How James Madison Interpreted the Constitution
The Honorable Richard S. Arnold
In this Madison Lecture, Chief Judge Richard S. Arnold of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit explores the subject of constitutional interpretation as practiced by the eponymous James Madison. Following Madison’s public arguments and private statements through crucial early American debates over federal powers, Judge Arnold finds that the “Father of the Constitution” refused to take advantage of his own formative contributions to the Constitution. On the contrary, Madison sought constitutional authority in the citizenry, as exercised through state ratifying conventions and through the precedential effect of deliberative legislative action. Arnold reminds us that Madison was a consummate politician at a time when the occupation was not yet a pejorative epithet, but public officeholders were even then subject to harsh personal criticism that rivals if not surpasses the political vitriol of our times. Madison nevertheless developed a consistent, yet flexible, view of constitutional interpretation that can still enlighten he constitutional debates of today.