Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 7/13/2010 11:05:00 AM
On Thursday, July 1, 2010 we heard a lecture by John Kaminski, Director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin. He told us that he sometimes goes into middle school classrooms to speak about the Constitution, so I could tell that he appreciated not only scholarship but also teaching about the Constitution. Professor Kaminski opened by saying "The Constitution and the federal government is perfect. There's not a thing wrong with it." Of course, we all laughed. So then he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Ok, if you think it's imperfect, let's get rid of it, call a new Constitutional Convention and write a new one." Nobody in the room thought that was a good idea, even though we all agreed that the government wasn't perfect. Professor Kaminski then said "That's the exact situation that occurred in 1787." In 1787, most people agreed that the Articles were flawed (the government needed the power to tax and regulate commerce), but the American people would not have favored getting rid of the current government and developing a new model altogether (just like in the modern example he set up above). I thought it was clever of him to set up the situation in this way. It's very hard to put yourself into the mindset of someone in 1787. However, if I suggested to you that we get rid of our current government and create a whole new model, you would probably react in the same way as many people did in 1787! That's why they had to keep the Constitutional Convention a secret and why Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay had to write the Federalist Papers to convince New York to ratify the Constitution. Professor Kaminski then talked about his approach to writing history. He said, "Don't fall in love with your subject if you write a biography." He explained that the founders were not gods -- they were men that were flawed. He also said that you should "start with a clean slate" when you write history. You can't say that that the Constitution is wonderful because you know what will happen later. People living back in 1787 didn't know what would happen later, so as a historian, you need to try to think as they did in order to write about them successfully. History could very easily have happened quite differently than it did. For example, during the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755 during the French and Indian War, General Braddock was killed. George Washington, however, had four bullet holes through his coat, had his hat shot from his head, had two horses shot out from under him and killed, and one horse wounded and he still survived. What would have happened if he had been killed? What would have happened if he had been given a commission in the British army, like he wanted? Perhaps he might have been the one captured at Yorktown instead of Cornwallis. What would have happened in 1783 if Madison had left Congress and fell off his horse and drowned in the Delware River? As a historian, you have to remind yourself not to write from the perspective of the present. In keeping with his explanation that the founders were real men that were flawed, Professor Kaminski explained that both Madison and Thomas Jefferson, although they opposed slavery, both believed that blacks were inferior to whites. They supported a three part system for eliminating slavery. First, they wanted gradual and compensated emancipation. Secondly, they wanted colonization. Madison and Jefferson believed that blacks would never forgive whites for what they did, so it would be better to send blacks back to Africa or create black colonies in the West Indies. Most of the African Americans in slavery at the time had been born in America and would have never seen Africa. So to people today, sending African Americans back to Africa and dropping them off to start a colony would be immoral, inhumane, and wrong. Jefferson and Madison, however, knew that whites would continue to expand west, and thought that blacks would be better off living free, but living separately from whites. The third part of their strategy would be to replace the slave labor with immigrant labor, such as Protestant Germans. A good historian will include information like this in a biography of Madison or Jefferson because to hide the flaws of these men would be to create an inaccurate historical picture of their lives and character. I also learned something interesting about George Washington from Professor Kaminski's lecture. George Washington was the only founding father to free all his slaves. He freed some of them while he was alive and freed the rest of them in his will. However, he couldn't actually free all his slaves because his slaves and his wife Martha's slaves had intermarried. So in his will, Washington (who believed he would die before Martha) declared that after she died, all his slaves would be freed. The slaves knew about this and hence, their freedom depended on Martha's death. Professor Kaminski said that "she knew it too" -- that the slaves were eagerly looking forward to her death. So Martha Washington freed all the slaves in 1801 (while she was still alive). There is also a record of her writing "I am working to prepare the children to be independent." In other words, she was having the children learn a trade so that when freed, they would be able to earn a living. Another interesting thing I learned was some additional examples of how the meaning of our language has changed since 1787. For example, when Jefferson writes in the Declaration of Independence, "To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world," he had a different understanding of the word "candid." Today, when someone says "can I be candid with you," they mean, "let me be perfectly clear but really what I want to do is give you my very biased and honest opinion of what I think." In 1776, "candid" meant "a blank slate." So a "candid world" would not have made any predetermined judgment on what to think. Jefferson wanted "the facts" to be presented to a