Today I am trying to discard a packet of notes I wrote for a paper on James Madison and his ideas of faction, separation in government, and related topics. I believe I wrote the paper in 1973, so you might wonder why I have retained the notes. Actually, there are several possible reasons. First, I remember liking the format of the packet: all the cards in the Wire-in-dex COLORCARDS (blue) are bound together like a mini spiral notebook. I admired this index card innovation and I hoped that it would keep my notes and my thoughts in order for a change. Second, until recently, James Madison was one of my heroes and so I have had a goodly pile of Madison paraphernalia to sort through and toss out. Other than this packet, all I have left is a (mostly unread) copy of James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham tucked away somewhere in our temperature controlled storage unit. From what I understood of him, Madison and I shared ideas about the nature of humankind. I admired the way he used these ideas to plan a government structure that could develop a strong (and, over time, increasingly democratic) society. Third, I think these notes reminded me of happy, idealistic times in Salt Lake City.
I wrote the paper for a year-long survey course called Main Currents in American Thought. I think I learned a great deal in this class, but I’m not sure because I’ve forgotten most of whatever it might have been. I took this class before computers had spread out into the world and even before photocopying documents became ubiquitous. Because of this, we students spent time reading various books and papers in a little room we called the Don D. Walker reading room (after our professor). I read lots of books in that room including, presumably, at least part of Main Currents in American Thought by Vernon L. Parrington. What I remember most and liked the most was reading Jefferson and Madison’s letters to each other where they talked about philosophy and politics, but also shared gardening information. You can now find Jefferson’s letters to Madison and others online at the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library at http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/JefLett.html . One example is Abjuring the Presidency at http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JefLett.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=111&division=div1 You can also access a variety of Madison’s papers from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/madison_papers/mjmser.html
I guess I should tell you that back in the day it seemed like I was always trying to write papers on Madison. What I mean to say is that I was trying to write at least one good paper on Madison. I wanted to write a paper that clearly explained Madison’s well-reasoned, realistic, crafty, and humane ideas. That didn’t happen, but now with the ubiquity of original sources available on the Internet, Madison’s own words are widely available, so no one needs my somewhat tortured and ineffectual explications.
For years I was miffed that at least a segment of the populace American populace seemed to be aware of Thomas Jefferson, but didn’t seem to know anything about James Madison. Also, from my own experience, I think some people conflate the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and, furthermore, I am not sure if anyone remembers about the Articles of Confederation and all the trouble they caused. I think I am in danger of jumping on a soapbox about the lack of information, misinformation, and dissing of my hero, so I think I will stop soon.
I need to tell you that it is the slavery thing that has finally made me disappointed in Madison. Of course, I always knew that Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Monroe and others were slave owners. I only understood this fact in my gut, however, when I moved five miles from Monticello and 25 miles from James Madison’s Montpelier. Okay, I still admire Madison in so many ways, but I have to distance myself from him for at least a while.
Here’s a quote from Madison from my notes (without, alas, clear bibliographic reference):
|As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust…so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.|
I’ve just skimmed the notes one final time. Now I am going to stand right up and dispose of them in the recycling bag. I can’t even say good riddance. I think I am going to miss these cards, but, if I ever decide to write a good paper on Madison, I know I that I can find the resources online.
Note: So far in my new blog, I have gotten the most reader response about cookies. So, next entry, I plan on writing about Grandma in Idaho’s filled raisin cookies. See you then.