BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William Lee Miller, if James Madison were alive today and sitting here with us, what would he think about what's going on in this country?
WILLIAM LEE MILLER: Well, he'd have a lot of thoughts that -- well, we all do as impute to these Founding Fathers, the things we ourselves think, so you and I can say he'd deplore this. And the important thing, though -- more important than all the criticisms he might make of our situation today would be -- he would say, "Two hundred-plus years and it's still here." The Constitution -- he was the chief figure in writing -- the ideas he had underneath that Constitution. The main thing here -- a main thing, at least, he was worried about was making it last. And it has lasted. You know, it was already a big deal to go all the way from Maine and New Hampshire to Georgia. It looked awfully big, 13 colonies, bring those altogether, make a system that would work. Republics before hadn't worked. They lasted only a short time -- preoccupied with that. They fell apart. This one hasn't fallen apart. Slavery was still an institution. Abolished slavery, kept the union together, became the world's most prosperous and powerful nation 200-plus years later under the same Constitution. So that would be point one before you got to all the things he'd criticize which we might guess he would criticize would be, that what he wanted to bring off has happened.
LAMB: Let me ask you before -- and I've got a lot of other questions about today vs. the end and all that.
MILLER: All those other things you've got there, right?
LAMB: Yeah. Let me ask you about him. Who was he? Can you describe him to us -- what he looked like, what he sounded like, how big he was?
MILLER: Short, very short. And some journalist came and said, "What I really want to know is how short." Well, I don't know, 5'3". The Virginians tended to be tall. When the Virginians came into Philadelphia, they were these impressive fellows and their horses, and little New Englanders would be quite impressed. But Madison -- "the great little Madison" was the tag he got because he was short and slight -- wouldn't have worked in many other times of American politics, probably including today -- couldn't hear him beyond the third row in the room he's talking in, didn't have -- you know, Patrick Henry and his orders would just outdo him altogether. But he was the best prepared. He knew what he was talking about. They knew he knew what he was talking about. So they would gather around and they'd listen and he would get to the nub of the matter.
He was a bright son of a Virginia plantation owner who was sent north to college. Jefferson went to William and Mary. Usually somebody from that background would go over to William and Mary on the eastern shore and on the tidewater of Virginia. But one of the tutors said, "Try this College of New Jersey; has this new President come over from Scotland, and it's got a lot of new ideas there about republicanism." And so he did go and he loved it. He learned that Princeton was important -- College of New Jersey was very important to Madison, stayed on a little, first graduate student to make it to the White House, so to speak.
LAMB: What President was he?
MILLER: He was the fourth President.
LAMB: What years?
MILLER: From 1809 to 1816, 1817 -- whatever -- eight years.
LAMB: How long did he live?
MILLER: He lived until 1836. He was the last of the Fathers. There's a good book about the end of his life -- my book is just about one little period when he was young -- called "The Last of the Fathers." And Jefferson and Adams had died in 1826 with this phenomenal thing that people can't believe actually happened, that they both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence -- well, I use it for the end of this book. Ten years later, Madison's in his mid-80s and he's failing and it's June. It's getting toward the end of June and some of his friends say, you know, "Can't we get some stimulants and keep him alive till it -- till July 4th, the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence?" Madison says, "No, thanks." I mean, he dies a week early. He's never one for dramatic gestures.
LAMB: You even start off by writing what we that live -- or anybody in the country can do this -- but those of us that live here in Washington could just drive an hour and 15 minutes down the road and be at his home in Orange County, Montpelier. Did he actually live at Montpelier?
MILLER: Yes, he grew up there and he came back there. His life is framed by Montpelier. There was a period -- about the period when I'm writing about him, in his 30s, which is the most important part of his life -- I just write about five years of his life ...
LAMB: What were those five?
MILLER: They were 1784 to 1790. The most important are 1786, just before you're getting to the federal Convention of 1787, when you're getting ready to go to the federal convention that writes the Constitution -- writing things, preparing, being the most studious, thinking about it, making memos to himself, going to the Annapolis Convention, which people remember from their textbooks, precedes the convention, writing letters to his friends with the ideas that he's going to present there -- probably the most important single person at the federal convention -- you can get an argument about that -- but not much. Most people would agree with that. Then afterward, in the fight to get it ratified, joining with Hamilton, invites him to be the first person who wasn't a New Yorker to write these essays, these op ed page pieces defending the Constitution through ...
LAMB: Called The Federalist papers.
MILLER: The Federalist papers -- through that next winter, then going to the Virginia ratifying convention. You had to have Virginia or the thing wouldn't have worked -- that's another big thing -- then going to the 1st Congress as a congressman. And out of the promises he's made being the leader and getting the Bill of Rights added -- that's a period of, let's say, five years which is really nothing he did -- even though he was President of the United States and Secretary of State and very important in other ways, one of the founders of the Democratic Party with Jefferson in the 1790s. And none of those other things was as important as what he did in those years. And so I take those out and feature them.
LAMB: And there's lots of words that are thrown around in the book that I want you to define if you could for us. You've just done it in the last couple of minutes. For instance, when you say republicanism, is that Republican Partyism?
