisited. Although referred to as
“notes”, they’d been relied on as if they had been taken by a
court reporter or a stenographer for the Congressional record. But drawing on work on
British Parliamentary diaries, I realize they belong to the
genre of legislative diaries. Legislative proceedings were closed,
and what the public had a right to was the final product,
the legislation and the journal of motions. And indeed, the House of
Representatives opens its doors in 1789, but the Senate
remains closed until 1795. So without published
accounts of the base, legislators relied
on private diaries. Madison’s earlier legislative
diaries are in the Library of Congress. They’re political diaries, and he’s
interestingly also revived those. And someone could do a
great article on those. There’s almost nothing written on
them, and also on the Maclay diary, which over time has begun to be
seen as surprisingly objective. The notes reflected Madison’s
political ideas, his strategies, the positions of allies
and of [inaudible]. The original Convention notes
therefore showed what he cared about, and they omitted what
he did not find interesting. And so they were about
who he found interesting. In this sense, the
notes were a biography of his view of the Convention. They recorded Madison’s
convention, not “the” Convention. As I reconstructed the original
notes, I found a different Madison, a man who desperately wanted
proportional representation in both Houses, and wanted to limit
the role in power of the states, a man who was frustrated by
the small state’s concern about Virginia’s political power,
a man who left Philadelphia, disappointed at the
Convention’s failure to completely control the states. And I found a man who
initiated the dynamic that led to the Three-Fifths Compromise. Madison repeatedly hinted at a
sectional divide between northern and southern states over slavery, and he even proposed a bicameral
Congress based on the division. Enslaved African-Americans,
of course, would not vote. And so Madison’s plan would
have given voting power to states that legalized slavery. Virginia, by this calculation,
benefited the most as it held nearly 300,000
people enslaved, nearly half the enslaved
population in the United States. And although after leaving the
Convention, Madison would come to blame South Carolina
and Georgia for what seemed as an inevitable compromise
over slavery, Madison was equally at fault. His willingness to embrace slavery
reflected his personal compromise over slavery. He believed it to be against the
principles of the revolution, but he could not imagine a
multiracial American nation. He freed no one at his death. And indeed, his will left the
profits from the sale of the notes to the American Colonization
Society, a group dedicated to sending freed African-Americans
to Africa. I found a man who was emotional and
aggravated because of his losses, but after August 6th, began
to acquire a new role. And the book argues that by copying
the August 6th draft into the notes, Madison grasped the structure. So then, a need to reconsider a
final assumption became apparent. Who was the audience? Was it us? Was it posterity? Before the Convention, Madison
had shared his legislative diary and Congress with Jefferson. And on July 18th, 1787, Madison
wrote Jefferson in Paris, “As soon as I am at
liberty, I will endeavor to make amends for my silence. I have taken lengthy notes, and
mean to go on with a drudgery if no disposition obliges
me to discontinue it.” I argue the notes were taken largely
as a political diary for Madison and Jefferson, and that they’re part
of the histories told of Madison and Jefferson as collaborators. [ Silence ] With this, the boundary of the
original notes began to shift. Madison’s integration of
large sections of text from the journal copy
in the latter section of the notes raised the possibility that Madison had written
this section after 1789. Could the manuscript
offer additional evidence? Watermarks have long been
a story of the Convention. Watermarks were used to prove that the Charles Pinckney Plan was
not written in the summer of 1787. And watermarks were used
to disprove a contention by Professor William Crosskey
of the University of Chicago that Madison wrote
sections in the 1820s. Now, it’s important to realized that watermarks are only
corroborating evidence. Nothing in the book
exclusively relies on them; because their presence has
an almost infinite number of alternative explanations. But here they reinforce
the textual evidence. Older technology made it difficult to obtain enough images
to study differences. And so the Library generously
took photographs of watermarks. I classified them in the Library, put the notes on a light
table for us to check. Madison was interestingly
consistent. Between May 1787 and August 21st,
the paper’s almost entirely paper with marks associated
with James Whatman. And this paper matches precisely the
letters Madison wrote this summer. But it appears in the notes
after August 21st only in the plan appended to the
manuscript written about Hamilton. Decidedly different
Whatman paper was used for the section begging
with August 22nd. This paper does not match any
extant letter from the summer. Other evidence corroborates
the division. The holes used to sew the
August 22nd section differ, the division matches the
division that was there in the Jefferson copy,
it corresponds roughly to where Madison began