world that had not yet passed judgment -- to an unbiased world. Hence, the word "candid" has almost flipped meanings over time. Two examples that Professor Kaminski gave were for the words "pathetic" and "nervous." Back in the 1700s, when someone said "His words were pathetic," they didn't mean "weak" they mean pathetic as in "pathos" - "full of emotion and poignancy." Likewise, if someone said he gave a "nervous speech," they meant he gave a "powerful" speech. In other words -- he "had nerves." Hence, a historian also has to be conscious of the changing meaning of language when reading primary source documents. James Madison gave us a great gift when he took detailed notes of everything that was said at the Constitutional Convention. He wrote these notes for posterity. During his study of ancient constitutions in preparation for the Constitutional Convention, he was often frustrated by the lack of historical documentation of the creation of these ancient documents and governments. Madison did not want historians of the future to have this same problem. He knew what he was doing and he understood the significance and implications of the discussions surrounding the creation of our Constitution. Professor Kaminski argued, however, that you shouldn't use the arguments
in the Constitutional Convention to determine the meaning of the
different articles and clauses in the Constitution. The reason for this
is that sometimes, delegates gave exaggerated proposals of what they wanted because they knew they were going to have to give up something to compromise. So what they said may not have actually been what they wanted. Secondly, many delegates changed their minds of the course of the months of the Constitutional Convention, so you can't look at any one thing they said to determine original meaning or intention. So to find the true original meaning, it would be better to look at the ratification debates. Furthermore, the Constitution we have today is not entirely the same as the one Madison originally designed. "He's not the father of what we got," Professor Kaminski explained, but he did take the lead in shaping it and passing it successfully through the convention. Professor Kaminski asked, "How did a tiny twerp from Virginia decide he wants to save the country? He was 36 years old. He should be deferring to the older delegates like George Mason, who was in his 60s, or Roger Sherman or Benjamin Franklin." Madison understood that the Constitution wasn't perfect, but it was better than the Articles of Confederation. He was not only a politician, but a scholar. Professor Kaminski said that had Madison not become a politician, he would have made a wonderful professor of government and history.
In the afternoon, we had a wonderful walking tour of Montpelier's Landscape by Sandy Mudrinich, Horticulturist at Montpelier. She was very passionate about the landscape of Montpelier and knew all the history behind most of the trees that were planted on the grounds. She also told us a very interesting story about the fence in front of Madison's house. You'll remember how the archaeologist told us that they found where the fence posts were located by finding the char remains of the bottoms of the posts, indicating where the holes were. Then they installed the fence two feet away from the original post holes so as not to disturb the original holes. So the fence is not in its exact historical location. Sandy Mudrinich told us that this is not the only thing historically incorrect about the fence. The archaeologists and restorers had a few different historical engravings and paintings of Madison's house that also showed the fence. One painting was done by a Baroness (I didn't get her whole name). In her picture, both the tops of the fence points and the cross piece below them are scalloped. When the restorers went to create this scalloped cross piece, they had to use a 2" x 12" piece of wood. They threw away the extra wood they didn't use. Sandy Mudrinich said that Madison would not have done this. He was actually an early environmentalist and conservationist and believed it was important to take care of the trees and not waste wood. This was an uncommon view back then because it appeared to the early Americans that the wood supply -- stretching as it did across the entire continent -- was virtually limitless. Hence, she argued that Madison would not have wasted wood in this way and so the cross piece was probably straight across. She said the Baroness drew it curved because it was more artistic to do it that way. Also in the Baroness's engraving there is a small picture of a female slave near the fence. The fence comes up about to her chest. Today, people are taller than they were back then, so to be proportional, the restorers made the new fence taller than it actually was. Sandy also said she didn't think Madison would have painted his fence green -- "That's a duPont green." So the fence is two feet away from where it actually was, it actually had a straight cross piece, it is taller than it really was, and it wasn't green. Other than that, it's entirely historically accurate! See the pictures below:
OK! Although today is July 8, I would like to add a few more notes about David Marion's lecture from Wednesday, June 30, 2010. Professor Marion explained that James Madison is a "great founder, not just a significant founder" because in helping to draft both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he understood what he was trying to do and the significance of what he was trying to do. Madison "paid attention to human nature -- he didn't ask what you would ask of angels or of gods." He studied and learned from other governments throughout history and, in the tradition of enlightenment philosophers, he believed that "humans could control their own destiny." (All of the quotations in this blog entry are paraphrases from Professor Marion that I wrote down in my notes -- I was attempting very hard to be a good note-taker, just like James Madison!). Madison also wanted to create a civic culture that would support the new government.
