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Lance Banning
Lance Banning
The Sacred Fire of Liberty
ISBN: 0801431522
The Sacred Fire of Liberty
Professor Banning discussed his book, The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic, published by Cornell University Press. The book is a biography of President James Madison from 1780, when he entered the federation Congress at age 29, through the end of 1792.
The Sacred Fire of Liberty
Program Air Date: February 11, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lance Banning, author of "The Sacred Fire of Liberty." What's your favorite thing about James Madison?
Mr. LANCE BANNING, AUTHOR, "THE SACRED FIRE OF LIBERTY": Lots of favorite things about Madison, I guess. Maybe most of all, his moral earnestness, as well as his intellect. He was a man who cared deeply and worried about principal things.
LAMB: Can you remember when you first ever heard of him?
Mr. BANNING: Well, I suppose that would be way back in high school or grade school. But I got seriously interested in him when I did my first book on "The Jeffersonian Persuasion," which was on the thinking of the first Republican Party, Jefferson's party. Madison was, essentially, co-founder of that. I got interested in him and I wanted to see if the sort of grand generalizations that I'd drawn in "The Jeffersonian Persuasion" would work out in detail if you tried to apply them to a particular man.
LAMB: What's the time frame for this book?
Mr. BANNING: This book runs from 1780, when Madison, as a young man of 29, entered the Confederation Congress, through, basically, the end of 1792, at which point, along with Jefferson, he was in the process of creating an opposition party. And, therefore, it covers what you might say are the main events of the American founding, the background and framing of the Constitution, the ratification of the Constitution, Madison's central part in framing the Bill of Rights and--and then the--the split within the leadership that had created the Constitution and led to the first political parties.
LAMB: Define some of these terms. What's a Confederation Congress?
Mr. BANNING: Well, the Confederation Congress, or Continental Congress, as it was known e--even earlier, was the central governing agency, insofar as there was really a governing agency in the years before the federal Constitution replaced the old Articles of Confederation, which sometimes are called the first American Constitution.
LAMB: Where'd they meet?
Mr. BANNING: During Madison's tenure in Philadelphia. Later on, they moved around to various places and ended up in New York, as the Constitution was going into effect.
LAMB: How many members did it have?
Mr. BANNING: It varied. Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no set number of delegates that a state would send. Every state had one vote. And they could send a delegation of five or six members or they could send a delegation of a couple.
LAMB: How many states were there?
Mr. BANNING: Thirteen.
LAMB: And...
Mr. BANNING: Vermont thought there were 14.
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
Mr. BANNING: Well, Vermont was--it e--effectively ran itself as an independent state, but it was claimed by New York and to a degree, also, by New Hampshire.
LAMB: What was this country like in 1780? How many people lived here?
Mr. BANNING: Be about, I think, two and a half million or thereabouts. And, of course, in 1780 it was still in the midst of the Revolutionary War.
LAMB: So there's fighting going on.
Mr. BANNING: There's fighting going on. In fact, these are the darkest--1780 and early 1781 are the darkest days of the War for Independence, which is important because Madison happened to enter onto the national stage at that point, and would never really forget the desperation of those times. These are months when the British are invading the South. They capture Charleston in South Carolina, and with it, America suffers the biggest military defeat of the war. Lost an entire army in Charleston. The British then overran South Carolina and moved into North Carolina and, ultimately, on toward Virginia.
LAMB: What were they fighting for then?
Mr. BANNING: What were the Americans fighting for.
LAMB: Well, you know, what was the fight over--about in 1780?
Mr. BANNING: Well, by 1780, it's still a fight over whether America's going to be independent of Great Britain or not, still the War for Independence.
LAMB: Where is James Madison living in those days? He's 29 years old, from what state?
Mr. BANNING: From Virginia.
LAMB: Where?
Mr. BANNING: Well, his home was in the Virginia Piedmont in Orange County, near what now is Orange, Virginia, not too far from Charlottesville.
LAMB: Which is about an hour and a half from here.
Mr. BANNING: At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
LAMB: About an hour and a half from here.
Mr. BANNING: Yeah.
LAMB: What kind of a family was he from?
Mr. BANNING: His father was Orange County's leading planter, probably the largest landowner in the county. He was also a justice of the peace, a vestryman of the Anglican church and the head of the county militia.
LAMB: How did he get elected to go to the Confederation Congress, or the Continental Congress?
Mr. BANNING: All delegates get chosen to that by their state legislatures. So he was chosen by the Virginia state Legislature, in which he had served briefly, and he had also served on the Council of State, which was a--an advisory body to the governor.
LAMB: How big was Virginia in relationship to the other 13 states?
Mr. BANNING: Very big, indeed. At this point, Virginia still includes not only West Virginia, but also Kentucky, and, therefore, is just about one-fifth of the national territory in the United States.
