Skip to comments.Weekend Vanity: Madison's Notes on the Federal Convention
Posted on 11/12/2011 9:23:43 AM PST by dagogo redux
My gradual approach to an understanding of our currently trashed Constitution has been an interesting self-educational journey over the past year or so, and has led me to James Madison's "Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787" (with an introduction by Adrienne Koch).
I am currently about a tenth of the way into it, and find it fascinating.
The process of the convention and Madison's way of recording it is interesting enough in its own right, but to see the Founders' concerns being so clearly hashed out, and to understand how that fits with the final product and it's later justifications in the Federalist Papers is quite fascinating.
To then understand that the worries expressed about the document at the time were the very ones that have led to its ultimate subversion over the intervening years is quite startling.
Have any others read this original source material? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. TIA.
Good choice of reading material.
We have a lot to thank Madison for.
Washington picked the “right” man to get it done.
My copy is pretty old, I understand it has been reprinted again. I wonder why it is not available in text format on the web. It is the best reference piece for those who want to determine why the founders put what they did in place in the Constitution.
Here are his notes in a daily format. I do not understand why they presented them this way.
And if my count is correct, this work actually took place over the span of 87 actual work days for the Convention.
I finished the last page about two hours ago. This is a critical source for understanding the Constitution, and a Rosetta Stone explaining many subsequent events and politics in US History. Those who read topical snippets and quotes on an internet search page, as opposed to reading the text through, miss the ebb and flow that went into balancing almost every issue, many windows into the characters and views of the delegates, and their many prescient, if sometimes dismal, observations. Note that relatively few of the attendees actually participaed substantively in debate, but made their contribution each time the State delegations gave a yes or no on the particulars. The contrarian ideas of some (e.g., Elbridge Gerry) are amusing, and of others (e.g., A. Hamilton) quite revealing. One wonders if Mr. Jefferson had a glance at Mr. Madison’s “secret” record.
I began reading the Notes out of interest in both Hamilton’s views, and the “Natural Born Citizen” issue (spurred by what proved to be misstatements of fact attributed to the Notes). The Notes do not provide definitive or clear answers on the NBC question. Very late in the Convention (Sept 4, 1787), the eleven member Committee on Remaining Matters presented its report dated August 31, 1787. It for the first time proposed the natural born citizen language as a Presidential qualification; this language was approved “without contradiction” on September 7. This implies that the phrase was well understood by the delegates. It is consistent with prior discussion about the danger of foreign influence on Senators. It also pushes the inquiry into definition back to what these eleven committeemen understood the term to mean. I am not sure if records of the Committee itself are extant or available (please advise if you know where to find such; I am going to try the four volume treatment of the Convention by Max Ferrand).
After reading the Notes, in no way would I trust our contemporaries to revise the Constitution in a new Convention, as some on the Left and Right propose. There are too few men/women of sufficient intellect, diligence, and integrity on the national scene. The delegates certainly represented vested interests, but managed to rise above them when it mattered. I cannot imagine that happening now.
So enjoy the read, and salute Mr. Madison for his service to his nation and to history.
The minutes are also posted here in daily format:
Yes, I think my favorite day was June 23’s (?) observations from Madison on the regulation of suffrage, and the purpose of the (not-popularly-elected) Senate to guard against what we now call progressivism, since property rights can’t be trusted to pure democracies (where there is also one man one vote) - there will always be more numbers of people who “secretly sigh” for a more equal distribution of property, than who don’t. Elbridge Gerry, Mr. Randolph, Mason, and others I’m forgetting.. - all good. Keep spreading the word.
Randolph - paraphrasing - predicted Pelosi-Obama
The purpose of the senate will be to guard the Constitution against the demagogues of the popular branch, who will be apt to form combinations with the executive.
Thanks you guys. I thought I had struck pure gold with this book, and I’m glad to hear that others more learned in these matters hold it in such high regard as well.
I’m not really far into the book yet, as I said. It started off interesting, then building to fascinating with the early forays into defining the Legislature. But it really only grabbed grab me during the early Resolution 7 discussions of the Executive on Friday, June 1st.
I’ve been reading along slowly late at night when I can, a section at a time, hoping to better savor and digest the import of what I was reading. Now, however, it’s as if I’m hooked on a good murder mystery, a real page turner, and I’m not sure I can hold myself back.
I’m also trying to resist the urge to make margin notes and underline what I’m coming to treat almost as a sacred text. Nothing so far in my studies of the country’s founding has moved me with such enthusiasm and awe.
It also fascinates me that Madison chose not to publish this in his lifetime, out of concern, if I understand correctly, for the effect these revelations would have on the country and the men involved.
Thanks again, guys, and any others who join in. Many thanks.
That is a good example of Fredric Bastiat’s “The seen and the not seen” discussion.
Madison had the foresight to see the “not seen” related to the election of the Senate.
“Essays on Political Economy”
“That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen”
I copied the minutes of the Convention from the source I listed and changed the naming convention slightly and merged all the text files (listed by date) into one big file (using cat from command line in linux and piped it into a seperate file). Now I have an electronic searchable version of the document.
When I read your link, Texas Fossil, I was reminded more of Obama’s Stimulus package and how all that was “seen” there was the short term life support for state worker jobs that could be saved (his voters) - but I see what you’re getting at with Madison. I think Bastiat’s essay there was more economically oriented, and would apply to Obama’s catastrophic-in-the-long-term policies, whereas Madison’s seen and unseen consequences of his structure for America maybe pertain more to human nature, which is admittedly also related to the laws of economics. Thanks for the reference - I’ve read most of “The Law” and I hadn’t realized till now this is where Henry Hazlitt probably got his story of the broken window - in his book Economics in One Lesson. I’m sure he gave credit where it was due.
I wish I could express how many times in studying the founders I have had moments of awe at their long term wisdom.
They understood fully human nature and how things really work. It is no wonder that the Left hates the sound of the word “founders”. You know, those old dead white guys. hee hee hee
Bastiat understood Socialism. It is not tied to reality and only exists as an illusion, however the consequences of Socialism are so damaging and far reaching as to be mind boggling. They all must lie or they can never trick anyone into subscribing to their demise. Much like Islam.
When I first read Bastiat’s treatment on the “seen” and the “not seen”, alarm bells went off all over the place.
Profound statements of wisdom like that should be experienced by everyone. Unfortunately it does not work that way, few look at things in any depth today. Serious study is not a part of life today.
What made such men as those what they were? It was the abuses of the Monarchies and the political system. Such abuses on a large scale over a long time have lasting impressions. Lessons learned for a lifetime (or 2 or 3).
Thanks for taking the time to read what I reference and for your comments.
“as if Im hooked on a good murder mystery”
Well, it’s a good mystery how it came about.
You’re going about studying it the right way savoring it morsel by morsel.
I’ll try to come back and ping you in a month or two (about how often I clean out my general ‘favorites’) to read The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding by William Lee Miller.
It pulls a lot of Madison’s aims together and fleshes out the process of the Founding, and is very well written.
“... ping you in a month or two (about how often I clean out my general favorites) to read The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding by William Lee Miller.
It pulls a lot of Madisons aims together and fleshes out the process of the Founding, and is very well written.”
The most enlightening and enjoyable book to read following reading the notes.
I was wondering if you would follow through - I should have known you would. :)
Thanks for that suggestion - I will get hold of a copy.