Professor Marion asked us (a room full of teachers), "How do you justify spending time in the classroom studying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Why is it relevant? Your students can still participate in the system even if they don't understand it. Why should they be informed?" He explained that if a surgeon is doing heart surgery, he must understand the system he is doing surgery on. Hence, if citizens want to improve their government and "get it to where they want it to be," they have to understand our system of government and be able to apply reason to it. So we all have a "vested interest in learning how to make sense of Madison's Constitutional Order."
Madison believed that for a government to be legitimate, it should be based on the consent of the people and protect their liberties. The Declaration of Independence explains that the British government was neither a government of consent nor did it protect colonists' liberties. British philosopher John Locke, who lived about 100 years before Jefferson, said yes, you could have a constitutional monarchy that is a legitimate government -- if it protects the fundamental rights and liberties of the people. So Madison was interested in designing a government that would be successful in achieving this goal.
Madison's Federalist #10 is perhaps the most famous of all the essays in The Federalist Papers, which were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in an attempt to explain the Constitution and to get the people of New York to ratify it. In it, Madison explores how best to manage human beings and how to get us to have a government that would protect our liberties. Human beings, by their nature, tend to ask selfishly and will form factions -- groups that will try to bend government power to meet their own needs at the expense of everyone else. Madison said that we could not control the causes of faction, but that we could control for its effects. If you "extend the sphere" and make a large republic, no one faction will be large enough to gain a majority.
Professor Marion also highlighted a lesser known part of Federalist #10. He said that "Madison's republic is all about comfortable preservation -- life, liberty, and property -- protecting the safety and happiness of the people." Professor Marion explained that for Madison, it was important to protect people's property rights which were a result of the "diversity in the faculties of men." People all have different abilities, special talents, and things that make us distinctive. We can't get rid of factions by giving everybody the same opinions, passions, and interests. But we can make it more probable that our new republic would succeed if we encouraged these diverse interests and protected people's property. Professor Marion said that "property is the fruit of people's labors." By protecting people's property, you are encouraging them to use their faculties to effect their safety and happiness. Hence, when you protect property, you end up getting a safer, happier republic.
Madison was generally pleased with the Constitution that came out of the Convention, even though it didn't match his original vision. For example, one design element he originally wanted was a "Council of Revision" made up of the President and the Supreme Court who would have the power to review Congress's work before it became law. Now, the Supreme Court can only declare a law unconstitutional if a case is brought before the Court challenging the constitutionality of the law. The Supreme Court currently only has the power to determine if a law is constitutional. Madison would have given the Council of Revision the power to decide whether a law was wise. Professor Marion said, "This tells us what he [Madison] was shooting for -- what he wants to call into being to get us a certain way of life." He wanted a government that passed "wise" laws.
