Michael Signer, author of Becoming Madison, makes a great case for a memorial to honor our fourth president James Madison. For me it’s an easy sell. I’ve spent the last six years studying Madison’s substantial contributions to the struggle for religious liberty. But Madison’s contributions to the government and character of the United States goes way beyond this important right. Here’s just part of his impressive resume:
– He served in the Virginia Convention (1776) that created Virginia’s first constitution, where he made a major contribution to the future of religious liberty in Virginia (see earlier post on this topic).
– He served in the Continental Congress from 1780 to 1783
– He served in the Virginia House of Delegates (1784 to 1786), where he successfully defeated Patrick Henry’s bill for a general assessment to support teachers of the Christian religion and pushed through the passage of Jefferson’s famous Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom.
– In the fight against Henry’s assessment bill, he wrote the Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785), one of the most impressive statements in defense of religious liberty.
– He was the primary mover and author of the Constitution, earning him the designation as the Father of the Constitution (see earlier post on this topic)
– He wrote 29 of the Federalist papers in defense of the Constitution (John Jay wrote 5, and Hamilton wrote the remaining 51)
– He was also the primary mover and author of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights, making him also the Father of the Bill of Rights
– He served in the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797
– He served as Secretary of State in the Jefferson administration
– He served as President of the United States from 1809 to 1817
And those are only his main accomplishments! So why is there no memorial in his honor? In light of his accomplishments it’s hard to understand why he has been denied this honor, but the most obvious answer is that he was overshadowed by the prominent profiles of the war hero (Washington) and the author of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson). In contrast to the tall and manly Jefferson and Washington, Madison was slight and timid. But as Signer points out, this is actually one of his strengths. “Indeed, in contrast to contemporaries like Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin and Adams, who were constantly seeking to polish their legacies in an epochal time, Madison seemed to try to disappear into the background. It is the cruelest of ironies that history rewards a truly selfless leader by, well, ignoring him.”
Madison was not perfect, but neither is anyone else. “But think of what this true story offers: for a time of unbearable shallowness, depth; for a time of false heroes, reality; for a country grappling to rediscover leadership, a statesman.” It’s time to give Madison the memorial he deserves.