MILLER: No -- well, it's not the Republican Party that begins with Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. That's much later because these words are around democratic, republican -- not Democratic in a favorable sense yet -- but republican is the word that they would all use for the kind of government they're setting up. And they look back to Greece, to the city states in Italy, to Switzerland, republican Geneva, to all the history of republics, which is a kind of government that doesn't have a monarch, doesn't have -- what is republicanism is is a tricky thing. Twice in The Federalist papers Madison tries to describe what it is. He's got a problem about the existence of slavery in this country in relation to republicanism. But it's the name. It's the equivalent of our saying democracy. We know that describes the kind of government we endorse, even though we'd have a bit of an argument about: is this democracy? What's the essence of it? Can it include that? They were in that situation with respect to republicanism.
LAMB: What about the word "democracy'? Is this a democracy?
MILLER: Is this now?
MILLER: Well, democracy in my view -- there are people today who would set those two words over against each other. I wouldn't do that. I think what James Madison endorsed as republicanism and Jefferson did and the other -- the others did -- George Washington did, very important that he did; the military endorsed republicanism, subordinated the military to the legislative body that segued -- is that the way you pronounce that word that our former President used to use? I learned it from Ronald Reagan -- it segues into democracy. It shifts, modulates into democracy and comes down to us today. That's the way I would say it. Once you have a broader electorate and you begin to talk about the demos, the people, in a more insistent way, you call it democracy -- but it's continuous with what Madison and the rest of them are talking about, which they see going all the way back to Athens.
LAMB: This is a little bit off the subject but all of these terms that we use today, like a Democrat and a Republicand, you refer back then in the early days to Tories and Whigs and all that -- when did today's Democratic Party or the Democrats and today's Republican Party -- Republicans -- when were they established?
MILLER: Well, the Republicans -- it's easy. They were established in 1854, let's say, in the 1850s as the fight over slavery -- slavery in the territories comes to be the dominant issue. And the Anti Nebraska Party that is against the bills about Kansas and Nebraska which had to do with slavery in the territories, were the Republicans. And they combined the pieces of the old Whigs and so forth. That's a later story from the one in this book. Political scientists talk about the third party system, and that's what we have now -- Republicans beginning in 1854 and the Democrats. There's a middle part where the Whigs are the party who oppose the Democrats. The Democrats go back to Madison and Jefferson and particularly to Jefferson's winning in 1800 and some quarrels in the 1790s between Jefferson and Hamilton -- Jefferson, Madison on one side, Hamilton -- and John Adams not exactly allied with Hamilton on the other side, who were the Federalists. The Federalists fade away. It's a period of confusion. Then you've got a second party system, the Whigs and the Democrats. Then you've got the Republicans and Democrats down to today.
LAMB: What's a Tory?
MILLER: A Tory goes back to England, of course, as a supporter of the king. He's a high conservative of a British type. And Tories, in those days, you'd use it also for somebody who opposed independence, who wanted to continue British America loyal to the king.
LAMB: And then you mentioned Federalists. Before we go on, what's the difference between a Federalist and an anti-Federalist?
MILLER: Well, an anti-Federalist is an opponent of the Constitution that was written in Philadelphia in 1787. A Federalist at that point is a proponent. Madison is a Federalist at that moment. Probably it's better to spell that with a small F because Madison wants this Constitution to be enacted -- to be ratified -- and the anti-Federalists were Patrick Henry, George Mason, others who opposed it.
LAMB: Why were they opposed to the Constitution?
MILLER: Well, opponents can combine lots of reasons, even contradictory ones -- they tended to be more localistic. More attached to Virginia, more attached to Pennsylvania, more attached to Massachusetts. They didn't want to be united with each other as they had local stakes. Patrick Henry was a big shot in Virginia. They were suspicious of central power. This looked like a big, new, central government that they were bringing into being in this Constitution. The point that they won, their strongest point, was they wanted a written Bill of Rights, and Madison was a leader among those who said, "OK. You vote to ratify the Constitution. We promise we will enact a written Bill of Rights," and they did. When the 1st Congress comes, Madison is the leader in getting a Bill of Rights added to the Constitution.
He didn't want the desire for a Bill of Rights to be used to scuttle the whole Constitution. There were those who said, you know, "This Constitution's no good. Let's start all over. Let's have a new convention." Madison, even though there were things he didn't like about the Constitution -- he said, "That souffle isn't going to rise twice. I mean, to have another convention is chaos and get all these people with all these objections again -- that we brought it off in Philadelphia was a" -- well, he used the word "miracle." Lots of people would have used the word "miracle" about what happened in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. "That ain't going to happen again, and so let's ratify it and get it in motion. Then we'll add the Bill of Rights. And don't use that to undercut the Constitution." Patrick Henry wanted a Bill of Rights which included taking the power to tax away from this new government. Well, that's undercutting the government altogether. That's going back to what he wanted in the first place as an anti-federalist. He didn't want a strong central government. He wanted a sovereign Virginia, in effect.
LAMB: William Lee Miller is a professor where?
MILLER: I'm a professor at the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson; first President of the board, James Madison, in Charlottesville.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in writing this particular book?
MILLER: I wrote a book about religious liberty in the early days in Virginia, and that was one stream about six, seven years ago. And then I was examining the moral foundations of American government, which is one of my topics, and I said, "This period of what this man did -- telling the story is a way to get at that topic." And I'm more and more impressed with Madison. The papers are now beautifully available, printed, full edition. They're easier to get at than they used to be.
LAMB: Where are they?
