It was Madison who wrote the Constitution for the United States of America. In that constitution, Madison established the framework for the government of the United States as it was in 1787 and for the United States today, in 2008. It is a tribute to Madison’s ideas that so much of his original framework for government has been left unaltered over more than two hundred years. There have only been twenty-seven constitutional amendments since 1787; therefore, much of the government we see today is simply a reflection of Madison’s model for government. Such ideas as checks and balances and the separation of powers are still important today, but that is not to say there have not been any conflicts over the years. Much of Madison’s model for government may have been able to stand the test of time and is still reflected in how the United States runs its government today, but there are many important differences that have been caused by several issues apparent over the years.
When Madison framed the Constitution in 1787, he was creating a new and much stronger government than the one that existed before, under the Articles of Confederation. However, the government Madison created was still weak compared to the government we see now-a-days. Modern America’s government, like the one Madison framed, still has three branches – the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches – and those branches are still separate, but with shared powers. Those branches also still employ the principles of checks and balances in order to maintain some sort of equality in government. However, America’s government now-a-days has both more freedom and more government restriction because of the amendments passed to alter Madison’s Constitution and his model government.
Some amendments that provide more power to the people are those that allow black men to vote (15th), allow the direct election of senators (17th), and allow women to vote (19th). All of those amendments are considered triumphs for the common man, but they tend to go against Madison’s basic idea that too much power in the majority is inherently bad. Like the other delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison was a rich white man who was scared of the self-interested majority altering his way of life by perhaps upsetting the preservation of property, and needed the Constitution to appeal to a majority of states in order for it to be ratified; therefore, he did not include such rights in the Constitution as universal suffrage. So, although the 15th, 17th and 19th amendments are now seen as triumphs, in Madison’s model government of 1787, they would not have been allowed.
Other amendments to the Constitution since Madison’s day have served the opposite purpose of universal suffrage and have further enlarged the role of the federal government. For instance, the 16th amendment, which established an income tax, greatly increased the powers of the federal government to tax and limited the powers of the people to decide how to spend their hard earned money. The 18th amendment, although repealed, also limited personal freedoms by preventing people from drinking alcohol. Such ideas as income tax and prohibition were not originally mentioned in Madison’s model of government because they would have been seen as the expansion of the government gone too far, so they are examples of how modern America’s government is not a perfect reflection of the government Madison outlined in the Constitution. However, simply the ability for the Constitution to change, as outlined by Madison, reflects the idea of the flexibility of government as related in the Constitution even if the ideas in the amendments do not reflect the general ideas of Madison’s model government as a whole.
The amendments that have been mentioned up to this point are examples of how Madison’s model government is not being perfectly reflected in American Government today, but all of those amendments can also be seen as conflicts arising out of Madison’s blueprint for government. Since Madison left so much power to the states, conflicts often arose, as they did before and during the Civil War, concerning state sovereignty over federal sovereignty. Especially after the 15th amendment passed, it became clear that the federal government and the state governments were no longer equal. Through the issues of nullification and state determination of voters, conflicts had arisen and decisions were made by the three branches of government that made it clear federal government had become supreme. It can be argued that if it were not for Madison’s leaving so much up to the states, such as the determination of suffrage, that conflict never would have come up. As such, the conflict over state’s rights can be seen as a conflict arising from a direct problem with interpretation of the Constitution.
Madison’s model government was by no means perfect. In some ways, it caused conflict; in other areas, the ideas in the Constitution are so well-liked they have lasted the test of time. Nonetheless, it is clear that Madison had a brilliant political mind in devising a model government that allowed for a stronger central government without concentrating the power in one person, or one group of people. In creating a constitutional republic that seemed to give the people, the states, and the three branches of government say, Madison created a government that, despite having some problems, has lasted with relatively few changes for over two hundred years.