The historian Irving Brant, who wrote a six-volume biography of James Madison, once complained about his subject’s modest place in America’s historical memory. “Among all the men who shaped the present government of the United States of America, the one who did the most is known the least.” In a modest effort to redress this Madisonian neglect, here are five things we should all know about America’s fourth president.
Americans more often than not discuss the meaning of the Constitution through the lens of Supreme Court decisions and the famous Federalist essays of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. That is only part of the story, and in the case of the Supreme Court, a subjective and politically tainted chapter.
First, there was the Halifax Resolves. Then there was the Declaration of Independence.
Over the past year and a half, I have been traveling across North Carolina with my colleague Michael Sanera leading constitutional workshops. In them, we emphasize the federal nature of the American government and remind Tar Heels that knowledge of history is essential to understanding original intent and the Constitution’s meaning. The question-and-answer sessions are interesting, so I thought I’d share some of the oft- repeated questions with readers.
North Carolinians’ skeptical approach to government power helped pave the way for a U.S. Bill of Rights.
A Revolutionary War Patriot, North Carolina Governor, and U.S. Congressman, Williams used a middle-of-the-road strategy to achieve political success with Federalists and Republicans while serving as Governor.
The Judge presiding over the landmark case Bayard v. Singleton (1785), Ashe served three one-year terms as Governor and was an ardent Federalist at the beginning of his term. He soon supported state’s rights and Jeffersonian ideals.
In 1827, Iredell became the twenty-third governor of North Carolina but resigned a year later to fill the North Carolina Senate seat vacated by Nathaniel Macon. Although Iredell relayed the importance of improved roads and waterways during his administration, he led North Carolina when the state’s finances were meager and insufficient for one with visions of implementing internal improvement plans.
On November 8, 1787 in Edenton at the Chowan County Courthouse, Hugh Williamson called for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In February 1788, his speech was published in the New York Daily Advertiser and later in other publications, including Pennsylvania Packet, Charleston Columbian Herald, and Philadelphia American Museum.
A New Bern native and father of North Carolina Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., Spaight was a leading Federalist delegate to the Constitutional Convention and governor of North Carolina from 1792 to 1795. He later allied with Jeffersonian Republicanism after disagreeing with Federalist support for the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798).