LAMB: Where are you from?
Mr. BANNING: I'm originally from Kansas City, but I have been living in Kentucky for so long that I have picked up the accent and feel like a native Kentuckian.
LAMB: Where do you live in Kentucky?
Mr. BANNING: In Lexington.
LAMB: What do you do?
Mr. BANNING: I'm a professor at the University of Kentucky.
LAMB: What do you teach?
Mr. BANNING: Well, a variety of American history courses, but principally, courses in the Revolution and the early American Republic.
LAMB: Where did you get your degrees from?
Mr. BANNING: Did my undergraduate degree at what's now the University of Missouri at Kansas City. It was the University of Kansas City, a private school, when I started out there and then went on to Washington University in St. Louis for my MA and PhD.
LAMB: And what was the PhD in?
Mr. BANNING: It was in American history.
LAMB: Thomas Jefferson was your first book. How did you get interested in him?
Mr. BANNING: Well, not so much Jefferson himself, actually. It's called "The Jeffersonian Persuasion," and it's really on the political thinking of Jefferson's party. Jefferson, obviously, is central to that, and so is Madison. They're--they really are co-founders, co-creators of that party.
LAMB: How--what--i--if--i--if James Madison was 29 in 1780, how old was Thomas Jefferson?
Mr. BANNING: Jefferson was eight years older. So then...
LAMB: Were they friends?
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, they were already friends by that time and they--Madison had served under Jefferson, when Jefferson was governor of Virginia, on the Virginia Council of State. They had already become friends and their friendship would seal into, really, the closest personal and political alliance in all of American history in about 1783.
LAMB: What did they--the two of them look like? Size?
Mr. BANNING: Well, they're--yeah, they're very different in--in point of size. Jefferson was a tall fellow, 6'2", I think. Maybe a little taller tha--than that. Maybe as much as 6'4". Madison was quite slight. Madison was about 5'6". And, very often, comments are made on the difference in stature between him and many of the other great Virginia founders--Washington, Jefferson, Monroe--these guys were all--would have been very good size men for our day, and were nearly giants for theirs.
LAMB: W--what would they sound like, do you think, Jefferson and Madison?
Mr. BANNING: You know, we really--we really don't know the answer to that. I don't know what their accent would have sounded like, for example.
LAMB: How did they meet?
Mr. BANNING: They met, actually--Jefferson was in Congress, writing the Declaration of Independence, actually, when Madison first became a member of the Virginia Legislature in 1776. Jefferson then came back from Congress in 1777, went back into the Virginia Legislature, and it's at that point that they meet. Although, at that point, there's an--there's an enormous distance between them, in a sense, that Jefferson is already a senior, very respected statesman and all that, and Madison is a young fellow, just starting out. And they--they get involved closely with one another, basically, because they're both great advocates of religious liberty and Jefferson--I mean, Madison is a strong supporter of Jefferson's program to extend religious liberty in Virginia.
LAMB: Did James Madison have brothers and sisters?
Mr. BANNING: Yes. I forget how many. Quite a number. He was the eldest child and the eldest son of that family. But he has numerous brothers and sisters who range from his age--well, down, really, basically, to grade-school-age children, who he tutored when he came home from the College of the--of New Jersey, which is now Princeton.
LAMB: Why did he go to Princeton?
Mr. BANNING: Mainly, for educational reasons. It's prob--it was probably the best place on the continent to get an education at that particular moment in the 1760s when he--late 1760s when he went off to college. Partly, also, because it was considered that the moral and maybe even the political climate at Princeton was a better one than would have been the case in Virginia.
LAMB: You say that he studied both the Bible and Hebrew at Princeton. Why would he study Hebrew?
Mr. BANNING: It's entirely conceivable that he may have been giving some thought to becoming a minister at that point. That's not entirely clear. He could conceivably had s--have studied it simply because he was interested in it and in religion in a deep kind of way. But he might conceivably have been giving some thought to becoming a minister.
LAMB: You know, there in the cemetery in Princeton is John Witherspoon and Aaron Burr Sr. and Jr. Why would all those people be buried there at Princeton, and what--and what was the relationship between John Witherspoon and--and James Madison?
Mr. BANNING: Witherspoon was president of Princeton, and, therefore, a successor to Aaron Burr Sr. Withersto--Witherspoon was president of Princeton at the time that Madison went there and Madison also stayed for an extra summer, essentially, after he graduated, and studied directly with--studied Hebrew, the Bible and things like that with Witherspoon. And then later on, Witherspoon became an important politician, as well as a--as well as president of Princeton, and they ended up serving together in the Confederation Congress and later on.
LAMB: Where did you get the name "The Sacred Fire of Liberty"?
Mr. BANNING: That comes from a phrase in Washington's first inaugural address, which Madison drafted for him. "The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the Republican model of government is justly considered as deeply"--What is it?--"deeply perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the American people."