his secret journal copy, and it matches precisely the
shift from the later insertion of journal language in the notes to original integration
of that language. And this is the watermark — two
of the crucial Whatman watermarks. [ Silence ] The book therefore,
argues that the notes after August 21st represent
an unconformity, a missing section of time. The evidence from the text
and artifact tell a new story about Madison and the Convention. Madison became sick that week, something that he was
susceptible to under stress. And the delegates sent controversial
issues to the committee. And for the first time,
Madison served on the three-most important
committees. He was too involved in drafting to
bother writing up his rough notes. And it may have been impossible
for him to disentangle decisions and committees from those
on the Convention floors. So at the very moment that
the Convention decided many of the issues we debate
today, congressional powers, presidential powers,
impeachment, the electoral college, the notes are the most unreliable. But the collapse of
the notes represents and reflects the contemporary
inability of the delegates to see the final Constitution in the sense we mistakenly
imagine they could. Between 1787 and 1789,
the Convention’s relevance and Madison’s understanding
of it changed. He wrote the federalist essays. He made arguments in the
Virginia Ratification Convention. He understood the textual ambiguity
of the Constitution when we served in the first Congress, and he proposed amendments
to the Constitution. Madison wanted the
amendments interwoven with the original Constitution. But Roger Sherman insisted
that they be supplemental. Sherman spoke of a
sacred Constitution to which the amendments should
be added, and Congress agreed. And so only with that decision
in 1789, did it become clear that the text of the Constitution, and the work of the Convention
would remain forever intact. And so now, suddenly, Madison’s
notes had a new potentially significant relevance. With Jefferson about to return, Madison completes his
incomplete notes. He makes the copy of
the official journal. He uses it to make sense of
whatever rough notes he still had, far more than the original
sections of the notes. The post-August 21st notes
focused on textual changes to the Constitution and the reasons. Now, there were undoubtedly
other changes that are impossible to
know with precision. How had Madison’s perspective
changed over two years? I speculate in the book about
whether he spoke the statements against slavery on August 25th
that he attributes to himself. No one else ever recorded him
saying anything against slavery. And his words bear a marked
resemblance to those he recorded of Luther Martin on August 21st. Was it coincidence? Did he have remaining rough notes
containing his remarks, or in 1789, 1790, did he decide to ensure that the notes reflected what he
now understood surely must have been his position? The book suggests that in the years
immediately after the Convention, Madison also likely replaced several
sheets containing his speeches as his perspective changed. In some respects, this
is not surprising. One cannot take notes
of one’s self speaking. And so Madison’s own speeches,
even those he wrote down in 1787, are the most contested
in terms of reliability. And he may therefore have been
the most comfortable altering them as his understanding of what he
had been attempting to say changed. These sheets were identified because the watermarks do not
match the surrounding pages, and there was corroborating
textual evidence. Once that relates to June 6th
through 8th, and it fits the story about Madison’s initial difficulties
in taking notes, and the chronology around federalist [inaudible]. A second set relates to Jefferson. Jefferson returned from
Paris in the fall of 1789. The “Hamilton” musical has
that song, “What Did I Miss,” which pretty much sums
up the whole thing. [Laughter] And he saw the
world through the lens of the French Revolution; supporters of Republican government,
versus monarchists. And he became obsessed with the idea that Alexander Hamilton was a secret
monarchist, in part based on reading about Hamilton’s June
speech in Madison’s notes. Four sheets in the manuscript appear
related to Jefferson’s promotion of Republican government. And one finds this phrase
more prevalent on these pages. A related replaced sheet relates to
a vote by the Virginia delegation in favor of an executive
with life tenure, the president on life tenure, a position that after the Convention
looked suspiciously like a monarch, and had become aligned
with Hamilton. The sheets containing
this first speech, and the final Virginia vote
match precisely the section that Jefferson never
was able to copy. And so I suggest that
Madison was working on replacing these
sheets in the 1790s. Now, I didn’t have sufficient
evidence precisely date and explain two other
sets of replaced sets. Madison was not happy with
something on September 7th or 8th. He replaced that sheet. He messed something
up in replacing it. Perhaps notices there’s something
missing, Madison subsequently adds that material in an awkward
way back into the manuscript. And similarly, I speculate
that the final two days of the Convention might
have been written at a slightly different time, and they may have replaced a
shorter original conclusion that was in place when Jefferson’s
