James Madison was a “law student or demi-lawyer,” Mary Sarah Bilder writes, with misgivings about his own role in the lawyers' world that he helped bring into being under the new federal Constitution. If Madison was the Constitution's “father,” his offspring seemed somewhat misbegotten. Structurally and ideologically the new regime was “federalist,” Alison LaCroix explains, with courts and lawyers “mediating among multiple levels of government” that retained a significant degree of separation and autonomy. But this was just what Madison had hoped to avoid. The demi-lawyer instead pushed hard for a “republican remedy” for the Confederation's pathologies, a structural solution to the centrifugal tendencies that jeopardized union and republican government. His proposed federal veto and council of revision would have constituted a “republican prerogative, via Congress” to check recalcitrant state legislatures. In effect, LaCroix concludes, Madison “envisioned the legislatures”—state and federal—“operating almost as a single system—a compound legislature comprising inferior and superior bodies.” Convinced by deep study and hard experience that federations must fail, the Madison who promoted the Virginia Plan was an ultranationalist, or anti-federalist.
Peter S. Onuf is a Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia <firstname.lastname@example.org>.