“Founding Enemies” (Pt 2/4)- Patrick Henry versus James Madison

“Historical Saturday”

Founding Fathers: Friends and Enemies

We assume the founding fathers were lifelong friends and colleagues.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   

Most people don’t realize that many of these founding fathers ended up as enemies.

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry was a great orator. His rhetorical skills were impressive and persuasive.  His inspiring speech, “Give me liberty or give me death,” is a classic.

Madison Opposes Henry’s Tax to Supported the Clergy

In 1784, Patrick Henry sponsored a bill in the Virginia legislature that would tax the citizens in order pay the clergy. A devout Christian, Henry believed that the clergy provided great benefits to all citizens, not just those attending their churches. Therefore, the citizenry should pay their salaries.

Although not regular church goers, Jefferson and Madison vehemently opposed the bill.  Instead, they lobbied for the enactment of Jefferson’s previous bill guaranteeing religious freedom. 

In 1785, Madison published his famous essay, “Memorial and Remonstrance.” Madison was very shy and soft spoken, but his pen was mightier than his mouth. This essay became a seminal document on church and state.. Madison argued that history proves that whenever the church and government become entangled, both become corrupted. The essay convinced the Virginia legislature to defeat the Patrick Henry’s religious tax. 

The flamboyant Patrick Henry lost to the little shy Madison. Henry took this political defeat personally, and he became a lifelong enemy of Madison. Patrick Henry became known as the “anti-Madison.”  Anything Madison proposed, Henry opposed.

Henry’s Opposes Ratification of the Constitution

After the Constitution was signed, James Madison became the “Father of the Constitution.”  The Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. Ratification was not guaranteed. Madison joined with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in publishing a series of essays lobbying for the Constitution. (The Federalist Papers.) The ratification vote by Madison’s home state of Virginia was crucial. 

However, Patrick Henry, “the Anti-Madison,” publicly opposed the Constitution. When Madison realized that the ratification vote was in jeopardy, he got himself elected to the Virginia ratifying convention so he could block Patrick Henry. 

Madison quietly persuaded several prominent delegates to change their votes to support the Constitution and Virginia became the 10th state to ratify.  Once again, Patrick Henry, took the defeat personally.

Henry Blocks Madison for Senate

After Virginia ratified the Constitution, Madison returned to New York to resume his duties as a leader in the Continental Congress. He also served as a key advisor to George Washington.              

 At the request of President Washington, Madison sought a seat in the new United States Senate, but his appointment was blocked by — Patrick Henry.

Henry Opposes Madison for House of Representatives

Madison then decided to run for a seat in the new House of Representatives. Patrick Henry convinced the Virginia legislature to realign the congressional districts in an attempt to deny Madison a seat. However, Madison was able to outmaneuver Patrick Henry’s realignment trick. In response, Patrick Henry recruited the popular James Monroe to run against Madison. Madison won by a sizable margin.  Afterward, Madison became the “Father of the Bill of Rights.”

Madison Prevailed and Henry Hurt his Reputation and Historical Image

Madison went on to become a brilliant Secretary of State to Thomas Jefferson.  Afterward, Madison was elected the fourth President of the United States. As president, Madison successfully led the country in the War of 1812, the “Second War of Independence.”

History demonstrates that Patrick Henry picked the wrong enemy. Instead of undermining Madison, he hurt his own reputation and friendship with George Washington.

Lessons.  Choose your enemies carefully. A “chess player” (Madison) will usually win out over a “gutter fighter” (Henry).  A “work horse” (Madison) will often prevail over a “show horse” (Henry). A “statesman” will govern better than an “ideologue.”

(Sources: Personal tours of Montpelier; American Ride Series, BYUtv; “Patrick Henry,” “James Madison,” Wikipedia.)

(Other Articles: http://www.londonedition.net)

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