LAMB: James Madison wrote the first inaugural address?
Mr. BANNING: He drafted it, yeah.
LAMB: How do you know that?
Mr. BANNING: Well, actually, we have copies of these things in his original hand, and we have correspondence between him and George Washington that clues us into that.
LAMB: What was his...
Mr. BANNING: It's an interesting thing. He not only wrote Washington's inaugural address; he wrote the House of Representatives' reply to that address; he wrote the president's reply to the House of Representatives' reply. And then for good measure, he wrote the president's reply to the Senate's response to the inaugural address as well.
LAMB: When did he admit that?
Mr. BANNING: I don't know that he ever, in fact, even mentioned that, but we do do--we do know it as a historical fact. We have the drafts of--of these things.
LAMB: Now how--how did you go about finding out all this? I mean, what was your--what was your course of research? Where do you go when you want to study Madison?
Mr. BANNING: Well, with Madison, this is very easy--or at least with Madison in--in the period that--that I talk about in the book, because we have a great modern comprehensive edition of the papers of James Madison which includes everything that has been recovered from anywhere that he ever wrote and many of the things that were written to him. So the heart of the research for this book can simply be done by turning to volume one of the papers of James Madison and proceeding through the rest of the volumes. It's up to about 20 volumes at this point, and many, many more to go before they complete the whole of his life.
LAMB: Who's worrying about those volumes? Where--where's the center of Madison study? In other words, who's responsible for...
Mr. BANNING: Well, the papers of James Madison are located at the University of Virginia, and the editorship is under a good Madison scholar, whose name is J.C.A. Stagg. But there's no--it's like a lot of other things in the country these days; there's no particular center of Madison scholarship, because we do have these--these great letterpress editions. Madison can be studied by anybody who wants to study him, nearly anywhere that's got a good library. And there are, in fact, great Madison scholars scattered all over the country.
LAMB: Now you've got a 402-page book here plus 100--I wrote this down--103 pages of source notes.
LAMB: Who are you--who are you writing for when you wrote this book?
Mr. BANNING: Well, that--that was one of the tricks in writing the book, probably one of the reasons it took me so very long to do it.
LAMB: How long?
Mr. BANNING: Well, Madison has been my major project, not that I haven't entirely done anything else, but he has been my major project since 1978. And a whole lot of that time was spent in the actual writing of the book. One of the reasons for that is it does try to reach various aud--audiences. It has those 102 pages of footnotes in a very sizeable part, because it's meant to be a--a serious contribution to the historical and political science literature on James Madison. It does offer a somewhat different interpretation. But the body of th--of the book is meant to be--I hope it is--accessible to any--anyone who would want to read it. It's not easygoing, but I would hope that it's written in such a way that it's not impossible for any intelligent reader, any interested citizen who would want to do it.
LAMB: But--but as somebody in your position, written a couple of books and teach history, where--who's the person that comes along and says, `This is a great book,' and you say, `That made my day. It made my year. It was all worth it'?
LAMB: I mean, what if...
Mr. BANNING: Could--true--truly, this--truly, it could be any number of people. It could be a student. That would make my day. It can be a reviewer in--in a newspaper. And, of course, it can be another scholar. I care about all these kinds of audiences, and any one of those people who would say that, it would make my day.
LAMB: As you sit there and compose this book since 1978, who do you think about that would say, `That's just not right'? I mean, you've b--you know, what--what world out there do you worry about checking and balancing you on what you say here?
Mr. BANNING: Well, there's a world of other scholars of the revolution and the early republic, and even specifically of James Madison. He's a man about whom much has been written. He's a man about whom there are certain general understandings, I think, not only among the scholars but spreading outward from the scholars to a much wider band of citizens and--and that kind of thing who have particular understandings of James Madison. These are, in many cases, understandings of Madison that I don't particularly agree with that will be...
LAMB: Give us a couple of examples.
Mr. BANNING: Well, there are--there are many examples, but I guess the easiest way to put it maybe is to say that the Madison who is presented by me in this book is not as nationalistic a figure; he's not as much a centralizer as he is in much of the existing literature. And he's much more a republican or democrat, with small R's and D's than he's presented as being. A lot of people remember Madison as the--the figure who worried about the tyranny of the majority and who believed that the way to overcome that was to create a large republic so that there would be so many factions and interests incorporated within that republic that it'd be hard for majorities to form.
LAMB: Define the word `republic.'
Mr. BANNING: Pardon me. Well, the most simple definition of that word for the men who made the American revolution is that it's a government that's based entirely on the people and does not incorporate any sort of hereditary privilege or any hereditary branches. That's the basic definition. It broadens outward from there. In fact, another one of the--of the themes of this book--wouldn't be particularly a controversial one anymore--is that the first political parties really developed because different American founders had very different ideas about what `republic' ought to mean...
