What were some of the constitutional challenges that James Madison had to face, and how did he resolve this effectively.

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Seeing that Madison was known as "the father of the Constitution," Madison was able to successfully face and resolve challenges at the Constitutional Convention. Madison's reputation amongst his peers at the Constitutional Convention serves as testament to how he resolved constitutional challenges at the Convention:  ".. every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness... he always comes forward as the best informed Man of any point in debate." Madison used his informed condition as a significant means of successfully navigating constitutional challenges.

One such challenge resided in how federal power could be constructed in a nation that was fearful of it.  As a nation, Madison understood that America did not embrace federal or centralized authority.  Its experience with King George's vision of central power led to the American Revolution, which, in turn, helped to fuel the vision of government in the Articles of Confederation. Madison clearly recognized the need to feature a strong federal government if a constitution was to survive: "...a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the American experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had inspired."  For Madison, this crisis could only be solved through a federal government that possessed some level of legislative authority over state legislatures.  

This idea rests in Madison's Virginia Plan. Madison's proposal included a bicameral legislative body that demonstrated representative democracy.  At the same time, Madison's proposal called for the division of government into separate branches.  The establishment of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches would share power equally and ensure that one branch could not exert more power than the other two.  Madison's proposal of the Virginia Plan eventually became part of "the Great Compromise."  Madison was able to help carve out a constitution that asserted federal power in a manner that other delegates embraces.  Madison faced the obstacles present in adopting a national government that possessed power.  He was able to resolve this effectively through his intricate knowledge of political theory and apply it to the fledgling nation's situation.

The battle between those who favored a strong federal government and a strong state government was a rift that threatened to implode the Constitutional Convention.  The collision between Federalists and Anti- Federalists was one of the challenges that Madison navigated with skill and commitment.  Madison, a Federalist, asserted the need for a strong federal government.  Federalists like Madison were terrified at the lack of order that could facilitate another Shays' Rebellion and government paralysis.  On the flip side of this debate were the Anti- Federalists.  Led by popular orators such as Patrick Henry, this group wanted states rights to be more dominant than a federal vision.  Madison was instrumental in negotiating a settlement between both sides.  He assured the Anti- Federalists that if they adopted the Constitution, there would be an inclusion of specific rights and individual liberties granted to all citizens.  This would act as a potential check against encroachment.  For the Anti- Federalists, this provision was critical to their ratification votes for the Constitution.  Such understanding needs of all sides is what enabled him to navigate constitutional challenges.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question