CBS 2 School: Madison’s Mulligan

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The 2 Teachers

The 2 Teachers, Dan Larsen and Andy Conneen (Credit: CBS)

This begins a series of blogs dedicated to our enduring Constitution. The United States Constitution represents the most long-standing government in human history. Its stability is remarkable. As we stick with our original founding document the 2 Teachers will assess what it is that makes our Constitution so sticky.

We invite your commentary. Tell us your favorite sticking points.


James Madison has been called “the Father of our Constitution.” More appropriately, perhaps, he should be called a stepfather. Our first crack at forming a government was not so successful. The Articles of Confederation was a document that empowered a national government to defeat the English in war but it was not strong enough to adequately govern an independent people.

After the American Revolution our inchoate government needed more than revision and modification it needed a do over. Madison and a group of trusted representatives arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 with two vitally important imperatives. They needed to consider, again, what makes for a successful government.

First, however, they needed to convince the masses that the existing government under the Articles of Confederation could no longer hold the people together. The Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts proved to be ample evidence. Madison would add the reasonable arguments necessary to begin a more serious debate.

Before arriving in Philadelphia Madison wrote a summary of his primary disagreements with the current government. In “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” (April 1787. Madison Papers 9:348-57) Madison underscored twelve fatal flaws of the government under the Articles of Confederation:

1. Failure of the States to comply with the Constitutional requisitions.
2. Encroachments by the States on the federal authority.
3. Violations of the law of nations and of treaties.
4. Trespasses of the States on the rights of each other.
5. Want of concert in matters where common interest requires it.
6. Want of guaranty to the States of their Constitutions & laws against internal violence.
7. Want of sanction to the laws, and of coercion in the Government of the Confederacy.
8. Want of ratification by the people of the Articles of Confederation.
9. Multiplicity of laws in the several States.
10. Mutability of the laws of the States.
11. Injustice of the laws of States.
12. Impotence of the laws of the States

The Articles of Confederation left the national government beyond repair. The representatives in Philadelphia could not patch or amend to make what was left better. They needed to start over. With the force of James Madison’s intellect and the gravitas of a leader like General George Washington those founding fathers crafted a new document that went beyond words. The new Constitution built a permanent framework for a republic that we still keep.

That Constitution still governs today. We can be thankful for James Madison and his timely mulligan.

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