MILLER: Well, you can get them in any good library -- the papers of James Madison, and the volumes -- eight, nine, 10 -- will have these memos that he writes to himself where he's thinking this stuff out; nicely noted, identifying these things, like we've just been talking about. But the point was, those years we've identified -- I said, "That's the time when" -- if you're going to pick one man, which you shouldn't do, because the American thing was collaborative and Madison said it was collaborative -- he said it should be. It's better. We don't have any Solon or Lycurgus, any of these guys of the Greek books who were one great lawmaker; we had a group. But if you had one most important among the group for the Constitution, it was Madison himself. and those are the years when he thought this through, and that's the story I tell in that book.
LAMB: Where are you from, originally?
MILLER: I'm from the West. I'm from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
MILLER: Wyoming, first -- Laramie, Wyoming; then Kansas; then went to the University of Nebraska. Got lots of ties to Colorado including down to the present; some of my family live in Colorado. Never ...
LAMB: What are your degrees in?
MILLER: I have an AB from the University of Nebraska, two degrees from Yale, a BD and a PhD...
LAMB: All in history?
MILLER: No. Not in history. I'm not an historian. I'm a political ethicist. My present title is professor of ethics and institutions, which doesn't fit any department, but it fits me.
LAMB: How long have you been at the University of Virginia?
MILLER: Ten years.
LAMB: I think you even refer to it in your book -- is it a special feeling to be writing a book like this at the University of Virginia? And if so, why? And what else is around you that you can tap into in the way of history?
MILLER: Yes, it is a special feeling. The ethos of Mr. Jefferson, as they call him in Charlottesville, is all over the place. Sometimes some people think it even gets a bit much. I was taking a young applicant for a position in a department of which I was a chair around. At the end of his tour, he pointed to a building and he said, "Was that also designed by Mr. What's His Name?" -- meaning Jefferson. But the aura of Jefferson is all around. Of course, he was not just a thinker and a political leader; he was an architect. So you're teaching on the grounds that he designed.
And Madison is 30 miles away at Montpelier and is related to all of this. I had an office in the library there where the papers of James Madison were on one side and the papers of George Washington were on the other. And Dumas Malone, the great Jefferson scholar, had his office down the hall and sort of the whole spirit of the nation's Virginia beginnings are all around you. That's one of the reasons I got into this, actually, was being at this university and having a feel for this particular history.
LAMB: Do you find students interested in this -- does it take on a special -- again, for them, is it a special thing?
MILLER: I think so. There are, of course, Jefferson societies and the Jefferson groups that have a pilgrimage every year on his birthday up to Monticello. Monticello -- I didn't mention Monticello. If you're talking about Jefferson, Monticello's right there. And tourists, of course, coming from all over the world to see the things that Jefferson -- yes, I think it means a lot to students, and they're in the rooms on the lawn that are designed -- -- the academical village that Jefferson designed to be an ideal University. And the speakers -- every speaker who comes, from President Bush to Brian Lamb -- will quote Thomas Jefferson when you're up here at the University of Virginia which, again, gets to be a bit much, but nevertheless, it's a good thing.
LAMB: Why not James Madison? Why don't they -- or do they?
MILLER: Well, t'was ever thus. I mean, he's always kind of a second place to Jefferson. But not in the 1780s, because Jefferson was in Paris. And all the time that I'm telling about, Jefferson's off stage. Jefferson's over in Paris and Madison is doing what I'm telling about in there, thinking through the foundations of this government -- the second round. And you'd had the Revolution, but most revolutions devour themselves -- devour their children. In this case, you had these able people, with Madison in the lead -- children of the Revolution saying, "Let's build institutions on the basis of the Revolution that will last." And that's what Madison -- he ought to be more honored than he is, I think -- well, he's in a good period again; there's a good deal of talk about Madison right now.
LAMB: You write on page 224, "Madison's clear statement calls to mind the formulation of Reinhold Niebuhr, the 20th century American theologian and political thinker, a formulation that is quoted so often that in the circles in which he is known as to have become a cliche. It goes like this. 'Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible. Man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.'" Who was Reinhold Niebuhr?
MILLER: Reinhold Niebuhr was the greatest -- well, let's put it in the largest way, and then if you make me do it, I'll take it back -- the greatest American political thinker of the 20th century. Hans Morgenthau, another political scientist, said he was the greatest American since John C. Calhoun -- political thinker. He was the leading -- I guess you now say it was Protestant theologian, but theologian only in a loose sense, because politics was his main interest. And through the middle of this century, his role in leading the argument about joining in the resistance to Hitler, his argument after World War II about the pattern of responsibility, a phrase that Dean Acheson picked up -- the Secretary of State then -- from Niebuhr about the whole shaping of the role of the United States, which is just -- the chapter which has just concluded it, 45 years of -- or from '47, roughly, until '89, '91, the things we've just seen happen in Eastern Europe and in Russia -- that whole history. George Cannon, whose name would be known, the great diplomatist, once said, "Reinhold Niebuhr is the father of us all" -- that is, of us realists -- moral purpose, but realistic political thinking, shaping America's role.
LAMB: Did you know him?
MILLER: Oh, yeah. I certainly did. He was a big influence on me, the reason I studied the things I did, and he would be my mentor -- my chief mentor.
MILLER: Well, indirectly. I didn't study directly with him; I studied at Yale under his brother, a man called Richard Niebuhr, who was kind of the Mycroft Holmes to his Sherlock Holmes -- you know, the Sherlock Holmes story, the one who's in the background and is even smarter than his well known brother. But Reinhold was down in New York, and we collaborated in many organizations. I wrote for his magazine. I knew him in various Ford Foundation things and then in Santa Barbara for a while.