copy was made. But I’m not at all certain of this. History should be about
interpretation and reinterpretation. And so I put the evidence
in a set of appendices, the evidence that discusses the
manuscripts and includes a list of the sheets and slips with
the watermark information as I was able to develop it. And I’m sure my book will
not be the last word. By 1796, the final sheets
were likely in place. And in December 1796, Madison announced his
retirement from politics. And that same month, Jefferson
became vice president. Jefferson viewed the notes as
part of his political agenda, and he urged publication, arguing, “The Constitution will then
receive a different explanation.” Jefferson believed publication of the notes would undermine
the Adams administration. Madison demurred. He worried that Jefferson had
not read the entire notes; and he might have been
right about that. And he worried that the notes
would not support Jefferson’s interpretation, and worse, that
other reports would perhaps be made out in muster, and they
would not necessarily confirm Madison’s version. He worried, “What turn might
be giving the impression on the public mind?” Nothing in the notes would
damage Jefferson’s reputation, but for Madison, the expediency of
publication weighed differently. Madison’s concerns triumphed;
the notes were never published. And Jefferson moved onto a different
interpretation of the Constitution, one in which was a compact among
the states, and perhaps with relief, Madison put the notes away. After retiring from the presidency
in 1817, Madison continued to revise the notes to increase the
appearance of comprehensiveness. He added revisions from
the official journal. He inserted missing sections
of speeches that he paraphrased from Yates’ notes, and then he and his brother-in-law created a
transcript with selected letters to explain the larger context. But though he repeatedly flirted
with publication, he refrained. I believe he continually
worried about other accounts. Not until 1827-1828 did the other
three significant note-takers, Rufus King of Massachusetts,
John Lansing of New York, and the Secretary William
Jackson die. Only in 1829 was Madison
the only living member left. And by that point, he settled
on postromous publication. Madison’s will left the
notes to Dolley Madison. And Congress finally agreed
to buy the papers for $30,000. In 1840, Madison’s
notes were published in a three-volume collection
of his papers. Now, in the introduction, a single
description of Madison’s writing of the notes reassured readers
of the contemporaneous accuracy. And this description’s been
repeated by countless historians. But intriguingly, Madison
never wrote in his own hand; that the notes in their entirety
had been written that summer. I tracked down the original
version of that introduction. And the sentence breaks, and the final assertion
is in Dolly’s handwriting. And you can see that
there with Dolly’s — the introduction sentence with the
italics being Dolly’s handwriting. Madison may have consented to the
edition, for his handwriting appears as an insertion on the sheet; but
he never actually wrote it himself. He had never settled on
a precise explanation of the notes’ relationship
to the Convention. Madison understood his revisions as
repeated efforts to create a record, his record of what he saw
significant in the Convention. Yet each revision, small and large, increased the distance
from the summer of 1787. Over the years and decades, words,
concepts, compromises, shifted and took on new political meanings. And motivations were
disputed, and context was lost. The Convention could not see the
Constitution until the final days, and from the moment the Constitution
became visible, it was contested. I believe that the
revisions do not detract, but rather enhance the
manuscript’s significance. The story of Madison’s composition of the notes emphasizes
his inability and that of his fellow delegates to
perceive the extraordinary document that the Constitution would become. And so tracing Madison’s composition
of the notes guides us back to a moment when the
substance and fate of the Constitution
remained uncertain. Madison’s narrative in
the notes was always that of James Madison, a member. Beginning in 1787 and
continuing for a half century, he struggled to understand
what had happened that summer, a struggle that continues
into our own day. It’s been a great privilege
to speak here today. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] And this is my final revised slide. [Laughter] It took me
a long time to figure out how to revise the cartoon. [ Laughter ]>>John Cole: We have time
for questions; [inaudible].>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Sir.>>I still hold onto
the notes [inaudible] and fell in love with them. I really look forward
to reading the book. I don’t want to take us down a rabbit hole away
from the [inaudible]. The question of the ambiguity of his
position on slavery is a big one. I recall years ago when they
first reopened [inaudible], the only place I’ve seen them
deal with the house slaves, it strikes me [inaudible] he
took to Philadelphia with him, the assertion made
[inaudible] that he sold the man to a Philadelphia resident
in the knowledge that under Pennsylvania
law the man [inaudible] and the implication is that,
you know, he’s in that sort of an ambiguous situation, he
can’t make the jump himself, he’s a man of his own