LAMB: You say...
Mr. BANNING: ...and very different visions of the American future.
LAMB: You say in the book that James Madison helped create the first political party...
Mr. BANNING: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...which was?
Mr. BANNING: The Jeffersonian Republican Party, which is the ultimate ancestor of today's Democratic Party. So it all gets a little bit confusing.
LAMB: If James Madison--let's, if you don't mind, play the game, if he were here today, what party would he belong to?
Mr. BANNING: That's an interesting question, because another--another thing I'm interested to see about responses to this book is that I think the Madison who is presented in this book is not going to be very easy to claim by any particular side of a modern political dispute. There are ways in which the Democratic Party might legitimately claim him, and there are other ways in which the Republicans might do so, much in the same way that you could almost imagine if there's a contest going on in the country today as to who's going to claim the Jeffersonian mantle. Is it the Democrats because they would like to think of themselves as a party of the people. Or is it the Republicans because they could legitimately claim that Thomas Jefferson was no advocate of big government.
LAMB: Let me ask you a series of questions. What would he think if he were here today and he saw that women now have the right to vote and, for that matter, be elected president of the United States?
Mr. BANNING: You know, that would probably be as surprising, as unexpected in some ways to most of the members of Madison's generation as it would that--that black people are able to vote, maybe in some ways even more surprising.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. BANNING: Well, more surprising maybe in some ways because, as a matter of theory, at least, people like Madison and Jefferson had no doubts that black people were entitled to equal rights with--with whites. That's not to say that--that they necessarily devoted their lives to making that cam--come about. But in theory, they had no doubt about that. In theory, on the other hand, they had great doubts that it would have been possible for women to be full participants in a political system, because women's nature and women's sphere in life, in their thinking, was not suited to that.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. BANNING: So it would be a surprise to them, although that's not to say that, you know, in--in every way they--they would have been opposed to it.
LAMB: James Madison was married to Dolley Madison for how many years? Roughly.
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, roughly 40--close to it.
LAMB: Who was--who was Kitty Floyd?
Mr. BANNING: Kitty Floyd is a deservedly forgotten very young girl who Madison in his--in the early 1780s had a flirtation with, proposed to, was evidently accepted, and then when Kitty Floyd went back to New York, while he remained in Congress, she had second thoughts and canceled the--the marriage.
LAMB: Did he have children?
Mr. BANNING: No, Madison and Dolley never had any children together. Dolley did have a--a son by a previous marriage, who Madison raised as--insofar as he could, as a father would. But they never had any children together.
LAMB: What would he think of the media today?
Mr. BANNING: These are very hard questions to answer. Madison and Jefferson were among the people--one of the things that they did when they created the Jeffersonian Republican Party was to encourage--in fact, they thought absolutely essential, the circulation of--of information among the public, which would come by way of the newspapers. One of the first things they did--when they became intensely concerned about the directions that Washington's administration, under Alexander Hamilton's guidance, was taking, one of the things that they did first of all was to encourage Phillip Ferneaux to come to the national--what was then the national capital and create a newspaper for the purpose of informing the people about what was going on in--in national politics, carrying controversial essays on those subjects and that kind of thing. So they play a critical role in the course of American history in encouraging the development of a politically oriented media, public opinion and that kind of thing.

And before the 1790s were over, that media could sometimes get pretty scurrilous and that kind of thing. But I--I suppose part of the reason that they do that is that they come very quickly to realize that the country is so large that there's never going to be a way for a majority public opinion to form and express itself if you don't have channels like newspapers for their day and other kinds of media for ours that can spread information.
LAMB: If James Madison in those early days, when he was a part of the constitutional--or the C--the Continental Congress and then House of Representatives and the Constitutional Convention and all that--if he were to go over to a shelf in his den and pick off a couple of books, who would have written them that--that formed his basic ideas on what government should be?
Mr. BANNING: I think he read so many different things that it would be very hard to pick out any one or two things that that would be true of. And I think on top of that, that it's really his--his and the country's experience more than it is--or in combination with what it is that he's read that really shaped his own ideas. But certainly, politically, John Locke would have been important to him; David Hume would have been important to him; in political economy, Adam Smith, would have been important to him.
LAMB: What about Montesquieu and the checks and balances?
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, absolutely. Although, interestingly, if you--if you look at the Federalist Pa--Papers, what you're going to find there really is that Montesquieu is more often Madison's foil than he is a person that Madison is specifically following.
LAMB: Who was Montesquieu?
Mr. BANNING: Montesquieu was a writer of the French enlightenment of the 18th century who--earlier in the 18th century--who was very widely reputed as one of the best theorists on--on government. He wrote a book called "The Spirit of the Laws," which everybody read; everybody cited. And he gets particularly cited for his ideas about the separation of powers for his idea about the proper size of a republic and things like that around the time of the making of the Constitution and the argument of whether it ought to be ratified or not.