LAMB: When did he die?
MILLER: He died in '71. Yeah.
LAMB: Again, let me quote this back, his statement: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible. Man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Madison wrote about the injustice thing a lot. Did he anticipate what human beings were going to be like?
MILLER: When I read Madison, having been much influenced by Niebuhr, that sentence you just read leaps out of the pages of the Federalist papers, and it's got two parts. It's realistic about humankind. One of the things you found out -- Madison -- we'd been through the Revolution -- he's only 25 when the Revolution is over. He's not part of the big show of '76 except a minor way. Then he comes on stage. He's sent to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia by Virginia. He sees the way that Congress behaves, the way the state governments -- the newly instituted state governments -- independent -- are behaving and he said, "You know that picture that some people had that we would be a Christian Sparta, where people would sacrifice their individual good to the public good? That ain't going to happen." It isn't happening.
What we're seeing instead is a more mixed thing, where people are looking out for their own interests and where power and interest are still a very important part. I mean, the thing that Madison did that the revolutionaries in the French Revolution, in the Bolshevik revolution, in other revolutions since, didn't do -- he saw that after the Revolution, there wouldn't be a new humanity. Human beings would still be the way they were before the Revolution. So let's think how we can make the ideals last without assuming there's a transformation of humankind. So he was realistic. Human beings are going to have self interests. But not as realistic or as exclusively pessimistic about humankind as Machiavelli, as the European thinkers of that stripe -- of Machiavelli, Hobbes, the great thinkers who endorsed monarchy, who saw you had to have an authoritarian government because of human self love.
LAMB: You mentioned several times "The Prince," Machiavelli.
LAMB: What would you color the book ...
MILLER: I would say Madison and Machiavelli are quite different.
LAMB: But the reason I bring it up is, I wanted to ask you what James Madison -- what did he study before he got ready for the convention in 1787?
MILLER: Lots of books. Jefferson, over in Paris, sent him these boxes. That's one of the touching stories about America's beginning. These two bright, young Virginians, intellectuals, let's call them, although practical intellectuals -- and Jefferson over in Paris -- they made a kind of a deal. "You look after my nephew's education. I'll send you books." And Jefferson sends him in these boxes on the ships of that day, and they go out to Orange County. I mean, there's no library nearby ...
LAMB: Orange County, Virginia.
MILLER: Orange County, Virginia; not named for oranges, named for William of Orange. And he sits there with these books, which include histories of the republics -- he said, "I want books about the history of republics." And he read those. He read David Hume, we know. There's a quite specific borrowing from the great Scottish enlightenment thinker David Hume. But he read widely. He was eclectic, I think. It would be hard put to say, "Here's one thinker who influenced him." But the fact that he read a lot and studied and made these notes, both thinkers -- and also constitutions and histories -- you know, how did it work out in this republic, in that republic -- with this question: why did it fail? You know, there was a kind of a revolutionary who doesn't ask that question -- characteristically, let's say, revolutionaries -- it's all roses and moonbeams, you know?
LAMB: Why did what fail, by the way?
MILLER: A revolution. Your revolution; we're going to have a revolution -- we're going to overthrow these rascals who are now ruling. And then there's going to be a new world, a new humanity. So they don't ask the hard questions about what it's going to be like, really, and how you're going to make it last. That's probably what's distinctive about Madison and, by extension, the American Revolution. They did, on the second round, they did ask those questions and say, "Things aren't transformed utterly. People are still pretty much the way they were before. Let's think of the kinds of institutions that will make it last so in 1992, people will be sitting somewhere and doing a television program about a book that describes a successful constitutional arrangement." So they were realistic. And he studied these republics of the past and he studied the states to ask about the vices. You know, "What's wrong? Why didn't they work?" -- instead of covering it all over with idealism and slogans. Very analytically, carefully -- not cynically -- but analytically.
LAMB: Not to interrupt, but name some of those vices you were talking about.
MILLER: Well, the overriding vice is that you don't have enough strength at the center to make the government function. And you had this double problem: liberty; you don't want a government that dominates life -- tyranny, despotism. Tyranny's one pole. But you also have to have a government that functions, that does the things that government have to do. Well, it's easy to have kind of anarchy, or to imagine it, anyway, or authoritarian government, Leviathan. But how do you put the two things together: have effective government on a large scale -- not just a city state, not just face to face, but lots and lots of people over a big territory, effective government, doing all the things that government needs to do; and preserve liberty? That was Madison's problem, and he was really the best thinker about that.
LAMB: We started out this way. Let's go back to it, if you can, just for a little bit. James Madison, sitting right here with us, and we ask him -- we've got 27 amendments to the Constitution today. When he was on this Earth, how many were there: 12, 13, 14?
MILLER: Well, there would just be -- the 11th and 12th would be added still while he was alive.
LAMB: What would he think if he looked from 12 all the way up to 27?
MILLER: Well, I think he wouldn't be as shocked as your question may imply; that it would be amendable was one of the things he insisted on. The French made the mistake that their constitution wasn't to be amended. The Articles of the Confederation couldn't be amended. They thought that they'd achieved perfection. Madison knew this wasn't perfect. In fact, he led the fight to get the first 10 amendments right away. You started amending the minute you got it there. So he wouldn't be shocked by the fact that there are that many amendments or he might be by some of them -- who knows? -- he would agree with -- he would disagree with. But the fact that it's amended wouldn't shock him.