The rest of Professor Marion's lecture dealt with the addition of the Bill of Rights. I'll try to compress what he explained into a short paragraph or two. The Anti-federalists were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution because it did not have a Bill of Rights. They argued that in order for people's rights to truly be protected, these protections had to be explicitly stated in writing. Founders such as James Wilson lead the charge in defending the Constitution minus a Bill of Rights. Wilson explained that the national government was only given specific, enumerated powers in the Constitution, and that these powers were delegated to the people. Hence, the national government did not have the power to limit people's rights because it only had those powers specified in the Constitution. Furthermore, he explained that a Bill of Rights can actually be dangerous if it leaves anything out -- if it misses protecting a specific right then the government could then violate that right.
Madison was never against a Bill of Rights, and he later played a significant role in getting it passed. He took the lead so there wouldn't be the "wrong" kinds of amendements. He also took charge because it was important to get the last four states -- Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to ratify the Constitution -- these states contained 40% of the population. However, Madison believed the design of the government system was more important than a Bill of Rights. If we didn't have the right system -- a large republic and a representative system -- then you could have all the statements you wanted in a Bill of Rights but these would only be "parchment barriers." You had to design a system that would give the national government the powers it didn't have under the Articles of Confederation and this would allow it to protect people's liberties.
Madison actually had wanted the amendments to be inserted into different provisions within the Constitution, rather than added at the end (or put at the beginning, like in Pennsylvania's Constitution). The reason he wanted this was that he wanted the amendments to be placed in their proper context so that when people looked at them later, their meaning would be correctly construed. Roger Sherman and others argued against weaving them in because they believed this couldn't be done without violating the ratification of the Constitution. In other words, the "people" had ratified the original Constitution in state ratifying conventions, but it would be the state legislatures that would ratify the new amendments. So if the amendments were woven in, it would be like creating a new Constitution that the people would then not have an opportunity to ratify.
Professor Marion said that Madison would be pleased with what happened to the Constitution. He would like the amendments that have been added in the last 200 years. Madison understood that to design and carry into being a new government "was a difficult project, not an impossible project." Professor Marion added, "I sometimes tell my students that the framers deserve the respect we give them not because they invented this, but because they took ideas that were out there and created a nation and government that was in line with those principles." In addition to the ideas Madison contributed from his study of ancient constitutions and governments, other founders brought in ideas that were already in many state constitutions.
In Federalist #51, Madison explained that it was the business of the Convention to first come up with a government that could control the people, and secondly to create a government that would control itself. The Constitution was not perfect when it was created. Many important amendments had to be added later to finally protect the rights of all Americans -- amendments that ended slavery, and that gave African Americans and women the right to vote. However, the government we have today is still quite similar to the one Madison designed 223 years ago, and let us hope that it may long continue into the future.
Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 6/30/2010 11:00:00 PM
I just got back from an adventure to Monticello -- Thomas Jefferson's house! Two other teachers and I had tried to go there yesterday but we arrived at 5:06pm and the gate was closed, so we just missed it. However, the security guards at the gate were very nice and encouraged us to come back the next day. We made it with enough time today! Madison and Jefferson were lifelong friends (Jefferson designed Madison's front door), so it was very appropriate to take our free time in the afternoon today to visit Monticello. We took a tour of his house and grounds and then walked down the mountain trail to see his grave. When we returned to the visitors' center, the security guards we had talked to yesterday actually opened up the new exhibit, which had closed already for the evening, so we could go in and see it! That was so nice of them. I wish I had more time to write about my visit to Montpelier, but since it is very late, I'll just put some pictures at the end of this blog.
We also heard a lecture today by David Marion, Director of the Wilson Center for Leadership, Hampden-Sydney College. He was fantastic! His explanations of Madison's reasoning were so clear and he had us look at many primary sources to back up his arguments. I just counted how many pages I used in my notebook to take notes on his lecture and I counted eleven pieces of paper, front and back! So that's 22 sides of a page! I really wish I had time to explain what I learned from his lecture in this blog entry, but it's too late at night. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have time to type it up. His lecture made me wish I were one of his students in college.
In the afternoon today, we had group discussions on some primary sources. Then we visited Gilmore Cabin & Freedman's Farm, a small cabin and farm that was owned by one of Jefferson's former slaves that was later freed. We also visited the Montpelier Station -- the train station the duPont family had built. The station has been restored to what it looked like in the Jim Crow Era -- there is a "white" door and a "colored" door. There is also a real post office in the station so I mailed some post cards today. A few other teachers and I left directly from here for Monticello.
