Hamilton may be in the cultural spotlight these days, but this year students and faculty at AMU observed Constitution Day thinking about another Founding Father: James Madison. On the eve of September 17th, they gathered in the Lecture Hall to hear from political scientist Dr. Jeremy Bailey (University of Houston) as he spoke on why we call James Madison the “Father of the Constitution” and how Madison came to be the prime authority on the Constitution.
Based on his research, Bailey proposed that the debate over constitutional meaning is the “serious interpretive problem that it is…only because of Madison’s Notes.” James Madison spent a significant amount of time later in his life editing and revising his notes from the Federal Convention of 1787 (which were eventually published posthumously). Largely because of Madison’s revisions, scholars disagree on the accuracy of the notes as a historical record, they offer competing interpretations of the intent behind the revisions, and they debate wherein Madison thought “constitutional meaning” existed. After cataloguing some of the leading opinions on these topics, Bailey went on to explain some of his own thoughts on the matter, most markedly, that Madison’s decision to compile and publish the Notes can be seen as evidence in itself of Madison’s prioritizing of the “intentions of the framers” over any other source of constitutional meaning.
Dr. Jeremy D. Bailey holds the Ross M. Lence Distinguished Teaching Chair at the University of Houston and has a dual appointment in Political Science and the Honors College. He has authored three books, most recently James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).