LAMB: What would he think of the fact that the Senate, instead of being selected by the legislatures in the states, are selected by the people directly?
MILLER: Well, let's say that he'd approve. I mean, he wanted a more popular base. He and James Wilson, his chief collaborator there, they wouldn't object. I don't think they would object to that.
LAMB: What would he think of the Supreme Court and the power it's got?
MILLER: I don't think he would object to that. Of course, Hamilton certainly wouldn't. That's his collaborator on the Federalist papers, and Federal 78 is giving the first nugget of the idea of judicial review and role of the court. And part of what you want is that balance. You want a court that's got its role and a Congress that's got its role. I want to come back to -- ask me more about Congress. And you invent this new office, not in republics before in quite this way: the President -- the executive. And you strengthen that executive when you're worried about the base of the Congress, but you want all three of them -- and you've read some things in some of these books -- Montesquieu and others -- that you're supposed to have separation of powers and of balances. And this theory about human nature, that you aren't going to have -- and people say, "Enlightened statesmen will solve the problem." He says, "You aren't always going to have enlightened statesmen. How do you keep it going for 200 years when half your leaders and more are mediocrities, not enlightened -- they're unenlightened?" And realistically, that's the situation.
LAMB: What would he think of the term limit movement on members of Congress?
MILLER: Well, the temptation is to give my opinion, which is negative, but I don't know what James Madison would -- he did oppose the anti federalist excessive desire for overturns. They said, "Where annual elections and tyranny begins." They wanted a real constant turnover. And Madison did have a sense that being a legislator was a serious business, that took some time and, at least in his terms, he was on another side from those who were the term limits types, if I may. That's really cheating, to relate that argument to this one, but he did have an argument, in which he said, "No, they need two years in the Congress and six years in the Senate."
LAMB: What would he think of only two political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats?
MILLER: Well, he didn't anticipate parties. None of these original founders did -- that is, in the 1780s, they didn't, when they were shaping it.
LAMB: They didn't want them.
MILLER: They didn't want them. I guess that's right, to say they didn't want them, although, then, Madison becomes, in the 1790s, de facto, one of the founders of the two parties we have to this day, the one that's lasted from that time. I would say that the two party system is a corollary and a growth out of principles that Madison discovered about the group basis of politics, about the fact that people differ and are going to keep on differing. That's the thing to remember. You believe in government by the people, but you also believe people differ and will keep on differing. That isn't going to stop. They aren't going to have one will. Over in France, they sort of thinking -- Rousseau -- you're going to have one will, the whole people, except for a few people over here, and you're going to call them sort of non people or something, rule them out. He knew there were going to be differences, so the two party system is a good way to organize the fact that you're going to keep on having differences, plus that you want effective government. So effective government and people differing -- organize it. Somehow, by chance, partly -- or whatever you say -- by history, the two party system evolved from elements that Madison began. I think I could write a thing about why Madison would endorse a two party system.
LAMB: What would he think of this Presidential race? And the reasons for the third party -- or the third most mentioned candidate -- Ross Perot.
MILLER: I've already said that he would be most impressed, favorably, that it's lasted. OK. Now we're going to talk about some things he might disapprove of, as I would guess. I think there would be things in the overwhelming disapproval of Congress and in the endorsement of Perot that would worry him because, remember, these American founders -- and very much Madison -- were creatures of Congress and believed in it. They believed in the legislative body. That's where the core of republicanism was. They didn't have a President in their minds till later, but the whole heritage from -- well, Tom Paine would say throw away the king and the lords and have the House of Commons and that's the republican government we're endorsing. And their colonial legislatures, to which they were attached for 150 years, that's where they learned this kind of government they're setting up.
And the legislature, with its principle of mutual deliberation, representative government -- elect representatives, they sit somewhere and debate and argue, and they change their minds and they say, "I won't go that far." And that's the way a republic makes up its mind. So representative government in a legislature -- they were all legislators -- Hamilton -- even George Washington, more than you think of him as a general, he was also sitting in a legislature. Thomas Jefferson was. He wasn't just issuing grand statements; he was also -- and that was at the center of republican government.
Now I think in the current hostility to Congress -- and you can criticize particular congressmen and you can criticize the performance of a particular congressman, criticize side issues, like how they got their checks cashed. But if your criticism goes to the point of delegitimizing the institution, of saying -- missing the point -- what's the principle of Congress -- what is that? -- when you no longer see that that's at the core of the kind of government that we set up, that Madison helped to form 200 years ago, then I think you worry. And if Ross Perot represents that, as some of the things he says seem to me to do -- I mean, pushing buttons -- electronic buttons and this sort of stuff, that's not -- this was mutual deliberation from somewhere where you -- the other side of that quotation from Niebuhr, as you read, which is also Madison, you have to balance your interests and my interests, which are opposed, somehow brought together so we have a common life.
But also, we have a capacity for justice. I have some ability to see your interest, your justice to your cause, even when it's against my own," so that that'll work. And part of the way you do that is to have time enough for people to sit together and argue, deliberate, discuss -- a representative body arguing, the people having their petitions, their remonstrances. The campaigns ought to have substance, so I think that's part of the argument. That's the process by which a republic or a democracy works. And short circuiting that in the age of this new medium that we're now performing on does endanger some of the principles of the age of print and of representative government that Madison represented.
LAMB: The Federalist papers you mentioned earlier, and you talk a lot about Federalist No. 10. Before we get to that -- op ed pieces in what newspapers?
