Fulton Lecture Discusses Why Madison Matters

This year's Maurice and Muriel Fulton Lectureship in Legal History featured James T. Kloppenberg, Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. During his talk, “Why Madison Matters: Rethinking Democracy in America,” Kloppenberg discussed the development of the United States Constitution and its range of meanings as they were understood by eighteenth-century Americans. Drawing from Madison's writings along with those of other founding fathers, including James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, Kloppenberg suggested that they aimed not merely to balance competing interests but to pursue what Madison called “justice and the general good.”

"[Madison] opposed the idea that the senate should represent states rather than population," Kloppenberg said during the lecture. "He rejected that provision as undemocratic, as many of us do now, because it gave disproportionate power to the states with the smallest populations. Like his friend and chief ally James Wilson he preferred the direct election not only of congressmen and senators but also of the president—a scandalous idea at the convention. Madison was ambivalent about slavery, which some delegates condemned, but which Georgia and South Carolina refused to allow even to come to the convention floor for debate. Madison wanted the Federal Government to have a veto over state legislation, his “negative” as he called it, was just another idea that the convention rejected. But gradually, Madison reconciled himself to the compromises that were necessary to placate the small states and the slave states. When the constitution was sent to the states for ratification, Madison pocketed his disappointments. He decided to defend the constitution not as perfect, but as the best the delegates could do.”    

A full video of the lecture can be viewed above.