I took a better picture showing the orange soil:
Make up your own caption for this one. I'd like to think Jefferson and I are looking into the future to see our amazing experiment in democratic government come true. Notice "Jefferson's" red water bottle by his foot. It was nice of the tour guide to lend him some water.
Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 6/29/2010 10:30:00 PM
Today was another fascinating day at Montpelier! In the morning we heard a lecture by Will Harris about Madison's thinking and his reasons for designing the Constitution in the way that he did. He also showed us a way of examining the Declaration of Independence. Professor Harris developed a theory which explains that the Declaration of Independence has a "symmetrical" structure. Picture a diagram of 7 rectangles -- like a bar graph. The outside two are the tallest. Then moving inward, each gets shorter until the shortest one is in the middle. Hence, the most important parts of the Declaration of Independence are the beginning and the end. The beginning unanimously gives us the name "The united States of America" and the end lists the signers' names. Then, moving inward from each end, you have the "theory of Constitution-making" (Locke's social contract theory) and the end proclaims us as "free and independent states." The next parts going inward on either side are the "He has...He has...He has..." parts. Then the middle is the "For...For...For" part. This was a very unique way of teaching the Declaration of Independence!
One part of the lecture I found interesting was when Professor Harris explained how Thomas Jefferson's house was also symmetrical, except that it was tall in the middle and short on the ends. The Declaration of Independence goes down in the middle -- hence, it's not a very good "house." In other words, it presents a very negative picture of government and lists all of the injustices the colonies have suffered under the British government. I thought this was a clever analogy.
After lunch, we had a walking tour of archaeology at Montpelier. The tour was led by Mark A. Trickett, Field Director of James Madison's Montpelier. He took us around the property and showed us all the various locations where they had done excavations. Archaeology is very much like detective work. For example, in the pictures of Madison's house, you'll notice the curved fence in the front yard. The archaeologists had to figure out where the "post holes" had been -- where the white posts for each section of the fence had been placed. Architectural design at the time of James Madison recommended that such fences be placed the same distance in front of the house as is the width from front to back of the house. So the archaeologists measured out this distance and sure enough, they located the holes. How did they know these were the correct "post holes" 200 years later? Apparently, Madison had had his workmen "char" or burn the bottom ends of the fence posts. This would protect the wood from insects and decay. So the archaeologists found within the soil the remnants of this burned wood. Every seven feet, they dug a new excavation area and again found more charred wood remnants on the soil. When they finally inserted the new posts, they moved them 2 feet back so the original holes would not be disturbed.
One very interesting point that the Field Director explained was that they discovered the outlines of slave quarters behind the house. They had difficulty finding a lot of archaeological evidence about the slave quarters, so, for the time being, they marked off the rectangular buildings by putting a chemical on the grass to kill the grass. Hence, the dead grass formed the outline. From 2002-2009, they had restored Montpelier's mansion to the way it looked when James Madison was alive. They spent $25 million doing this restoration. One day, the Dead of Archaeology was showing descendants of Madison's slaves around the newly restored house and grounds. One of the descendants then said to the Director of Archaeology, "You spent 25 million dollars restoring James Madison's house, and you're marking the houses of my ancestors with dead grass?" This was like a punch in the stomach to the Director of Archaeology. So, since then, they have gotten a lot of grant money to fund many more archaeological excavations of the locations of the slave quarters.