MILLER: Short -- in a bunch of New York newspapers. They were in several different newspapers. Hamilton organized the whole thing -- this energetic, brilliant young fellow from the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton. And first he gets these other New York people -- he gets John Jay; he gets somebody else who flunks out. And then he gets his collaborator. We think of Jefferson and Madison as collaborators, but for this period, Hamilton and Madison were collaborators. They write these things at astonishing speed. If you've tried to write things as fast as 3,000 words apiece, three a week, that's a lot of writing. Now they did draw on some things they had in the drawer, but the high level that they achieved, through the winter of 1787 to 1788 -- they turned those out from November to March -- this whole set of 85 papers. It's a tremendous achievement -- well, it's often been said the best political statement yet written by an American is that collection of papers.
LAMB: You can't go in a bookstore without seeing a paperback collection of the "Federalist Papers."
LAMB: Are they hard to read to the average person?
MILLER: Actually, they're not hard to read. They're not hard to read. They're in a kind of 18th century style, so give yourself time to get used to them. For Madison, read 10 -- you can skip some -- for Madison, read 10, 14, 37, 51. You can skip some of the arguments about why you have this size of a House and other things, and 18 to 20 tell you stuff out of his memos about old republics of the past that you don't need to read, so you need to have somebody say which ones to read.
LAMB: How many did he write of the 85?
MILLER: Well, it's a number -- a good deal fewer than Hamilton.
LAMB: I remember John Jay wrote six.
MILLER: John Jay wrote a few -- six is right, I think. John Jay wrote 5 and then 1. He got sick -- Jay got sick. And so it's basically Hamilton and Madison. For a while, there was a dispute about some of them, but that's all resolved. If you get an edition that has a question mark or has "Hamilton or Madison," get a new edition, because that's an old one, because now the scholars have resolved all that.
LAMB: And they were signed what when you ...
MILLER: "Publius." They sign these things with these Latin names and they signed it Publius. So you didn't know, reading it in a New York newspaper, who it was written by.
LAMB: Did it work? Do they credit The Federalist papers for getting the Constitution passed in New York?
MILLER: Had it had its influence not only in New York, because once they were in New York, you sent them around, so you used them in Virginia and in the other states that were still -- half the states, about, had already ratified, but the states where it was still an issue -- and the big states were the difficult ones and the important ones. And yes, I think they had an influence.
LAMB: There are a couple of things that you wrote I wanted to ask you more about. "Alexander Hamilton, who wrote those same Federalist papers, was perhaps the most brilliant -- was he not?" -- question mark, you ask -- "of the major American founders?" Where do you get that conclusion?
MILLER: Well, just from reading him. Do you agree? You've read about Founding Fathers. Hamilton, unlike the others, had no family base. He came out of nowhere. And he gets a sponsor, this Presbyterian creature out in the Caribbean island, who says, "Hey, this is a bright kid," and helps him get to the mainland and get to college. And then he's brighter than all his professors, which is hard to take when that happens -- he's 19. He's writing pamphlets in the pamphlet war of the times. So you had a 19 year old now participating in all of the Presidential year -- in argument today. And George Washington recognizes how able he is. And Hamilton's one of the few who doesn't really have all that much respect for Washington, at least intellectually. Everybody else ...
LAMB: General Washington.
MILLER: General George Washington.
LAMB: Was he one of the 55 at the Constitutional Convention?
MILLER: Yes, but he left. He was a New York delegate. He was outvoted by the other two, so New York state's vote always went the opposite -- or often went the opposite of what he wanted. He gave one long speech, which was very high Tory, to use a word we talked about before -- not high Tory like that, but it was -- he wanted something very close to House of Lords, life tenure -- things that wouldn't have sold at all. His speech, though long and, I guess, brilliant, didn't go anywhere and he left. He picked up his marbles and went home. Well, he left, anyway. Let's not say why, exactly. But then he came back in after it was done to -- and this great work of leading the "Federalist Papers." Yeah. He was brilliant, but Madison was very smart, too. These are very able people. The United States was very lucky to have people this able right there at the spot in this fortunate moment, when this all started.
LAMB: Yeah, but you do say this, though, early in the book. You say, "But James Madison was not so great a President."
MILLER: That's right. You don't want me to go into his Presidency, and I'm not prepared to do it, exactly. You were in the problem of the the War of 1812 and diplomatic problems. His great work is what I describe in this book, and -- well, actually, I think you could say the four first Presidents all had something other than their Presidency that was more important than their Presidency.
LAMB: And those four were?
MILLER: Were Washington; John Adams, which would be the atlas of independence in 1770; Thomas Jefferson; and James Madison.
LAMB: Now the ...
MILLER: The only -- let me interrupt -- century person you might say that about would be Dwight Eisenhower. You could say Dwight Eisenhower had something other than and before he was President, that was more important to him than being President.
LAMB: You often hear people talking about if we had to do this all over again, the same kind of people, we would not have here to sit around for a summer and talk about how to make a Constitution out of history and all that. Do you agree with that? Were these people that extraordinary?
MILLER: They were extraordinary. They were aided by a lot of things in the environment. If you bring out people of that ability -- I'm not sure you want to overdo the "demigods," a word that was applied to them. They were able people who came on the scene in a moment that just opened up and, with an open moment, they took full advantage of it to do something important. I think that they were intellectually able -- it was very important that Madison was a reader and a thinker and a good person.
