The Diversity of the Founding
Rich Tucker /
In the latest paper in the Makers of American Political Thought series, Colleen Sheehan looks at the long career of James Madison. In it, we see that “diversity” was a key component of the American Founding.
Of course, Madisonian diversity had nothing to do with tallying up racial, ethnic, or sexual identity. “In effect, Madison was the first in America to celebrate the benefits of a diverse population, welcoming the differences that freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of choice of occupation, and display of talents bring forth,” Sheehan writes.
As the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison understood that an effective government could unite diverse interests and bring them together as Americans. “Dedication to the principles of freedom also meant a common commitment to the idea of responsibility and the practice of self-government,” as Sheehan puts it.
Madison’s celebration of diversity also involved promoting the power of competing interests within government itself. “To guard against the danger of governmental tyranny, Madison endorsed a system of prudential devices, including separation of powers, checks and balances, bicameralism, and federalism, which are intended to divide and channel the self-interest and ambitions of officeholders and enable government to control itself,” Sheehan writes.
Madison was the best-prepared of all delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where the rest of the Founders spent months building off his framework. As a key author of the Federalist Papers, Madison explained what that convention had crafted and, in doing so, helped assuage fears about the new Constitution. As an elected official, he introduced the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights. Eventually he would serve as President and then retire to become an elder statesman of the growing United States. Late in life he worked to oppose nullification.
“Madison demonstrated that rare individuals could be both scholars and statesmen,” Sheehan writes. “His scholarly quest to discover the means by which popular government could also be just government was not merely academic; his dedication to finding a ‘republican remedy’ to the problems that had always plagued popular government was meant to answer the ‘sighs of humanity’ throughout the ages.”