After this tour, we heard a lecture by John Jeanes, the Director of Restoration at Montpelier. After Dolley Madison's death, Montpelier changed hands many times. Then, in 1901, it was bought by the duPont family (of paint and horse-racing fame). The duPonts changed Madison's 12,000 square foot house into a 36,000 square foot mansion. Marion duPont Scott, the last of the duPont family to live in the mansion, left a lot of money in her will for the house to be restored to the way it looked in Madison's time. In 2001, the Montpelier foundation finally got permission from the descendants of the duPont family to do this restoration. John Jeanes showed us fascinating pictures of how they figured out what the original house had looked like. For example, the pillars in the front of the house reached all the way to the ground in the duPont's time. By looking at illustrations from Madison's day, as well as at a drawing from a Civil War soldier, the restorers knew that Madison had made all the columns end evenly at the porch level. Another example is in an old photograph, they saw in the reflection of a mirror that there was a wall and a door on the other side of the room. This wall had been removed by the duPonts, so the restorers put it back. They also found "ghost" outlines indicating where molding had met the wall, and so they knew the shape of various "chair rails." I wish you could have seen the pictures from his presentation. The whole process was again very much like detective work! The restoration was just recently finished. I got to see the house in the summer of 2002 when it was still the pink stucco enormous mansion of the duPonts and they had just started tearing down the additions. I saw it again in the summer of 2008, and now I saw it this week when it had been finished. The whole process was painstaking and amazing.
This is the mansion the duPonts owned, before the restoration. Notice the pink stucco and how the columns go all the way to the ground. Also notice that the "wings" have a second floor, so there is no terrace on either side. (I didn't take this picture. This is from the web).
This is the much smaller Montpelier after it had been restored to what it looked like when James Madison lived there. I did take this picture today. Notice the columns, terraces, and white fence posts.
One last story about the archaeology and restoration. Yesterday, when we took a tour of the house, we saw what appeared to be "ink splots" on the floor of Madison's second floor library. This was the room in 1786-1787 where he did all his famous research about ancient civilizations and planned out his ideas for the Virginia Plan. The tour guide wasn't sure how exactly his desk was placed in the room. To me the ink splots seemed to be too close to the wall for a desk. So I asked the Director of Restoration about the ink splots He smiled and said that when they decided to restore the floor in that room, they didn't want to sand it and remove the ink splots or the original markings of furniture being dragged across the floor. So they got a company to use a chemical to "clean" the surface of the floor. This cleaning process kept the original markings intact. They then did a "spectral analysis" of the ink splots to determine if they were ink -- this involves using light and color. The tests came back negative -- this wasn't ink! When they asked the people who had done the chemical cleaning, they said the cleaning process with the chemicals would indeed prevent the spectral analysis from detecting that this was ink. So what they needed to do was actually take a small sample to to the lab to determine the composition. Currently, they haven't done that yet, but they intend to! So the Director thinks that the splots are indeed ink, but he's waiting for confirmation on this. Very exciting!
Oh, I did take a picture of the orange soil for you:
Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 6/28/2010 10:55:00 PM
This entry is going to have to be short because it's already very late. (Editing this entry later, I see it's not so short!) But I will start with the end of my day first since that part was the most exciting. I got to watch the sunset from James Madison's front porch! See the pictures below.
In Madison's day, the grounds would have never been as quiet and peaceful as I found them today. Five generations of slaves lived in quarters behind the house, and Madison always had visitors at Montpelier. However, he would have viewed the sunset from the same place I was standing. The other teachers in the program and I sat on the steps until the sun went down and it began to drizzle. The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains slowly disappeared with the setting sun. You can see in the pictures the line of the Blue Ridge Mountains just above the distant tree line -- the mountains really do look blue!
Today at breakfast, Professor Ketcham sat at my table and I got to talk to him. I asked him so many questions he really didn't get to each much of his breakfast! I felt bad, but he told me a story about how FDR's father brought so many interesting guests to the dinner table, FDR often didn't remember what he had eaten. Professor Ketcham said, "I'd rather talk than eat!" I thought that was extremely nice!