LAMB: Was he a lawyer?
MILLER: He was not a lawyer -- unusual. If you thought about it, he tried to get some vocation which would, in the 1780s -- he could get away from slavery as a base of his own personal finances, because he did oppose slavery. A slaveholder who opposed slavery -- all the Virginians were. But he couldn't -- he didn't -- he spent his whole life in public life and never had any other vocation.
LAMB: Was Alexander Hamilton a lawyer?
MILLER: Yes, he was. Of course -- and important.
LAMB: And John Jay.
MILLER: John Jay.
LAMB: George Washington?
MILLER: George Washington, no.
LAMB: Let me ask you about something.
MILLER: Not all lawyers; just almost all.
LAMB: You write a lot about slavery. Let me ask you a loaded question. If James Madison was against slavery and he did write a lot about it, why didn't he ever get rid of his slaves?
MILLER: Because his finances rested on that institution. If our whole family economic situation had that base, would we manumit all our slaves? I think Madison was better than a glib condemnation would make him and not as good -- you can think of things that are realistic that he might have done and didn't do, so I put those two sentences together and I formulated them right. And if he had cared as much about slavery as he did about religious liberty, where he really
fought, just before the period I write about -- for Jefferson's Virginia statute for religious freedom -- I mean, he was at the forefront -- on that one, he was out in front of his elders and people he respected, made this alliance with this odd bunch of people -- the Baptists -- to get the religious freedom -- the Virginia statute for religious freedom.
If he'd fought that hard -- or at the Constitutional Convention -- if he'd cared as much about restricting slavery -- you couldn't have abolished it; it was out of the picture -- restricting slavery and really -- and opposed South Carolina and Georgia as much as he opposed New Jersey and Delaware on the small state, big state things, where he and Wilson and the others almost brought the Constitutional Convention to breaking up in July -- in the middle of July -- that summer -- no such showdown on slavery. When South Carolina and Georgia said, you know, "We've got to have these concessions," they made the concessions. So it wasn't at the top of his agenda to oppose slavery, and you can indict him for that, I guess.
He did keep the word slavery out of the Constitution. You may say, "What's that? That doesn't mean anything." That really turned out to mean a lot. Suppose you had had the word in there. You know, Abraham Lincoln then and others in the 19th century, when the issue of slavery comes to the forefront, can plausibly make the case that the Founders wanted to put this institution on the road to extinction, that they not only saw its contradiction to American ideals, which they all did -- and they say that; that's clear enough -- but that they wanted to set it on the road so that it would be ended. And the fact that the documents they had used words -- slavery and so forth -- and they took them out. Madison, one time, says, "We don't want the Constitution to recognize property in men. That's incompatible with the republican government we're setting up." So he did do some important things. On the other hand, where they really had a crunch, you let the slave trade -- you added that extra eight years, from 1800 to 1808 -- before you'd ended the slave trade -- some deal outside the Constitutional Convention. I think they could have done better than they did.
LAMB: There's a lot of discussion in your book about that, and there's not much time. I need to go over some other things. I don't want to cut that particular area short, because it would be a very interesting program in itself. You write in the back about sources for all this. You say that you took for granted, for the purpose of this work, an interpretation -- not only the revaluation of Madison, but also the larger revaluation of the founding period and the Founding Fathers that historians have been carrying on since the Second World War. Why is that going on? What's causing that?
MILLER: That's an interesting question. What caused it? I think World War II had something to do with it. There was the period of the earlier 20th century, when you had the economic interpretation of the Constitution. You had a kind of almost cynical economic interpretation. You showed the correlation between economic holdings and votes in the Constitutional Convention. The Beards are associated with that and others. Then comes World War II, and democracy around the world is at stake. And you see a monstrous opposition to that. And you fight this war and it brings out the fundamental, original ideals of the nation. And then a group of distinguished historians begin to take more seriously, put at the forefront what they said they were doing.
And it wasn't that they were trying to protect their own economic interests or something. These were people -- surely, James Madison, to me, is a serious man -- young man in the time of this book -- consciencious, trying hard to think: what's the best way to set up a government that will protect liberty and last and be an effective government? Put those things together without saying, "What's in it for me?" and I think this whole revaluation says it was a whole heritage of republicanism, not only from a long time before, but also from the Puritan revolution in England, as we used to call it, in the 17th century. And then from these fellows over in England, the coffeehouse radicals who scribbled pamphlets and were more effective, had more influence in the colonies than they did back home -- well, the American colonials were reading that kind of thing about republicanism, and among them would be James Madison. But it was in the air. It was part of the atmosphere, was this republicanism. And these historians, since World War II, have brought that all back and shown, as a frame of reference, of thought -- an atmosphere of thought that all of these people worked in, and James Madison very much among them.
LAMB: For a moment, let's say someone's listening and they're really intrigued by James Madison. They've never thought about him; they want to get into it. You list all kinds of books -- Ralph Ketcham's book. You list Robert Rutland's book, Drew McCoy's book -- all of these in the back of your book here. What do all those books do for you, and where would you go, what would you do if you wanted to learn all you can about James Madison?
MILLER: I start off by ...
LAMB: Start by buying your book. Excuse me. I'm sorry.
MILLER: Yes. By all means, buy this book.
MILLER: You'll pardon me for doing that.
LAMB: I took that for granted.
MILLER: Yes. Well, let's get the viewer to do that, too.
LAMB: They've got to get your book to get the bibliography, but ...
