Hadley Nagel: Why we should remember Madison's presidency's bicentennialRoundup: Talking About History
While Americans are focused on the 2008 Presidential election, it is important to note that this year also marks the bicentennial of James Madison's election as the fourth President of the United States of America. There are interesting parallels between the two events: national security is an issue of paramount import to this election, and our country was invaded in 1812 while Madison was president. As we compare partisan tickets and the qualifications of running mates, it is worth noting that it was in 1808 when a President and Vice President ran on the same ticket for the first time in our new nation.
We all learned in U.S. History class that it was James Madison who worked tirelessly for the ratification of the Constitution and wrote a third of "The Federalist Papers." His proposed amendments to the Constitution, created to appease the Federalists into ratifying the Constitution, became the Bill of Rights, the document that guarantees freedoms for every American. Madison was also largely responsible for creating the format of our national government -- the three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial – that serve as our cherished checks and balances.
Shockingly, we have paid little homage to Madison as a people. There is no federal monument to our nation's fourth President. Congressman Hill of Indiana has sought to correct that oversight by introducing the H.R. 3640, which asks for a federally funded monument to honor James Madison and his work as the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are no other agendas attached to this bill, and yet, after one year, it has still not been ratified. Further, a similar bill must also be introduced in the Senate for it to become law and to this date it has not been introduced.
Other small steps, however, have been taken toward acknowledging James Madison's contributions to our nation's history. Since 2004, September 17 has been dubbed Constitution Day, a federal holiday that recognizes the ratification of the United States Constitution. Any school receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education must implement an educational program on this day.
This year's Constitution Day is coupled with a momentous event – the grand reopening of James Madison's home, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia. Years have been spent restoring what became a pink stucco Du Pont estate to the way it looked during James Madison's time. It is a remarkable undertaking, and this year's celebration will include John G. Roberts, Jr. (Chief Justice of the United States). And on October 2, historians Joseph J. Ellis and Sean Wilentz will lead a panel discussion, moderated by Benno Schmidt, on James Madison at the New York Historical Society.
These people understand Madison's brilliance and his seminal role in shaping this nation. Before serving as President, Madison was Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, and before that he served as a U.S. Congressman. In his home state of Virginia, he was a representative in the state legislation, where he drafted the Virginia Plan, which set forth the idea of a population-weighted representation, the basis of Congress (a bi-cameral legislation), and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which disclaimed any power of state compulsion in religious matters.
So, on this September 17, when we are celebrating Constitution Day and enjoying our freedoms, let's remember James Madison. I ask that you take the step and contact your congressperson to demand the passage of H.R. 3640. All you have to do is go to www.americansformadison.org and click!
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