LAMB: "The Federalist" papers were what?
Mr. BANNING: "Federalist" papers were the most important contemporary argument in favor of the Constitution at the time when the country was debating whether the people would ratify it or not. They appeared originally as a series of newspaper edito--newspaper editorials...
LAMB: How many?
Mr. BANNING: ...and then were republished as a pamphlet. There are 85, I think, in total.
LAMB: Now you talk about John Jay and Alexander Hamilton and Madison writing those "Federalist" papers. Who wrote what numbers? I don't mean all 85. I mean, how many did Alexander Hamilton write?
Mr. BANNING: Hamilton wrote little more than half of them, probably 60 percent or thereabouts of them. Madison wrote nearly all the rest. John Jay ended up writing only four, I guess it is.
LAMB: And what year were they written?
Mr. BANNING: They're written in--well, they began in the fall of 1787, they--and they extend into 1788, which are the months during which the several states are holding state conventions to ratify or to disapprove...
LAMB: How...
Mr. BANNING: ...of the proposed Constitution.
LAMB: How--were there 85 different days?
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, 80--well, 85 different essays over a course of--of time, and even longer than that because they didn't appear daily.
LAMB: How long were they?
Mr. BANNING: Well, they vary some. And most--text of most size mo--in modern-day terms, they run around 10 or 12 pages.
LAMB: Where was Alexander Hamilton when he wrote his version of "The Federalists" papers?
Mr. BANNING: He's in--in New York City, and New York state is one of the key theaters of the argument over the Constitution. And, indeed, Madison is there also. In the months after the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention, he went back to New York City to take his seat again in the Confederation Congress.
LAMB: Where was John Jay?
Mr. BANNING: And Jay is--is--was also in New York.
LAMB: Now you discuss at great length in your book that Alexander Hamilton and James Madison had a different view of what government should be and what the Constitution should say. How would they--how could they write "The Federalist" papers and come out with the same agreement on them?--or did they?
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, and--and not only that, but seem often so much in agreement on--on "The Federalist" Papers that there was 100 years of argument about a few numbers whose authorship was in dispute. But what happens there is that Hamilton and Madison are both entirely convinced that this new Constitution, which the Constitutional Convention has written, is absolutely essential to deal with the problems of the country. They're both convinced that it will be safe for the country, that it will not fundamentally destroy its revolutionary principles or something of that kind. So they're both entirely dedicated to it. They share many agreements about it. But in the end, both of them want a stronger central government for not just different but partially conflicting reasons.

And it's once that central government goes into effect and Alexander Hamilton, in effect, begins shaping its course in the direction that he thinks it's necessary for the country to go, then Madison essentially originates an opposition to him, which Thomas Jefferson very quickly joins in.
LAMB: If Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were here today, what parties would they belong to? I know I kind of asked the same question about James Madison earlier, but wha--what do you think? And what wing of the party would they be? And would they like the parties?
Mr. BANNING: I--I have to think that really the--the truth is that none of them would feel comfortable with--with either party.
LAMB: Yeah, but if they had to pick one?
Mr. BANNING: My honest answer to that is that--that for Madison at least, I am not sure. Jefferson probably would pick the Democratic Party, although if he picked the Democratic Party, he would be literally picking one-half of his mind as opposed to another half of his mind.
LAMB: What would Alexander Hamilton do?
Mr. BANNING: Hamilton, I think fairly surely would be a Republican, although even with Hamilton you have--you have a situation where there wa--there has never been in American history a firmer advocate of a vigorous, effective central government than Alexander Hamilton was. So that although he was perhaps clearly conservative in many ways, at the same time, he was a--an advocate of vigorous, energetic government...
LAMB: What was his...
Mr. BANNING: a degree that might make him pretty uncomfortable with efforts to--to downsize and defuse governmental power.
LAMB: What was--what do you think James Madison would think of the United States Senate being directly elected by the people in the states? Because in those days it wasn't.
Mr. BANNING: Well, I think--yeah. I think not only Madison, but many others of--of the founders would say that that goes a great way towards defeating the very purpose of having two different houses of legislature. Why do you have two houses of legislature if they're both going to be elected by the people?
LAMB: What do you think they would think of the Supreme Court as it's now constituted?--not--not the people, but as the impact it has on the society.
Mr. BANNING: Well, unquestionably, with Jefferson and Madison, particularly--Hamilton would be a different matter--but with Jefferson and Madison, they would have thought that the court is exercising a set of powers that they never meant for courts to exercise, that too many times what the country is doing is passing polit--decisions that are too tough for politicians to make along to the courts instead and letting the judiciary decide them. And that, in the view of Jefferson and Madison, was certainly not what a republican political system was all about.
