Constitutional Convention
Constitutional Convention
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Society in Constitutional Convention

Looking at the Past Through the Lens of Society

James Madison

"Little Jemmy Madison" was only 36 years old at the time of the Constitutional Convention; he weighed 140 pounds, and stood five-feet-six-inches-tall, but would prove to be a constitutional giant. A bachelor and a Princeton graduate, Madison had avidly studied political theory from the ancient Greeks to the Swiss and on down. At 25, he had been a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress in which the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Jefferson, his friend and fellow Virginian. At 33, he was elected to the Virginia legislature and secured passage of the religious freedom legislation which was once again drafted by his colleague, Jefferson.

Madison was the key figure behind the creation and adoption of the Constitution as a necessary remedy to the weaknesses of early American government. Though not all of his proposals passed, Madison was chiefly responsible for guiding the process and for recording the proceedings for posterity. Together with Alexander Hamilton and a little help from John Jay, Madison authored The Federalist Papers to persuade the electorate that the Constitution ought to be ratified and that, as historian Joseph Ellis has written, "republican government would prove more stable when extended over a large landmass and diverse population."18 This was an unprecedented experiment in republican government on such a large scale that many skeptics believed it would never succeed; they thought that only the small and relatively homogenous city states of ancient Greece could support a democratic model of participatory government. Madison nonetheless managed to outmaneuver one of the most talented orators of his age, including revolutionary hero and fierce Constitutional opponent Patrick Henry. Despite his initial opposition, Madison was also ultimately responsible for writing and ushering the Bill of Rights through the First Congress.

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