time and place. But is — there’s –>>John Cole: Mary, could
you summarize the question?>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes;
so the question is sort of about Madison’s
position on slavery. For myself, I find that Madison
has been given a pass that’s quite interesting compared to
other people like Jefferson, who I personally think he agreed
with much more than we realize. Montpelier does a wonderful
job talking about slavery, and they actually have a wonderful
room there when you visit. For most of Madison’s — certainly in his later life an
African-American man named Paul Jennings was an enslaved man
who spent most of his life with and wrote actually an
autobiography about that. And in the dining room, they
have an image of Paul Jennings. And they ask you to imagine what
was it like to be Paul Jennings, while everybody came and went,
and talked about slavery, and the American colonization
side, and you were just there. The book actually talks
about Madison’s — Madison writes a letter actually
from when he’s in Congress about a person who is enslaved who
he doesn’t bring back with him. And the letter’s actually
interesting because part of the letter writes about, “Oh, he’s a person he must
value slavery.” And the other part of the letter
writes about the man as a property. “He would not be worth anything,”
and everything like that. And so in some ways, I think it
very much symbolizes Madison’s fundamental ambiguity. But he freed no one and this was
actually so shocking to the man who had worked for many
years with him as a secretary that he originally thought
that Madison’s will was forged. And so but Madison actually — other
than being against the slave trade, which he is against when it becomes
clear that everybody’s against it, I think he was not — I don’t know
why he’s given such a pass about it. And in the Virginia Ratification
Convention, he goes out of his way to reassure the people
who held people in slavery that they be protected. [ Silence ] Yes, sir.>>So I read an article a while
back about how there were a number of different [inaudible]; that a number of them have
gotten lost over the years. And how did that fit
into [inaudible]?>>Mary Sarah Bilder:
Yes; so I mean, I don’t think I can flip
back here to the thing. There are some lost notes,
and if you found them, that would be awesome, and you’d
probably make the front page of the New York Times
as a discovery. There’s contention
about whether some of those lost notes ever existed or
not, because if you think about — for example, I think particularly
if you read a wonderful book by Joanne Freeman on the 1790s, you
realize how much this was a period where people made assertions,
and then wanted to claim that they had paper to back it up. So, you know, who knows how
much the notes are about that. But there are notes
that we know exist that are missing the original Yates
notes are much of Lansing’s copy of those have never been found. Jim Hutson found a very
crucial part of that I guess about 30 years ago now for that. So we’re dealing with
multiple conflicting accounts. One thing that I think
my book disagrees with is what people have taken as they’ve made Madison’s notes
always the stable objective account. And then every time that Madison’s
version, particularly of himself, disagreed with anybody
else, they picked Madison. My book tries to argue that
on a couple of the issues that people disagreed with, there
were reasons why Madison later on wanted to say that he
hadn’t said those things. And I’m more agnostic. Madison was very close to
Hamilton during the Convention. And when Jefferson comes back, Jefferson does not think
Hamilton is a good guy, and Madison distances himself. And so the book tries
to tell the notes and the multiple accounts
out of that history. [ Silence ] Yes, sir,>>[Inaudible] are
there any other issues that have come before modern supreme
courts that would have been — might have been affected
by [inaudible]?>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes, yes, yes. So I’m very careful not
to answer that question, [laughter] because one of the
things I’ve loved is that people of many political persuasions have
really enjoyed reading the book, and like the book. So, you know, that’s a
good position for me. The Supreme Court, in terms of its
majority opinions in recent years, has been very careful to keep
distanced from the notes. This isn’t so true of the late
19th Century Supreme Court, so there are cases involving
legal tender and things like that that actually cite
to Madison’s notes. The people who cite to Madison’s
notes explicitly these days involve people like Justice Thomas,
and they’re mostly in dissents. So it doesn’t matter that
much in that respect, in terms of pure citation. I think the place that the book
will give people some difficulty is that even though they’re not
cited, many of the understandings that the Court has held with respect
to the Constitution recently rely on a belief that in Philadelphia
in August and September, the people who wrote the
Constitution understood the Constitution in all the
complicated ways that we do. And my book sort of argues
they didn’t; that they were so busy drafting it and
trying to put it together that they understood
the basic structures, but the very fine-tuned
way that the Court has come to read the Constitution
makes sense 225 years later, but it might not have
made sense to them. But the Court’s very
