Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – James Madison and the Making of America is out in paperback today. The author, of course, the one and only Kevin Gutzman, is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Mike: James Madison and the Making of America is out in paperback today. The author, of course, the one and only Kevin Gutzman, is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Kevin, just talking about the setup there for how the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions may have come about, there was a lot of secrecy there, obviously because of the sedition law. We don’t know everything. Does it ever occur to you that with John Taylor of Caroline being involved in that as a famous Virginian, Thomas Jefferson then vice president being involved in it, James Madison being involved in it — we know those two were. Of course, Taylor was chosen to push it through the Virginia Assembly at the time. Does it ever occur to you what Taylor must have been thinking 20 or 30 years later when some of the notes from the convention, Judge Yates’ notes from the Federal Convention get published by his widow and then he learns that Madison was the culprit in much of what Taylor has come to despise?
Kevin Gutzman: Taylor actually wrote at one point to Wilson Cary Nicholas, who was another prominent Virginia politician, and ultimately an in-law of Jefferson’s, and whose bankruptcy ended up driving Jefferson into bankruptcy after the two of them were through with politics. Taylor wrote to Nicholas that he had been reading a book called The Federalist and he really would like an explanation of several things it said. Of course, at the time people did not know which essays in The Federalist had been written by Hamilton and which ones had been written by Madison. I think you can see a notable distinction between the two sets of essays. Hamilton’s emphasize the idea that the government is sovereign, that there’s going to be a lot of play in the joints of the new constitution. Madison, for his part, is more concerned with representation, with the principle of federalism and those kinds of things.
It’s true that when Yates’ notes came out, it was more or less the same time the journal of the convention came out. Taylor wrote a classic book called New Views of the Constitution of the United States exploring what had really happened in the Philadelphia Convention. It’s an outstanding book; although anytime you read Taylor, you have to remember what John Randolph of Roanoke, a friend of his and ideological soul mate of his once said about one of his books, which is: It was a fabulous book; it will be even better once it’s translated into English.
Gutzman: Taylor was prone to go off on verbal tangents. You have to wade through some of what he was saying. He was extremely insightful and I highly recommend. Basically anything Taylor wrote you can find it for next to nothing on Amazon.com.
Mike: He is really hard to read. He repeats himself a lot, too. You’ll run into the same phrases and points over and over. All right, John, I get it, let’s move on. Speaking of moving on, this is a subject that never comes up here when it has anything to do with James Madison, and I want to get into it with you today, sir. It’s going to be all the rage tomorrow afternoon and maybe the rest of the week. Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, is said to give a speech at the Heritage Foundation covering a constitutional view of foreign policy for the United States.
James Madison, having served under Thomas Jefferson, I believe, as Secretary of State, then having served two terms as president, knew a little bit about foreign policy but apparently not enough, or didn’t pay enough attention to it. In your book James Madison and the Making of America, you’re actually pretty critical of Madison and his foreign policy failings or shortcomings. Number one, what were those shortcomings? Number two, what would you look for in Rand’s speech tomorrow if he’s going to make the title come true?
Gutzman: The first thing about Madison, I always tell students in my Introductory American History class that when George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States. The chief factor he was going to have to deal with was the foreign policy situation. Almost at the same time was the beginning of the French Revolution. Ultimately the French Revolution was going to mean a quarter of a century of world war. Madison and Jefferson stood to the idea that the U.S. could essentially be a neutral bystander and it could hope to use economic coercion to force the two main powers in the war, Britain and France, just to play nice. This idea of a pacifist approach to the European great powers was implemented by Jefferson and Madison. It was a complete flop.
What they eventually decided had to happen was the War of 1812. Of course, I show in the book the War of 1812 was conducted as incompetently as possible by Madison and his generals. Of course, Madison also appointed two people to the military positions in the cabinet, what were then separate positions of War Secretary and Navy Secretary, who were completely unfitted for the position. Neither one of them had what anybody would consider any serious qualifications for either one of those jobs. Madison ended up going directly to the generals from time to time. The strategy that was adopted in the War of 1812 was entirely inappropriate. Basically the War of 1812 was a gigantic debacle. It didn’t cost America a lot of territory only because the British decided taking American territory wouldn’t be worth the effort. I’m critical. I don’t know how I could be any more critical. The foreign policy that Madison and Jefferson followed was a disaster.
On the other hand, that’s not to say that you can’t pick anything constructive out of it. Today we don’t have a world war. We’re not facing a situation in which there are two great powers, each of them hostile or at least prone to transgress our rights. The underlying principle of the Jeffersonian revolution of 1800, that we should only have the military that we need to protect ourselves, I think, could be applied today. In fact, we haven’t ever really recalibrated our foreign policy commitments since the end of the Cold War. We still have alliances throughout Asia and across Europe that were devised to tame the Soviet Union, which, last time I checked, ceased to exist more than 20 years ago. Today, of course, we have a commitment to go to nuclear war with Russia in case Russia invades Latvia. To me, that’s complete and utter nonsense. There ought to be a reconsideration of our posture in every region of the world.
I hope that Rand Paul will lay out a more realistic set of commitments that they would adopt that have something to do not only with somebody’s abstract idea of what it would take to be the world’s policemen, but with some hard-headed idea of what we can afford and what we actually need. I don’t think we need 28,000 men on Okinawa. I don’t think we need an army in Germany. What’s it for, to protect Germans against the Russians, to protect the French against the Germans? It’s just there by inertia, that’s my reading of it. I don’t think we need an army in South Korea because North Korea is absolutely no threat to South Korea.
I’m hopeful about Rand Paul calling for a significant retrenchment of American, not only force structure but also diplomatic engagements. I think he can do it. Although, the fact that he’s giving his talk at the Heritage Foundation is not too hopeful. I guess one can dream of the new chief fellow at Heritage having different attitude about these things than Ed Feulner did. I guess actually both in regards to Rand and in regard to the future of Heritage under Senator DeMint, this will be a very interesting speech.
