James Madison on the Framers


Our principal source for the inner workings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 is James Madison’s Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. The Debates are the actual minutes of the convention. After leaving the presidency in 1817, Madison revised and annotated his papers, including the Debates.

In the Introduction to the Debates, Madison gave his own opinion of the men who gathered behind closed doors that stiflingly hot summer:

But whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny, of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound & solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing & appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively & individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great & arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which would best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country.

I would commend to any serious reader Madison’s Debates in the hope that they come to appreciate as I have the uncommon clear thinkers in that Philadelphia meeting room. We are indeed a fortunate people that they were.