LAMB: Go back to the statement you make several times in the book that James Madison is known as the father of the Constitution or the author of the Constitution. Wh--on what basis do you make that statement or did others make that statement back those days?
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, he was common--well, he was simply the most important of the 55 men who had a hand in the actual writing of the Constitution. He--he's the one essentially who prepared the--the original id--the original ideas, the outline, if you will, that the Constitutional Convention started with and then worked on throughout the summer to tailor into the document that was finally approved. And he played the ro--leading role throughout that process.
LAMB: You say that h--they met in Philadelphia from 10 in the morning until three in the afternoon, six days a week, from May to September. And then he would go back to his room at night and write the notes and almost, quote, "killed himself," unquote.
Mr. BANNING: Yeah, it's--it's an unimaginable effort that--that he was making, really. He'd not only made elaborate preparations, but because in the course of making those preparations, he'd looked into the histories of the confederacies of--of ancient days and modern confederacies andthat kind of thing, and he wished he could find out more about those than could be found out. When, then, this chance to create a new government came along, he thought we, his posterity, would be interested in having better records than he had himself. So he not only took it on himself to play a vigorous role in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention, but even while doing that, he took shorthand notes of the proceedings. And then when he went back to his rooming house at night, he spent a good part of his time writing those shorthand notes out into longhand.
LAMB: When were they finally made public?
Mr. BANNING: They're not made public--not published until after Madison's death.
LAMB: How many years? Do you remember?
Mr. BANNING: Don't remember exactly. They're published at the end of the 1830s or early in the 1840s. So it's essentially 50 years after the convention actually meets before Madison's record of the debates come--comes out. And that still, of course, is our fullest record of what happened in the Constitutional Convention.
LAMB: What are the Bill of Rights?
Mr. BANNING: The Bill of Rights, Madison has at least as strong a claim to being the author of--actually, a stronger claim. He always denied that he was the author of the Constitution. He said this is the work of many heads and--and many hands of which maybe his was the most important, although he wouldn't have said that. The Bill of Rights, though, it's clear, simply would not have--there would have been no federal Bill of Rights, at least in 1789, if James Madison hadn't undertook to draft the amendments, to sponsor them and to push them through Congress over the opposition of a good many other congressmen.
LAMB: Why did they need--I mean, what--what was the procedure on which the Constitution was passed before the Bill of Rights were passed? Were the--who--who promised the 10 amendments?--or I guess there were 12 to start with.
Mr. BANNING: Well, one of--in fact, the leading objection to the Constitution when it came out was that it did not include a Bill of Rights.
LAMB: Why would you need that?
Mr. BANNING: Well, for one thing, most of the states, when they we--they had written Constitutions earlier, had, in fact, included bills of rights, and it'd become a standard practice in American government to write a bill of rights or in--or to include elements of a bill of rights in a Constitution.
LAMB: Any other country in the world have them?
Mr. BANNING: None. Although in 1789 at the same time that--that Madison is writing and pushing through Congress what we call the Bill of Rights, the French Revolution was cranking up. And literally in the same month that Madison introduced what would become the Bill of Rights in Congress, the French National Assembly writes the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
LAMB: Where did the whole idea come from for the need for a Bill of Rights? What--what was the point?
Mr. BANNING: Well, it--it comes out of an idea that--which goes way back in American and English history and--and ultimately even much further than that. It comes out of an idea that people as individuals enter into a political society--into political organization for specific and limited reasons. And that when they do that, there are unalienable rights, they were called--that is, rights which cannot be alienated by a person--that they do not give up. They--there is an area into which government ought never to intrude. And the idea was that--that one could at least partially define that area by spelling it out in a--in a bill of rights.
LAMB: What year were the Bill of Rights passed?
Mr. BANNING: The Bill of Rights was framed in the Congress of the United States by Madison sponsorship in 1789, the first year that the--that our current federal government was in effect. And then it was--well, 10--10 of the 12 amendments that he sent out were ratified by the requisite number of states by 1791.
LAMB: James Madison had how many different jobs? I notice you say he ran for the Senate and lost.
Mr. BANNING: Well, actually, people ran him for the Senate. One of the reasons he lost is--there are many reasons, but probably one of the reasons you might say he lost is that he wouldn't do anything to--to run for the Senate. Senators, by the way, in those days were chosen by state legislatures and not by the people. And the Virginia state Legislature was controlled by Patrick Henry, who had been Madison's opponent in the ratification contest. He did lo--well, he was not elected, although you can't really even say he ran.
LAMB: Was that the first Senate?
Mr. BANNING: That would have been the first Senate, yeah.
LAMB: When did he get elected to the House?
Mr. BANNING: He was elected to the House when he was not elected to the Senate, same year.
LAMB: What other jobs did he have in his lifetime?