tricky about that. Yes, sir?>>I’d like to ask another
moot point [phonetic]. Would he have agreed with
Senator Steven Douglas, and Governor Sam Houston asserting
the union, or would he have agreed that Virginia should leave the
union after the [inaudible]?>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; so –>>John Cole: Summarize it.>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes;
so the question involves where would Madison
have been in 1864? Yes, 1864 is sort of right
when Fort Sumter happened. So in the 1830s — and Drew McCoy’s
wonderful book on Madison talks about this, all sorts
of nullification — young nullification people
from South Carolina come and visit Madison and Virginia. And they all say, “Madison,
you were really on our side. Vouch for us.” And Madison’s like, “No,” you
know, like, “It was different. Yes; I did the states
thing with Jefferson, but we’re not the same as you guys.” And he actually gets quite
worried about that piece. And I personally believe that
he was a nationalist above and beyond anything else. I think that was particularly
true at Philadelphia. I think it was then
particularly true again after serving as president. And if you ever read — Garry
Wills has a wonderful little book on Madison as president. And one of the things that I
think Wills does very well is talk about how we don’t give
Madison enough credit for successfully navigating
through the War of 1812. And I think in that
sense, he’s a nationalist. In that sense, right, Jefferson
we know makes the same — you know, it’s one thing
before you’re president, and then it’s another thing
after you’re president. So I think he would not have — how he would have done that would he
have been a constitutional unionist, who knows? But personally, I would have
put him on the union side. He would have had to move to West
Virginia, though, in order to — [laughter] maybe wouldn’t
have left Montpelier. Any other questions? [ Silence ] Well, thank you — oh, yes, ma’am.>>[Inaudible]; but
I’m just curious, with regard to the
correspondence, I mean, I always envision people before the
mid — the 20th Century, you know, writing almost daily,
little notes with whoever. And so talking about losses,
I mean, there were only about a half dozen people that listed [inaudible]
contemporaneous notes or reported contemporaneous. But since there were more than
that at the Convention, I mean, what remains of anybody
else’s personal correspondence where they might have described
events to their spouses, adult children, other
close friends that — I mean, I can’t believe that
those are the only [inaudible].>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes. Yes; so basically those sets
of notes refer to people who wrote enough to constitute what
I could call “legislative diaries” of some type or the other. There’s also an extensive body of personal papers
related to the Convention. Those were published actually
in the documentary history. The State Department
published a lot of them. Max Furan’s Third volume
has a lot of them; Jim Hutson’s fourth
volume has a lot of them. I’m actually working
on a piece of this. One thing that’s interesting
is there are no letters to women in all of them. So like did nobody write their
wives about what’s happening, or has no one looked for
letters to women, okay, which if you do women’s
history, might be like, “Oh, maybe no one’s gone looking.” So there’s actually a lot of
correspondence about the Convention. The Convention said it was
secret or confidential, and they actually meant — were
really meaning confidential. So people write things
that are illusions to what’s going to happen at best. And so we have — other than these
sort of private legislative diaries, we don’t have a lot
of correspondents that explicitly says the
day-to-day accounts the way we do for the first Congress where
things became more open.>>Were the wives, would
their descendants have sort of maybe burned the letters because
they thought they were worthless?>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Well, yes.>>Would they have kept
them secret in the manner like they [inaudible]
history’s perception, their husbands’ reputations,
or maybe it was interwoven with personal matters that
they didn’t [overlapping] –>>Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; no
it’s a really interesting — I think what gets destroyed is
a very interesting question. And we don’t know what’s destroyed. We know that Dolley Madison’s
niece destroys some things. She was told she was supposed
to destroy some things. So we know — I think
particularly descendants — particularly I think interesting
wives and daughters did do some of that in concern with reputation. People — some of Madison’s notes — there are several letters that
Madison writes that summer that we know about,
because recipients say, “Thanks for your letter,” and
those letters are missing, and it may be that those were
letters particularly to one of the Virginia delegates who left
Madison’s letters in the scene, and it may be that Madison
was like, “I’d better not look like I was writing people
what happened that summer.” So it may be that people destroyed
some letters that suggested that you hadn’t taken the
confidentiality as seriously. Some delegates brought
their wives with them so they didn’t have that problem. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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