There is a serious lack of education and understanding about the inspiring founding of the United States. Most American’s don’t even know that James Madison is the “Father of the Constitution” and “Father of the Bill of Rights.”
Thomas Jefferson, the “Father of the Declaration of Independence,” proclaimed: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be. If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”
From Chief Opponent to Chief Advocate
Ironically, James Madison, the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” was originally its chief opponent.
Madison believed that a list of inalienable rights was unnecessary. A federal list could create conflict with the states’ bills of rights. Moreover, it was impossible to agree upon an all-inclusive list of our natural law rights.
Thomas Jefferson, Madison’s mentor and best friend, was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson wrote letters to Madison calling the omission of the Bill of Rights a huge mistake. The Constitution empowered the government, but what protected the people from that power? Where was that check and balance?
Plus, the lack of a federal bill of rights was the major objection to the proposed Constitution during the ratification debates.
Jefferson’s letters, and the arguments Madison heard during the ratification debates, convinced him. He went from being the chief opponent to the chief proponent.
Madison Becomes the de Facto Leader of Congress and Recommends Revising the Constitution to Include Natural Rights
The Constitution was officially ratified on June 21, 1788. George Washington persuaded his advisor, James Madison, to run for the first congress. Madison agreed. During his campaign, Madison pledged his support for the Bill of Rights. Madison was elected, and he became the de facto leader on the House of Representatives.
On June 8, 1789, James Madison addressed the House and introduced a proposed Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Madison envisioned the “amendments,” as “revisions.” He wanted the entire Bill of Rights interwoven within the body of the Constitution. For example, Madison wanted an additional preamble stressing natural rights. He wanted a statement in the Constitution that the Bill of Rights applied to the states as well as the federal government.
George Washington was worried that revising the body of the already ratified Constitution was risky. It could open up a can of worms.
Most of the members of Congress agreed, and Madison acquiesced. The new Bill of Rights would be added at the end of the Constitution, not interwoven within.
Although Madison was small, shy, and soft spoken, everyone recognized his brilliance and hard work. He out-prepared and out-smarted his opponents. When Madison spoke, everyone listened. (Assuming they could even hear him.)
Madison’s Proposed Amendments
In June 1789, James Madison’s draft proposed amendments included the following:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”
Freedom of Speech and Press
“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
Right to Peacefully Assemble and Petition Government
“The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.”
Right to Bear Arms
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Right Against Quartering Troops in Homes
“No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.”
“No person shall be subject,. . . to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same offence.”
“[No person] shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.
Due Process of Law
“[No personal shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
“[No person shall] be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.”
Bail and Cruel and Unusual Punishment
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Illegal Searches and Seizures
“The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.”
Public and Speedy Trial
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.
Right to Notice and Confront Witnesses
“The accused shall enjoy the right to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. . . . .
“The trial of all crimes . . . shall be by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction . . . and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, . . . indictment by a grand jury shall be an essential preliminary, . . . “
“The powers not delegated by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.”
Final Version and Ratification
Some of Madison’s proposed amendments did not make the final cut. However, the list of rights he proposed is impressive!
On August 24, 1789, the House of Representatives agreed on a version of the Bill of Rights that had 17 amendments. On September 9, 1789, the Senate consolidated the list to 12 amendments. On September 25, 1789 the full Congress approved twelve amendments. In the end, the states approved 10 of the 12 amendments, and the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791.
James Madison’s brilliance, and his herculean effort, in, proposing, lobbying, editing, and drafting earned him the title of the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” That honor was well deserved.
A Final Comment.
James Madison is the “Father of the Constitution” and the “Father of the Bill of Rights.”
He is the man most responsible for the creation of our government and it lasting over 200 years. He is also the person responsible for the nation’s capital being moved from the New York City to Washington D.C. Moreover, he successfully led the country through the War of 1812, the “Second War of Independence.”
Why isn’t there a Madison Memorial, like the Jefferson Memorial? Why isn’t his image on Mount Rushmore? Where are the inspiring monuments dedicated to him?
It is a shame that “we the people” have not properly remembered and honored this great founding father. He deserves better.
(Sources: Personal tours of Montpelier; “On this day: James Madison introduces the Bill of Rights,” Constitutional Center; constitutioncenter.org; “Before Drafting the Bill of Rights,” Lesley Kennedy, History, http://www.history.com; “Bill of Rights” and “James Madison,” Wikipedia.)
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