His lecture today was on Madison's version of the first amendment. Madison's wording was much more specific than what ended up in the final Constitution. What is interesting about his wording is that he included words that not only protected people's rights, but that promoted good citizenship. For example, his version of "freedom of speech and freedom of the press" reads, "The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable." Madison not only wrote that people should have freedom of the press, he explained WHY they should have it -- it is "one of the great bulwarks of liberty." Madison believed that the ability to speak, write, and publish one's ideas was part of good citizenship. A "free press" is a bulwark of liberty because it is a "positive liberty" -- the liberty to take part in something. Having freedom of the press is a "bulwark" of the capacity to engage in the political process. Hence, Madison believed that having freedom of the press would not only protect people's rights, but would allow people to be good citizens. When Gouverneur Morris simplified Madison's wording, he did not intend to change the meaning of what Madison originally wrote. Thus, inherent in our first amendment is a call to practice the freedoms that promote good citizenship.
Before lunch we took a tour of the Mansion! See the picture of the outside of the house below (I'll try to get a better picture tomorrow) as well as the daytime view from the front of the house and the view from the balcony on one of the wings. In the distance, you can see the horse racing track the duPont family installed when they took over Montpelier in 1901.
In the afternoon, we heard a wonderful lecture by Sue Leeson, retired Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court and Professor of Political Theory at Willamette University. She told us about a terrific website that presents the Constitutional Convention as a drama: teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/intro.html Throughout the lecture, Judge Leeson made the story of the Constitutional Convention exciting. I am definitely going to use more of Madison's actual primary source notes when I teach the Constitutional Convention next school year. Judge Leeson explained how Madison's original vision of the Constitution in the Virginia Plan was radically different from the Constitution on which the delegates finally agreed. For example, Madison's version of the Constitution would have called for the government to essentially be only a legislative branch, with the executive and judicial branches being far less important than the Congress. When Madison saw his hard work (he studied ancient constitutions and civilizations for over a year in preparation for the Convention) attacked from every side, he had to change his strategy and give up almost half of what he wanted. Out of 70 proposals, he only won 29. What is amazing is that he not only persevered, but that he eventually helped write the Federalist Papers to try to convince the states to adopt a Constitution which he believed was far inferior to the original vision of the national government he had designed in the Virginia Plan. He was both a "Drafter" of the original blueprint and a "Designer" of what the Constitution ended up becoming. Hence, he is known as the "Father of the Constitution."
In the afternoon, we had a discussion section where we examined Madison's "Vices of the Political System of the United States," and worked in groups to see if we could see where Madison had fixed or addressed these Vices in the Virginia Plan. Then after dinner we heard a fabulous lecture by Beth Taylor, who used to be the Education Coordinator at Montpelier and is now an independent scholar. She told us the story of Paul Jennings, one of Madison's most trusted slaves. She is almost done writing a book about the life of Paul Jennings and I can't wait to buy it when it's published. I sat rapt as she wove the amazing story of his life and showed us fascinating pictures on a PowerPoint. Paul Jennings's life was the story of the "pursuit to rise." Dolley Madison broke her promise to free him after James Madison's death. Daniel Webster paid the purchase price for his freedom. Jennings also played a role in leading 70 of George Washington's slaves to freedom. He also lived in an integrated community in Washington, DC.
Paul Jennings was with James Madison when he died. TODAY, June 28, is actually the 174th anniversary of James Madison's death. Today, when I toured the house, I was in the very room in which he died 174 years ago. He died in 1836 at the age of 85. If he had hung on for 6 more days and died on July 4th, he would have shared a July 4th death date with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. But Madison was young at the time of the Declaration of Independence, so I think the Constitution was more important to him than the Declaration and July 4th. Sadly but interestingly enough, Senator Robert Byrd also died this morning, June 28th. Senator Byrd was the longest serving Senator in U.S. history. He was elected for a record 9 terms (remember Senators' term lengths are 6 years long!!). Senator Byrd also played a key role in establishing Constitution Day on September 17th every year. He was a big supporter of educating citizens about the Constitution. Beth Taylor, who lectured about Paul Jennings, said that had he known he was going to die today, she thinks Robert Byrd would have gotten a kick out of dying on the same day as James Madison, Father of the Constitution.
Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 6/27/2010 10:00:00 PM
I am now at Montpelier! It has been a very long day, but I wanted to be sure to write a short blog entry so you (my students) can stay up-to-date with what I've already begun learning here. My drive down to Virginia from Pittsburgh was long, but easy. On the way I passed two roads named "Lover's Lane" and "Dirt Road" (I'm not making this up!). I thought you'd find that funny. The whole drive down I had bright, sunny weather. Literally, the moment I turned into the drive of Montpelier, the rain began and a huge summer downpour commenced. Before the rain, it was 96 degrees outside and then the rain brought the temperature down into the 80s. Montpelier, the name of James Madison's house and estate, is located in Orange County, Virginia. Orange County was named after Prince William III of Orange, a famous Protestant King of Great Britain and Ireland. However, the name is quite appropriate because the soil here has a distinctly bright orange color (almost like the color of rust, but bright orange). I'll try to take a picture of it to show you tomorrow if it's sunny. After dinner, we heard two short lectures - one by Will Harris, who is the Founding Director and Principal Scholar of the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier. The other lecture was by Ralph Ketcham, Professor Emeritus (meaning he's retired) of Syracuse University and author of a 600 page biography of James Madison that we were supposed to read before we got here. Let's just say, I did my best, but I have a bit more to read. The lectures were very interesting. Professor Ketcham discussed James Madison's intellectual and political preparation. Madison was fortunate enough to study under John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton. Back then, you had to know Latin and Greek fluently in order to get into college! When Madison arrived, he took the freshman year exam immediately and passed it, so he actually started as a sophomore. While at Princeton, Madison studied the history of lots of ancient civilizations and read the works of many classic and modern philosophers. He was such a dedicated student, he actually made himself physically ill by studying so much. He often got only 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Madison's knowledge of ancient civilizations and forms of government served him well when he was preparing for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. You should remember from what I taught you that the Articles of Confederation wasn't working. Right before the Constitutional Convention, Madison wrote a very famous essay. In it, he lists and explains all of the problems the new country was having. He also analyzed what he learned from studying ancient and modern civilizations and forms of government. Madison believed in an idea of Aristotle's that governments can be ruled by one person, by a few people, or by many people. All of these forms of government can be good governments or bad governments - that is, they can be serving the public good and not be corrupt, or they can be corrupt, selfish, and partisan. Madison called his essay "The Vices of the Political System of the United States." "Vices" are bad things in a person's character -- in this case, the character of the government (especially the various state governments) of the United States. He referred to the political "system" because he believed that the Articles of Confederation and the Constitutions of each of the states were supposed to work together. In his essay, he explains all of the problems with the Articles of Confederation, but most significantly, he explains the problems with the state governments. The "political system" could only work well if the state governments were good too. Madison wrote that the failure of the state governments to function successfully calls into question the "fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such governments, are the safest Guardians of both the public Good and of private rights." In other words, if the political system collapses and the new country fails, that would
mean that the idea of rule by the people -- by the consent of the
governed -- would fail. Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to more interesting lectures (yes, your teacher is a big civics geek -- just like James Madison! ..... hmmmm). We're also going to get a tour of his house. I am really looking forward to this tour because I saw the house in 2002, before the restoration. I also saw the house in 2008, during the restoration. The restoration (to what the house looked like when James Madison owned it) is now complete, so I'll be able to see the finished product while still having a picture in my mind of what it looked like before! We can't take pictures inside the house, unfortunately, but I'll definitely take a picture of the outside of the house and post it in my next blog!
Posted by JENNIFER MITNICK at 6/20/2010 10:00:00 PM
In one week, I will get to visit James Madison's house, Montpelier, as part of a week-long teacher workshop sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. James Madison was the genius behind the design of our Constitution, so there isn't a more perfect place for a Civics teacher to visit. At the workshop, which will run from June 27 through July 2, I will learn about the Constitution through the lens of James Madison's life, as well as about the archaeological restoration of his house. I won't get to actually sleep in his house, but I will be staying in one of the other small houses on his property. I have two books to read before I go and I can't wait! Check back in one week for more information about my first day there!