MILLER: Go to a bookstore and tell them to order this from the University Press of Virginia. Remember the word Virginia and order this book. The other books, I would say -- there's a very good book, very different from mine in being at the end of his life, that I've already mentioned, Drew McCoy's "The Last of the Fathers," which is a very thoughtful book about the old man, Madison. The one volume biography by Ralph Ketcham is the best one volume, and that's a life with a certain reflection about it, but basically tells you the facts of his life. If you want more, earlier, there were the six volumes of Irving Brandt.
LAMB: Would you travel somewhere besides Montpelier, or is that the ...?
MILLER: Well, you know, you can learn a lot by traveling to Monticello about Jefferson; you can't learn much about Madison by traveling to Montpelier. I recommend that you do it, because it's a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge and you can see some things about Madison, but it's not like going to Monticello for Jefferson, because Madison didn't design the house. The middle part of his life, he didn't live there. There isn't any physical artifact -- he was a man of the mind, even more than Jefferson. Jefferson loved gadgets and he did things that you can show your kids, you know, that Jefferson did and you can show the architecture. And he liked to play the violin. But Madison -- he was a grind. He was an intellectual. He was a man of books and of thought. And to do that, you have to go to what he wrote and to what people wrote about him. The best way to get at James Madison is to buy a copy of this and then the "Federalist Papers," read those numbers that I said, then go on to these other books.
LAMB: Was this a hard book to write?
MILLER: No, it wasn't a hard book to write, once I'd got the boundaries. I said, "I'm just going to take these years, and my purpose is not a biography. It's not to celebrate Madison. It's to ask the question about the foundations of the American nation." Then, with the papers printed -- it would have been a lot harder if they weren't all available -- the papers of James Madison, in this fine, multi-volume edition, I pull them down, I read them, I read other people, and think about it. And no, it wasn't all that hard to write.
LAMB: And no one else has done a book like this?
MILLER: I don't know of any other book like this, no.
LAMB: Were there any -- dumb question there. Did you find anything new?
MILLER: Well, yes, I did find new things. I think I put together the fact that -- new to me; I'm not saying it's new to the world of thought and scholarship -- that Madison combined the kind of realism about human nature that characteristically, maybe, is more often seen by conservatives with being a progressive, being somebody, in his time, who was in favor of enlarging and new anti monarchical, anti colonial, progressive party in the world and within the United States. That combination, which was also Reinhold Neibuhr, by the way, I saw that more clearly, and I think it is something that isn't always brought out in the literature about Madison, and it's an interesting feature. And I think it's pretty close to the core of something important about the United States, that combination of ...
LAMB: What party would he be happiest in today?
MILLER: Oh, gosh. Can I pass on that?
LAMB: No! Help us better understand what these people would have thought.
MILLER: Well, he's not a utopian. He's not going to be on a left wing. He's not going to be on a right wing. He's going to be a progressive who's realistic. So where's he going to be? Is he going to be in the moderate wing of the Republican Party or the moderate wing of the Democratic Party?
LAMB: You dedicated this book to Andrew Horton Miller -- not as a father to son, but as one writer scholar to another, with gratitude, admiration and love. Who was your father?
MILLER: I'm his father.
LAMB: My apologies. I misread that. Who is your ...
MILLER: This is a dedication to my son.
LAMB: And who is your son, then?
MILLER: He is a professor of English. We sent him off to Head Start and he came out the other end a college professor -- going right through Indiana University in Bloomington, in English, as a good young man I'm proud of, and he helped me a lot with this book. I have three other children, so that I didn't want anything invidious. But in this case, this book was particularly related to Andrew, so I made that dedication.
LAMB: How did he help you with the book?
MILLER: Well, he came to Charlottesville. He put things on the computer. He looked up things in the library. He served as the rapporteur for a group -- the Lilly Endowment gave me a little money to get some people together to read chapters of this, and Andrew sat there writing down what they said and then organized it for me. And so he was a big help in many ways.
LAMB: You talk about that some day there may be as many as 50 volumes?
MILLER: That's right.
LAMB: And are those available across the country, again?
MILLER: Yes. Any good library will have the papers of James Madison. They're just bringing out two volumes. They skipped ahead to the Secretaries of State and the Presidents. They've worked up into -- well, I shouldn't say, since I don't know exactly where they are, but they're in the 1790s maybe. They're through all this period. All this is now in the papers, so the things that we're talking about -- the Constitution, The Federalist papers, the memos -- they're all there -- volumes 8, 9, 10, of the papers of James Madison. So that's one way to do it, if you have that patience and intellectual interest. Just read Madison himself and the letters to Madison. The thing about these papers is they give you the whole correspondence. Here's Jefferson. Here's Madison. Read their letters. It's a tremendous project.
LAMB: And we're almost out of time. I hate to even bring this up. You point out that he was the chronicler of the Constitutional Convention but you say that eight others also took notes in that. Are those available?
MILLER: Those are available. There's a good Yale edition -- a man called Max Farrand -- F A R R A N D -- and they bring it out in paperback. And they print some of these -- Yates and other delegates, but none of them comparable. They're all bits and pieces of the report. We know about the Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly from the pen of James Madison, so he was both a principal participant and the principal secretary or recorder or reporter for the Constitutional Convention.
LAMB: "The Business of May Next" is the title of this book, "James Madison & the Founding." The author is William Lee Miller of the University of Virginia. Thank you very much for joining us.
MILLER: I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you.
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