Nullification and James Madison

In 1836, the expiring James Madison offered “Advice to My Country”:

The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions, is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened, and the disguised one as the serpent creeping with deadly wiles into Paradise.

Madison’s concern for the future of the union had been piqued by the Nullification Controversy and the growing appeal of states’ rights.

There is a certain irony in Madison’s worries: the states’ rights strain of Jeffersonianism owed much to the actions and public writings four decades earlier of Madison himself. The story of Madison’s career can be seen as that of a creative politician whose very creativity came, at the end of his life, to threaten his foremost achievement. After his death, his intellectual heirs would rend the union asunder; the doctrine of state sovereignty under the federal constitution, which Madison had helped formulate in response to a perceived threat to republicanism, would be used to truncate the union, the extended sphere Madison had been instrumental in creating and in which he had long lodged his fondest hopes.

James Madison’s thinking about federalism prior to 1800 reflected the relative strengths of the federal and state governments at different times. Consistent theory yielded to political imperative; understanding was altered by perspective and experience. Madison had a consistent vision of the ideal polity, but the events of those years elicited the enunciation of doctrines and the support of constitutional interpretations of which, on sober second thought, he disapproved.

Read the whole thing at the link!

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