Mr. BANNING: Enormous number of jobs. Ther--you know, we're talking about 40 years of very active public service which starts when he's a member of the Virginia Legislature, then he becomes a member of the Continental, or Confederation, Congress, goes back to the Virginia Legislature for a while, member of the Constitutional Convention, member of the Virginia ratifying convention; then he goes to Congress. He's a representative for a number of years. He goes back to the Virginia Legislature for a couple of years, then becomes secretary of state under Jefferson and, ultimately, of course, president himself--fourth president.
LAMB: What--two terms.
Mr. BANNING: Two terms.
LAMB: What did you think of him as president or his presidency?
Mr. BANNING: Usually considered that this is not his greatest moments. Madison, you know, certainly made his greatest contributions in the years surrounding the creation of the Constitution. A lot of people consider him very nearly a failure as a president--or not really a failure, but as a very mediocre president at best. After all, we got into the War of 1812 under his watch. It's not a war that we did very great at. Although, you know, contemporaries at the end of that war had a very different feeling than that. They thought Madison had conducted himself very well.
LAMB: You say that some of your ideas for this book came out of an interchange that you had at conferences sponsored by Liberty Fund of Indianapolis.
Mr. BANNING: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What is that?
Mr. BANNING: That's an interesting organization. There was an industrialist whose name was Pierre Goodrich, not related to the tire family, but he was an Indianapolis industrialist who literally left most of a sizeable fortune to create a foundation whose sole purpose is to encourage the study of human liberty and the conditions that are supposed to--to support it. It's a--the kind of foundation that runs its own programs, and one of the things that it does is to sponsor confer--interd--interd--small interdisciplinary conferences around the country and, indeed, around the world where scholars, sometimes jurists, lawyers, people like that are brought together simply for conversation about, well, sometimes people like Madison or Jefferson or any subject that has to do with human liberty.
LAMB: And you've been to these?
Mr. BANNING: I've been to these. I've even directed a couple of these conferences for this foundation.
LAMB: In Indianapolis?
Mr. BANNING: No, they do them all over the country. So that I've done a couple of conferences--well, actually, on Jefferson and Madison and those kinds of subjects--in Lexington.
LAMB: This book was published by the Cornell University Press.
Mr. BANNING: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: How did that happen?
Mr. BANNING: Well, my first book was published and--and very handsomely produced by Cornell, and I had a clause in the contract which required me to give them first look at this one, and I think they've done, again, a magnificent job at production on this.
LAMB: How many would you expect to sell in order to make this a success?
Mr. BANNING: Well, a lot of scholarly books don't sell huge numbers. I really have no idea. I haven't thought in terms of--of numbers of copy. It's a success if--if people read it. And from a scholarly point of view, I guess it's a success if it changes some people's minds about Madison a bit.
LAMB: You said you started out to write a biography.
Mr. BANNING: I did, yeah.
LAMB: What changed your mind?
Mr. BANNING: Well, I started off--and I might say there, there is still a need, I think, for a whole life biography of Madison, of really moderate length. That would still be very useful. And that's what I set out to do, although I figured I probably would do something with his political thinking along the way. But it simply turned out that the political thinking and the political contributions during this period were such a complicated and important and controversial matter, that I decided ultimately that I needed to write this kind of a book instead.
LAMB: You do list in the back four biographies. And you name them.
Mr. BANNING: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And, as a matter of fact, I wrote down next to them the years that they were written.
Mr. BANNING: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: One was 1970; one, 1990; one, 1971; and one that has a series of '41 through '61. We need to get a closer shot of that, if we can. The audience will see it on the screen. Wh--which one of these biographies, if any, would you recommend someone read if they want to get a general view of James Madison?
Mr. BANNING: Well, I r--I would recommend any one of them. One of the nice things about the good biographies of Madison is that there are very different sizes. You could start, for example, with Jack Rakove's very recent biography of Madison, which is quite short and is a good introductory book. Or you could read Ralph Ketcham's "James Madison," which is a very fine one-volume, but very large one-volume biography. I think it's about 800 pages. And you can go all the way up to somewhat older but even larger biography by Irving Brant, which is six volumes.
LAMB: Did you know any of these people?
Mr. BANNING: I never knew Brant. I--I do know the other Madison biographers.
LAMB: In your opinion, how has James Madison done in this country compared to Thomas Jefferson in knowledge and importance in most people's eyes?
Mr. BANNING: Very interesting and very different in a way during our generation than would have been the case before. Through much of the early 20th century probably, Madison was quite overshadowed by Jefferson, with whom he worked so closely. Jefferson got all the attention--attention. Madison tended to fade into the shadows. That's not really true anymore. It--well, it may still be true to a certain degree in the public mind, perhaps. But in the scholarly community and in the books, Madison not only pretty well gets his just acclaim and recognition now, but there's been probably as much scholarly interest in Madison over the last 20 years as there has been in Jefferson and probably a general agreement among scholars that--at least in the area of political thought--Madison is probably the better of the two thinkers and the more interesting, ultimately, the deeper.
