Study Guide

Church and State - Madison and the Bill of Rights

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Madison and the Bill of Rights

  • James Madison was most important architect of Constitution
  • Madison originally opposed any Bill of Rights
  • Madison later supported Bill of Rights for political reasons, to secure passage of Constitution over Anti-Federalist opposition

On 8 June 1789, James Madison rose to the floor of the United States Congress and proposed a series of changes to the new Constitution. The national charter would not be complete, he argued, unless amendments were added that explicitly protected individuals’ rights. Many members of Congress balked at the suggestion, but Madison was adamant. Nor did he rest until the Bill of Rights had been drafted and ratified, guaranteeing to Americans—perhaps most critically—their right to the freedom of religion.

This is a great story, but it could not be more misleading. Madison, although the principle advocate for passing the Bill of Rights in the House, personally believed it was wholly unnecessary and even referred to the entire episode as the "nauseous project of amendments." His supporters in the House were just as cynical; they described the Bill of Rights as "milk and water amendments," "bread pills," and "a little flourish and dressing."blank">proposed adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution through a series of amendments, he was acting politically more than philosophically. He was trying to crush the opposition to the new Constitution by taking away the issue that had the most potential to galvanize his foes. He still believed that a list of explicit protections was unnecessary, in terms of the structure of the new government. But he recognized that a list was politically necessary in order to guarantee the stability of the young nation.

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