Mike: Yes, I will be watching with great anticipation. Kevin Gutzman, author of James Madison and the Making of America, it’s out in paperback today. You can find it on my website in the Founders Tradin’ Post. In the little of time we have left, one more question on foreign policy. I’m reading as much of a complete history of the creation of and the situations that were responsible for what we know today as the Monroe Doctrine. There is a pamphlet that was written in 1838 by the grandson of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams. Francis says: Wait a minute, Monroe is getting all the credit, but it’s my dad who did all the work. Is it his brother? I didn’t bother to look up that part of the family tree but I do know the author. John Quincy Adams did all the work.
As I’m reading this, I’m coming across letters that President Monroe wrote to Madison. Jefferson wrote a very famous letter right back to James Monroe saying he thought we ought to make an alliance with the Brits and do everything we can possibly do with them except support her in her wars. Madison was deferred to, as was Jefferson, by President Monroe in forming the Monroe Doctrine, wasn’t he?
Gutzman: Sure, yes. Monroe took advice from many people in that regard, but Charles Francis Adams, who was John Quincy’s son, was exactly right, that the Monroe Doctrine was mainly the concoction of John Quincy Adams, although, of course, ultimately it’s the president who’s responsible for choosing the Secretary of State and then deciding that he’ll adopt his policy recommendation. It is rightly called the Monroe Doctrine. You’re right, even in retirement, Madison continued to be looked to by leading Republicans, including President Adams, as a kind of font of wisdom on all kinds of questions. He was perfectly happy to play that role.
Mike: He did so with the Monroe Doctrine. Let’s go to the phones. Bill is in Illinois. Bill, you have a question for Professor Gutzman. How are you?
Caller Bill: I’m doing well, Mike. I always enjoy it when you two gentlemen get together and talk history like this. I’m just curious, I do not know the answer to this but I’m assuming that Patrick Henry was a little older than Madison. They were obviously, at least from what I know, diametrically opposed as far as the strength of the federal government. Did Madison, in his later years, tend to soften his attitude about a strong federal government?
Gutzman: Madison remained devoted to the notion that in the areas which the federal government was supposed to have authority, it had supreme authority. The difference between the parties in Madison’s day was over the question of exactly how many areas the federal government was supposed to have control over. Of course, Madison and the other Jeffersonians took the position that the powers of the federal government were enumerated and you didn’t just read the Necessary and Proper Clause or General Welfare Clause as a catchall grant of any kind of power that came to mind as the Federalists, especially Hamilton but also Wilson, Morris and others, read it. Sure, to the end of his life, Madison did think that the federal government had paramount authority within the political system over the questions that had been delegated to it.
Notice I’m not saying, though, that the federal government was sovereign, as Taylor points out in that book that Mike and I were talking about earlier, New Views of the Constitution of the United States. As he pointed out in correspondence with John Adams in his old age, in the American system, it’s not the government that’s sovereign, it’s the people who are sovereign. Ultimate authority is always in the people. You wouldn’t use the confusing federalist language of some parts of sovereignty were given to this government and some sovereignty was given to that government. This was all just confusion that tended to lead us astray in regard to the question of how much power the government has. Madison certainly thought the federal government’s powers were enumerated but they were supreme.
Caller Bill: Would I be wrong in assuming that Patrick Henry and James Madison would not have gotten along if they knew each other that well?
Mike: Oh, they did and they did not.
Gutzman: Yeah, they did know each other and they did not get along. In fact, in Virginia politics — I explore this question in one of my other books, Virginia’s American Revolution. Whenever Henry and Madison were at loggerheads in the Virginia General Assembly, Henry won. In fact, there were a whole number of things that Madison wanted the government to do that Henry prevented it from doing. At one point, frustrated with this tendency, Jefferson wrote a letter and said: I guess the only thing we can do is pray for his death. They realized they weren’t going to get the better of Patrick Henry, the supreme politician in Virginia. Madison was about 20 years younger than Patrick Henry.
Caller Bill: I assume they parted ways as respecting one another and really never agreed on much of anything?
Gutzman: Actually, before the Philadelphia Convention, Henry had favored the idea of a stronger central government. What happened was there was a move in the Confederation Congress to empower America’s foreign secretary John Jay to negotiate American access to the Mississippi River. Once Patrick Henry discovered that this was being considered in Congress, he decided he no longer favored significantly empowering Congress because he thought this meant that Congress was willing to barter away Southern rights. It was mainly Southerners who were using the Mississippi as a mode of transit down to the Gulf of Mexico for exporting agricultural goods. At that point, Henry became, instead of a supporter of constitutional reform, an opponent of it, and especially thought that what had happened at the Philadelphia Convention had gone beyond what the states had intended to empower the delegates to do. It wasn’t that they were always at loggerheads, but they were often at loggerheads.
Mike: In my little audio series Fame of Our Fathers, I cover this. This was a very interesting epic in history not very well known, the John Jay / Don Diego de Gardoqui intrigue is what it was called. Guess who was at the center of it? President James Monroe. It was Monroe who was the member of the Confederation Congress that got wind of this and started writing letters to Henry going: Dude, do you know this is going on? Of course Henry was losing it over this. As Kevin says, that was pretty much the end of his flirtation with what would become Washington, DC having any say so over what the people of Virginia were going to have to live under.
Kevin, that’s about all the time we have. I appreciate you being with us. Just as a footnote, ladies and gentlemen, even though he did not win, Dr. Gutzman was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the James Madison and the Making of America. Congratulations on that score.
Gutzman: Thank you very much.
End Mike Church Show Transcript