LAMB: As you know, if you go down the road here to the Madison home, they're just renovating it. It's a long way from being completed--down in Orange. And if you go a little bit farther down to Charlottesville, there's this tremendous facility, the most expensive, I think, in the country to go into--something like $8 to go in and see the Jefferson home and gravesite and all that. And there's a center there--a visitors center and all that. Why the difference?
Mr. BANNING: Well, it still is the case, certainly, that--that in the public mind, there's nobody who's quite so closely associated for all kinds of pretty good reasons, in many ways, with American democracy, and nobody who expresses the spirit of--of what Americans would like to think they are, in many ways, better than Thomas Jefferson does. And that's going to continue to be the case. He is a towering figure. We have a monument--a memorial, I should say, in Washington, DC, to Jefferson--What?--one of three presidents to whom we have a memorial. There's no suitable memorial for Madison.
LAMB: Let me interrupt, though, to ask you, though, if James Madison was responsible for the Constitutional Convention and was responsible for getting the Bill of Rights through later on, was president of the United States for two terms, and lots of other things that you give him credit for here, "The Federalist" papers, which you say are quoted as still today one of the most important documents in history, what's the difference between Madison and Jefferson? Why the great difference of--of importance today in the--in the eyes of a lot of people?
Mr. BANNING: Well, Jefferson was one of the two of them who got associated first by way of being the author of the Declaration of Independence and then by way of being the--the head of the Jeffersonian party which came to power in what the Jeffersonians thought was a sort of people's revolution in 1800. Jefferson just got associated with American democracy in a way that--that no one else quite did. Jefferson also had a pen, like very few others in all of American history have ever had. He's one of the most gifted wordsmiths that we have ever seen. Those phrases and words of his are--are going to be endlessly quoted, because they're--they're so very well done.
LAMB: Did he write it himself?
Mr. BANNING: Jefferson, yes.
LAMB: But you say that James Madison wrote all the--that first early works on...
Mr. BANNING: He did, but never--you know, you--you don't find ordinarily from Madison--there are very few exceptions. Madison is a beautifully clear writer, but he's not a beautiful wordsmith. So that if you're looking for things that you can put up on the wall, if you're looking for the phrases, "We hold these truths to be self-evident" and--and those kinds of things, you don't find very much of that in Madison's writing. He's not the gifted penman that--that Jefferson is. Also, J--Madison was a--if he's a deeper figure, he's also a somewhat narrow on--narrower one. His interests are primarily political and public and that kind of thing, whereas Jefferson is this sort of renaissance man, this man of universal genius who has a hand in everything.
LAMB: Let me ask you just a couple quick ones. We're about out of time. What would James Madison think, sitting passively, watching the world go by, about the Vietnam War and how it related to the Constitution?
Mr. BANNING: Well, he would have thought, to begin with--one of the--one of the things that we're bound to think about literally at this day is presidential powers in the area of sending troops abroad, presidential power in foreign policy. Madison and Jefferson would have had grave doubts about that. The degree to which that has become a presidential function and not a congressional one would have been very disturbing to them.
LAMB: What would he have thought of Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency? Would he have said the Constitution works?
Mr. BANNING: Well, I suppose if--you know, if Nixon had not resigned, it might very well have worked in the sense that there was--there is in it the provision for impeachment. Yeah, I think--I think he would have--well, if not the Constitution, he would have said republicanism works. There can build up among the people a--a demand that would--that's irresistible.
LAMB: What would he have said about Speaker Newt Gingrich?
Mr. BANNING: That not all the things that Newt Gingrich is up to are--are really Jeffersonian or Madisonian ideas.
LAMB: But what would he have thought about a strong speaker?
Mr. BANNING: Well, certainly, he would have--in fact, all members of the founding generation really looked to Congress to set domestic agendas, not to the president. It wouldn't necessarily have been--have been the speaker, but they looked to congressional leaders to do this.
LAMB: Would he have been surprised that the Electoral College is still alive?
Mr. BANNING: No. Would not have been surprised by that, in part, because the Electoral College is still alive because it was put in place to begin with partly so that smaller states would have a somewhat larger role in selecting a president than would otherwise be the case.
LAMB: What's your next book?
Mr. BANNING: Well, I've agreed to do a collection of my--of my essays, and I'm probably also going to do a collection of primary source materials on the first party struggle. And I may also do--I have--have agreed also to do a short whole-life biography of Alexander Hamilton.
LAMB: Here's the book we're talking about. "The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison & the Founding of the Federal Republic" by Professor Lance Banning from the University of Kentucky. We thank you very much.
Mr. BANNING: Well, thank you for having me.
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